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Taste of the Tour: The Pitfalls of Owning a French Chateau

by John Leicester .
Wednesday Jul 17, 2019
The Chateau de Villersexel, west of the town of Belfort in eastern France that was visited by the Tour de France.
The Chateau de Villersexel, west of the town of Belfort in eastern France that was visited by the Tour de France.  (Source:AP Photo/Samuel Petrequin)

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.

More on Potet in a second. First, a quick recap of Saturday's Stage 8.

It was epic.

French rider Julian Alaphilippe took back the yellow jersey that he'd lost on Stage 6. Defending champion Geraint Thomas crashed and rode furiously to not get left behind. Thomas De Gendt raced dashingly in a breakaway at the front to win the 200-kilometer (124-mile) trek from the wine town of Macon, where snails cooked in garlic and parsley butter are a thing.

Now, back to Potet and his castle.

"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.'"

BAGUETTE AND BUTTER: Thomas crashed about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the finish in the former coal mining center of Saint-Étienne and rode furiously to catch back up with the pack.

But Alaphilippe and fellow French rider Thibaut Pinot got away from him, and gained time. Alaphilippe now leads Thomas by 72 seconds; Pinot is 19 seconds ahead of the Welshman.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I rode my bike like I love to ride my bike" — Alaphilippe.

NEXT ON THE MENU: Stage 9, like Stage 8, is bumpy, with three hill climbs of note on the 170.5 kilometers (106 miles) from Saint-Étienne to Brioude.

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