In the world of luxury real estate, perhaps no single category of residence rises to the level of fantasy than the castle.
Germany, England, Spain and most notably France are among the countries with high concentrations of historic manors, where bedrooms number in the dozens, square footage is measured in the tens of thousands and amenities include moats, lookout towers and turrets.
The United States has its share of palatial counterparts, too, even if they don’t have 900-year-old masonry, says Elizabeth Corbin Murphy of Chambers, Murphy & Burge Historical Architecture in Akron, Ohio. “The estates of Newport, Rhode Island, are wonderful examples, but you can have a castle in any city depending on its culture and context. A structure of character that is reflective of the society that builds it and the craftspeople who contribute to it–that’s a castle.” Her firm’s landmark restoration projects have included the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, now a museum in Grosse Point Shores, Michigan, and Thomas Jefferson’s privy at Monticello in Virginia.
Turns out it can be surprisingly attainable to be king–or queen–of one’s castle. While fully restored palaces close to major centers like Paris, Geneva or London can exceed $30 million, others are on a par with two-bedroom apartments in those same cities, says Alexander V. G. Kraft, chairman of Sotheby’s International Realty France and author of “Living in Luxury” (Thames & Hudson, NY). “Prices can start at or even below $700,000 for smaller castles in rural locations in need of some updating.”
In areas with low labor costs, a ready pool of artisans and local tax incentives, ownership is even more attractive. Still, a castle is less an investment to round out a portfolio than a passion project.
“From a practical standpoint, a castle’s solid stone construction and centuries of modifications can make such ordinary tasks as re-plumbing or re-wiring extremely challenging,” Kraft says. Owning a castle takes “deep pockets and patience,” he adds. And it also takes someone who approaches restoration with respect and balance.
“There’s nothing wrong with making a castle your home,” says Murphy. “Everyone has to feel like it’s their own and not the ghosts who went before. But being able to soak up the legacy of the families who invested in the property and the craftsmen who built it is the reward and responsibility of ownership.”
Kraft agrees–he knows the rewards first-hand. He owns a restored 19th century hunting château in Provence. “One gets to live in an unusual, beautiful environment and become the guardian of a piece of history,” he says. “How many people can say that, even amongst the world’s elite?”