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Labor of love: maintaining the Loire Valley’s many privately-held chateaux

France 2 recently aired a series about the Loire Valley’s Chateaus and the work their owners dedicate to maintaining France’s architectural and historic heritage. 

In a of , national television network France 2 shone a light on several of the Chateaus of the Loire. From the second-most visited Chateau in the country to smaller, privately-held ones struggling to break even, it takes a lot of work to maintain France’s many historic landmarks.

Interviewing the owners of the Chateau Rivau in the Loire-Anjou-Torraine National Park, Henry and Patricia, the challenges of upkeep were a consistent theme. The Loire is a long way from the calm, warm climate of the Cote d’Azur. The day of the report, taking place after a night of heavy rain, Patricia was dealing with damaged flora while Henry saw his recently re-tiling work done to the roof undone.

They bought it in 1992, after “falling in love” with the site as Patricia puts it, “without fully anticipating the amount of work we’d have to put in.” While Rivau’s current 50,000 annual visitors is an improvement on the first year’s 1,500, they need at least 80,000 to make the operation break even. Henry works in real estate in during the week, spending the weekend at the Chateau.

Montpoupon, an hour’s drive east, faced similar challenges. The owner devised historical tours using actors in order to attract visitors. Both reports showed that the primary language being spoken to visitors was French, indicating a lack of foreign tourist interest in the smaller, less accessible chateaus.

Not so much a problem for Chenonceau (title pictured), a 16th-century Chateau built on a tributary of the Loire to the east of Tours. The owner claimed it is the second-most visited Chateau after Versailles in France, and a strong presence of English showed its popularity among foreigners: 6,000 visitors a day and 100 workers populate the Renaissance landmark.

Montpoupon’s owner aptly summarised the motivation behind maintaining a struggling Chateau business when selling off or turning it into a hotel – as many do – would be easier and more profitable. “It’s the heritage, not of us [referring to the previous generations of his family who have owned the Chateau], but of all of France.”

Chateau Montpoupon © Wikicommons

title image: Chateau Chenonceau © Wikicommons

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