Description
Description
Description
Description
Description
Description
Description
Chateau Ansouis - PROVENCAL PATRIMOINE
Chateau Ansouis - PROVENCAL PATRIMOINE

Published The Times October 2007


ESTATE agents often puff up their offerings with phrases such as “period home” and“original features”. Few brochures are able to state “Built in 960” and “Has been in the hands of the same family since 1178”. Château d’Ansouis is able to make both these claims.This is a property older than the Tower of London.

The château is in the centre of thevillage of Ansouis in the Luberon in Haute Provence, one of those regions nowso firmly on the international radar screen that you can’t nip down to thevillage market without bumping into a foot-ball/fashionista/film star/popcelebrity. Château d’Ansouis is perched on a rocky outcrop and has views over aprotected valley.

Formed around a medieval core, this fortress underwent several eras of modification. The battlements, vaulted rooms, crenellated keep and dungeon all form part of the earlier construction remodelled variously in the 12th, 13th and 15th centuries. During the Wars of Religion in France the place suffered and was further rebuilt in the late 16thand early 17th centuries. More changes in the 18th century led to its spacious living apartments and ceremonial dining rooms.

The château was classed as a Monument Historique in 1948. Listed status requires owners to ensure that any new alterations are approved, but gains the owner access to tax breaks and grants for renovation and maintenance. It also creates a surrounding conservation area, so that any other buildings within 500m have to apply for special permission to make modifications.

Thus the village of Ansouis will keep its old-world charm and maintain its membership of the “the most beautiful villages in France” club. Around the château is its ornamental park, complete with a flower garden, pond, 18th-century fountains and an avenue of cypresstrees; vineyards surround the village.

Why on earth would anyone sell that? Such are the rigours of French inheritance laws that property passes equally to all the children in a family. So, since the death of the Duke and Duchess of Sabran-Pontevès (in 1973 and 1988) the château and several other properties belonging to the family have been the subject of, to put it delicately, “disagreements” between the heirs. The current owners, three brothers and a sister, have been unable to come to a quiet family arrangement about who gets what, and have been forced into a very public auction sale.

France has many strangely decrepit or sadly empty buildings which, in answer to an inquiry, one learns are part of an inheritance dispute. To resolve these prolonged family debates, a law was introduced under which it is possible for an individual member of a family to force a sale.

But to avoid any hint of corruption, such a sale has to be at an auction. So, on October 29, 2007, Château d’Ansouis, along with several other lots, is to be sold at auction. The castle and its 16.6 hectares (41 acres) of park will go under the bougies rather than under the hammer. French auctions are conducted with candles. At the end of any rapid and obvious bidding, two candles are lit, one after the other. When the smoke rises from the second candle, the lot is deemed sold – although it won’t be completely sold, because next come several parcels of land around thevillage. Vineyards and orchards are for sale, even the village boules court ison offer. In total, just over 48 hectares of land is available.

At this point in the auction the total value is added up and further bids are possible for the ensemble, so cunning bidders may choose to wait until this point before putting in their killer bids. They will still have to wait ten days, though, because the law then allows a ten-day period during which anyone can make a 10 per cent overbid.

The mise à prix (opening bid) for thechâteau is €1,114,000 (£776,241), a low and mouth-watering sum. However, with 50 rooms and 1,380 sq m of inhabitable space, there is some reluctance even to guess at the final sale price. After all, €10 million is small change for a billionaire. Will the brothers manage to club together and rescue the family seat, complete with Romanesque chapel in which their parents are buried, or will the whole edifice pass to new well-heeled owners? If so, who will they be? Hoteliers keen to exploit the castle’s obvious attractions? Or will it pass into the hands of a Russian oligarch, a sheikh, or London hedge fund manager?

Philip Hawkes, a Paris-based estate agent who has the details of the sale, says: “It would be nice to think that itcan be preserved as a family château, but it is an auction and so, of course,anyone can bid. Who will end up the winner no one knows.”

If the château is not to your fancy,other lots in the auction include family apartments in Paris in the Place Vauban, near the Hôtel des Invalides. Or you could put your hand up for one of two ruined castles in the Var, each with a starting bid of €4,500.

Whatever happens, there’s an astonishing amount of history on sale.

$SIGNUP$
$VALIDATION$
Working... Please wait