For sale: the real French fairytale House of Holland
This chateau has hosted celebrities – thanks to the owner’s fashion designer son – and is a good business proposition, says Liz Rowlinson
It has played host to celebrities such as Pixie Geldof and Agyness Deyn, and its classic French looks and dreamy façade, clad in Virginia creeper, have starred in numerous fashion shoots. This isn’t any ordinary chateau; owned by the parents of fashion designer Henry Holland, it has star power.
It didn’t start out that way. When Stephanie Holland was house hunting in rural France, she didn’t have her heart set on a chateau but was looking for “somewhere to shut off from the modern world”.
She ran a management training company with husband David, from Ramsbottom, near Manchester, and sought a large property at which to host retreats with a “magical factor”. They owned a farmhouse in Allier, in the Auvergne region of central France, and had fallen in love with the natural beauty of the place, with its 500 chateaux and dozens of pretty market towns.
In 1998, their budget of £150,000 bought them an awful lot of house, a 46-room fairytale chateau in the village of Marcillat-enCombraille.
“We saw these huge wooden gates at the end of a private lane and I was immediately intrigued,” says Holland, a glamorous 70-year-old wearing leopard skin jeans and thigh-high suede boots. “When the agent said, ‘It’s far too big and expensive for you,’ of course we just had to take a look and it was a ‘ coup de foudre’ when I spied the four-storey chateau with fairytale towers.”
Sitting gloriously at the end of an alley of trees in seven acres of tranquil gardens, Chateau du Ludaix was built in 1826 by the Count of Durat, the French ambassador to Russia, although its origins date back to the 12th century. “I love owning a piece of history,” says Holland. “It’s a place where you can close the gate and retreat, and we have many guests that plan excursions then never end up leaving.”
The chatelaine, the French ballet dancer Ghislaine Thesmar, had fitted a mirrored studio with a barre on the second floor. This feature is still there and makes it a perfect place to run boot camp retreats, with the sprung floor of the studio ideal for yoga.
Such is the magic of the place that while Thesmar was ready to sell the property, she “clung to the door, sobbing” when she finally had to leave.
The Hollands set about transforming the property into a venue to host seminars and weddings, and serve as a chambre d’hôtes. Ten of the bedrooms were already decorated, including the Leopard Suite in one of the square towers.
“We spent the next few years collecting antiques from brocantes to furnish four more as well as the cosy reception rooms downstairs,” says Holland, who shares the bold and eclectic style evident in her 34-year-old son Henry’s House of Holland collections.
Her carefully curated collections are part of the package: she is prepared to leave everything from the antique teaspoons to the 120 sets of crystal goblets and plates, subject to negotiation. “I nicknamed Ludaix ‘chateau on a shoestring’. Of course it costs a lot to run, currently €42,000 (£37,000) per year. Renewing the roof cost €150,000 alone.”
The couple also added a swimming pool and refurbished the “wedding barn” alongside the lawn with bistrostyle tables, and installed the Twenties Parisian-style “Fleur’s Bar”, named after their daughter. Hosting five weddings a year – bringing in £15,000 to £25,000 each – as well as training courses and a couple of modelling shoots (through Henry), plus the €120 per night B&B, helped pay the bills.
“It is possible to earn €200,000 a year from hosting events at the chateau, but we have reached an age where we just want to wind down and head off in a Winnebago,” says Holland, who has put the property up for sale.
“Henry comes here with his friends such as Pixie [Geldof ] and Agy [Agyness Deyn] to celebrate his birthday with a big party every May. He suggested we convert the huge attic into a New York-style loft apartment. It’s still got loads of potential.”
In her 20 years at the chateau, she also learned that the locals have certain expectations of the chatelaine. “My housekeeper told me to always look the part (wearing wellies to pick up the daily bread was a no-no), and I worked hard to involve the mayor and the locals in events. Many of them worked as waiting staff at weddings, and we offered tours for schoolchildren.” The chateau is reached by a 50-minute drive from ClermontFerrand airport, and the local village is a couple of minutes’ walk away with a baker, butcher, wine merchant and even a Lego shop.
So who will be likely to buy it? “Someone who will see the business opportunities of it,” says Holland. “Our business is helping people run their businesses the best they can, so we are very happy to assist the new owner get started.”
‘I nicknamed Ludaix the chateau on a shoestring’ ‘It’s the kind of place where you can close the gate and retreat’
IT’S A FAMILY AFFAIR Stephanie Holland and her son Henry, main; the bar and chateau, below
WELCOME RECEPTION Inside the salon at Chateau du Ludaix
ELEGANCE Dressing table, above, and the spacious dining room, below