Chateau Le Mung is a neglected 800 year old chateau in southwest France, or at least it was until a family in Australia decided to love, honour and restore it…
This is not a DIY job of the type that most of us would consider though many of us would dream of doing just what this family have.
This is a very special, enormous and extremely challenging home improvement job.
When Gerald Bromley saw a photo of an abandoned chateau in France on the internet in 2014 he was smitten, it was love at first sight. British born Mr Bromley turned to his wife Sheryl who comes from Wales and said “what do you think, shall we buy it?” She laughed and told him to be sensible. They were living in Sydney, Australia at the time but were looking to return to Europe to live.
However, the haunting beauty of the 800 year old chateau with its white towers and gorgeous slate tiled roof stuck in Sheryl’s mind. She found herself dreaming about it, thinking about how she and Gerald might be able to bring it back to its glory.
Just a few weeks later Sheryl and Gerald Bromley flew to France and made their way to the town of Le Mung, situated on the banks of the River Charente in Poitou-Charentes. They hired a car, and, full of anticipation, drove up to the Chateau gates and unequivocally, irrevocably fell in love.
Sheryl says that the sight of the deserted and neglected castle at the end of a long way drive way in an overgrown park took her breath away. Almost in a daze the couple opened the rusty wrought iron gates and drove slowly up to the immense chateau doors. Hearts beating, hardly daring to voice their thoughts, they turned the key the agent had given them and…
They woke up.
The fairy-tale moment was over in a flash. Filthy dirty rooms covered in animal droppings were what lie behind those beautiful doors. The photos on the internet had never indicated the reality of what was really to be found inside. Sheryl says “years of complete neglect meant that the only visitors had been birds, bats and boars”. The chateau had become a wild animal den. The ballroom was much loved by local bats, the ancient flagstones echoed to the sound of scampering rats as Sheryl pushed open doors and let light into rooms that had seen none for years. The searing sound of shutters being flung wide scared off a wild pig that had been the acting Lord of the Manor.
As Sheryl and Gerald toured the castle they knew it would be too much work, too expensive.
And this story should have ended right there. But it didn’t.
The couple couldn’t stop thinking about what that ballroom could look like if it was restored. How beautiful a claw foot bath would look in a bathroom, how those ancient tiled floors would scrub up. They wondered what lie behind the doors they couldn’t open. They ran their hands along the walls that had been there for 800 years and they walked around the turrets, each lost in thought.
By the end of a very long day they were convinced that the chateau could be saved.
They flew back to Australia and called a family meeting with daughters Sarah-Jane (and her two children) Naomi and son Jacob. How would it be, they asked, if we all went to France to do up a chateau and turn it into a gorgeous boutique hotel?
This is clearly a family of dare devils because not long after, having sold homes and belongings and anything else they could think of, the entire family upped sticks in August 2014 and travelled to Le Mung, a 20 minute drive from Cognac.
Like the famous Chateau de Vincennes which was also built in the 14th Century, Chateau Le Mung was probably originally a hunting lodge though little is known about its early history as yet. The chateau certainly wasn’t habitable but ancient workers’ cottages in the grounds could be quickly renovated so that the family had somewhere to live straight away. Sheryl, Gerald and Jacob are professional plasterers (gyprockers) who had worked on historic buildings before. The girls though had no experience of DIY and Sarah-Jane confesses that it has been a real learning curve and a great deal of hard work, blood, sweat and tears. “The worst part has definitely been the grounds, clearing decades of overrun brambles and massive weeds has been awful but it has to be done… every minute of tough grind is worth it though ” she adds.
“We’ve uncovered gates, wells, water towers, an old laundry, secret paths, ancient graffiti on the walls… every day is a discovery and a joy.”
The family work seven days a week and are prepared to do whatever it takes to save the Chateau Le Mung. They’ve replaced roofs, renewed walls, repaired windows and doors and are planning to paint and furnish the rooms and restore them to splendour. As they have peeled back the layers on this ancient and historic building and its umpteen outhouses, the family have uncovered some extraordinary treasures including an enormous greenhouse that has been covered for decades.
Sheryl advises “We’ll definitely be retaining all original features and keeping an old look to the place but with mod cons. We’re aiming to open the chateau as an absolutely gorgeous, truly special hotel”.
The work has moved on at a tremendous pace, and just as quickly the captured the imaginations of thousands of people. Without a website, the family shared their journey on Facebook in photos and videos and in just a few months the Chateau Le Mung Facebook page attracted thousands of intrigued followers, an uplifting community from all around the world who have been enjoying the unfolding drama and beauty of this remarkable project.