Book Review: A Year at the Chateau by Dick & Angel Strawbridge:
Inspiration in the French Countryside
It is not unusual for my favorite stories to take place in other countries – and this one is no exception. A writer friend of mine introduced me to a reality television show, Escape to the Chateau, during lockdown in 2021. Escaping to pastoral France was exactly what I did not know I needed in many ways. After flying through the series, I did a little research to discover the couple from the show has a website with their products for sale, including this book. I ordered it immediately (along with some wallpaper – that is for another post), wanting to lose myself in their french-countryside world just a little longer.
If you are not familiar with this autobiographical story/show, Angel and Dick Strawbridge filmed and share their journey of their search for, and ultimate successful purchase of a 19th century chateau in the Loire Valley of France. This book recounts their decision to make a colossal life change, the first year of living in, and the initial stage of renovating their dream Chateau (they also filmed the process for the show). There are candid color photographs included in the book (which I loved!).
The book is organized by month – a true beginning with the move into the chateau in JANUARY – with two small children! Each chapter details their projects they work on to make the chateau habitable, comfortable, and ultimately their vision as Angel creates uniquely decorated rooms for their family, and with an eye to open the chateau for events. The book includes more behind-the-scenes information (than the show), and also follows plans for their wedding, which occurs at the end of the year culminating with their first Christmas there.
Angel, an events planner and artistic visionary/entrepreneur, and Dick, an engineer and environmentalist, each contribute to every chapter from their own point of view. Their individual voices and humor translate through the pages – their individual interests and strengths are even more detailed in the book than on the show. The book also includes many of their favorite (and approachable) recipes (Dick is a skilled cook), French cultural insights, and lovely descriptions of the land from which they are cultivating gardens for sustainable family and event harvests.
As someone who has been living in a decades-long, old-cottage renovation situation in Maine, I was easily able to relate to the humor in the issues they run into in upgrading their home. Their ingenuity and creativity were inspiring to me – most especially in Angel’s commitment to living a life that aligns with her personal style and passions. In many ways, watching them take this financial and personal leap of faith played a role my decision to begin to follow my own dreams – to live a life centered around books and creating a simple life here in Maine.
“If the truth be known, we fear that someday someone will find out that we are just a normal family”, , Angel Strawbridge (p. 286).
While they may be “a normal family”, they have created a way to live an extraordinary life; sharing their financial strains, inventive solutions to septic system (among other) troubles, and their unique approach to create a whimsical and warm home out of a historical property.
Orion Publishing Group Ltd., London (2020). Hardcover, 291 pages. Purchased through Angel & Dick Strawbridge’s website.