How many times have you scrolled through Instagram’s myriad chateaux accounts or visited foreign real estate sites “just for fun,” to look up the price of villas in some European countryside to fix up and move into yourself? How many times have you watched your favorite HGTV show and thought, “how hard could it be?” You’re not alone in finding yourself lost down a rabbit hole of chateaux, historic houses, renovations, and DIY tips; Abigail Carter was one of them before she accomplished her dream of running a chateau abroad.
In early 2021, Carter’s daughter sent her a link to a YouTube video by How to Renovate a Chateau (without killing your partner), an account that documents a European couple who left Paris for the Normandy countryside, where they bought a once-dilapidated 18th-century chateau. “I started watching them and it just reminded me so much of my late husband and I,” says Carter, whose husband, Arron, died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks while at a conference in the World Trade Center. “I was like, ‘What am I doing with my life? Is Seattle where I want to stay and be?’”
Seattle had been Carter’s home since 2005 for a different project—it’s where she bought and successfully renovated a 1913 firehouse—but the 58-year-old has always been an adventurous person and avid traveler. So, in early 2021, Carter began to scratch an itch that had been there since she and her late husband had fantasized about buying a small French farmhouse years ago, on a trip to Auberge while they were living in Brussels.
“It was the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and I was sort of reeling,” says Carter sitting in a verdant, scraggly garden of Chateau de Borie—her own early-19th-century chateau she purchased in August 2022. “I was at this crossroads in my life and Arron’s motto was always, ‘If you don’t like your life, change it.’” She’s strived to live by that motto ever since his death.
Here’s how she accomplished the feat of moving abroad to purchase and restore her very own chateau, which she says has been a labor of love. Plus, the missteps to avoid if you’re interested in taking your scrolling habit into a full-fledged, life-changing move abroad, á la Under the Tuscan Sun.
All of the furniture in Carter's chateau has been purchased second-hand.
The 150-year-old property and its garden seemed at first glance to only need slight cosmetic fixes, but Carter wound up doing much more work.
Before you book that flight to France, Carter says the journey should start online. There are quite a few good sites, but she wound up using one exclusively: Le Figaro. Though her perusing began as an escape from the pandemic, once travel was safe for her she decided to book a flight to visit a few properties she’d found on Le Figaro. She
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