Taste of the Tour: The pitfalls of owning a French chateau

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VILLERSEXEL, France (AP) — The Tour de France loves castles. Not a day passes without the TV cameras zooming in on one of the country’s magnificent châteaux along the race route, conjuring up dreams of living the high life, perhaps with a glass of Champagne in hand.

But the reality isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

Jean-Pierre Potet fell in love with the 19th-century Château de Villersexel, near Belfort in eastern France that was passed in the Tour’s first week.

So in love, he bought it.

“I was young, handsome, rich, and intelligent,” the 78-year-old Potet says. “I didn’t choose the chateau, the chateau chose me.”

But his love had expensive tastes.

After 50 years of upkeep, his money ran out.

“I wanted to keep it in good condition and it cost me a lot of money,” he says. “Now the problem is that I have no more money.”

But he did have a son, Basin-Jules Potet, with a business major and a ton of ideas.

When his father announced five years ago that he’d sold off the last of his lands around Paris to pay for castle maintenance, Basin-Jules convinced him to share his love with others.

Chateau rooms were converted for use as a bed and breakfast. They also host weddings and Basin-Jules runs an annual rock festival on the chateau grounds.

“To bring young blood into old stone,” Basin-Jules says.

When he does guided tours, showing visitors the stately rooms with painted ceilings, intricate wood carvings, and his father’s collection of pianos and other antiques, Basin-Jules tells them that castle life has “good sides and bad sides.”

“There is the dream, there are big rooms,” he says. “But it’s not an easy life. You have to find a way to take care of the building, to find money.”

“It’s a poisoned apple,” he says.

His father says he has turned down would-be buyers, including Russians who offered him 3 million euros ($3.4 million) in cash.

“They came with a suitcase full of money,” he says. “It was dirty money … I said, ‘No.'”

Note: Portions concerning Tour de France race progress were omitted

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