news from echn membersInterviews

"The location promotes an independent lifestyle."

Get inspired by ancient history in a picturesque setting with modern values and live in a 12th century castle. Meeting the remote work revolution, Château Coliving & Coworking is a vibrant and eco-friendly home for world travellers and decentralised professionals with the same mindset. Located in Normandy, this hub provides the space and quietness to concentrate as well as to foster innovation and creativity, whilst offering a wide range of social and cultural activities!

The hub’s history

Château Coliving & Coworking is a two century old property. It used to be a Viking fortress and developed into a castle over the years. It used to be the home of loyal warriors. We are the latest generation now in charge and decided it's time the future met the past. It’s a property in a touristic region in France, but also with a lot of mediaeval history and culture. Our destination wasn’t popular for digital nomads, so we decided to bring people with laptops and keyboards here and show them how beautiful it is, having nature around. World history and culture is a non typical destination for co-living and co-working. My partner and I used to be nomads the last two years and, in the beginning, it was all about tropical beaches and similar destinations. Then we noticed that people started to look for something else in terms of diversity. The location promotes an independent lifestyle. One day you can work on the beach, the next day you can be in the mountains or somewhere else. We wanted to bring some diversity and find a way to bring nomads to Normandy.

We developed the castle into a co-living and co-working space, which is a bit challenging in a rural area. It took a lot of work until we got the internet connection for the facilities. When it comes to co-living and co-working, it's a very different need compared to people going on holidays, because people need to work, do activities and visit places. We opened the co-living in May 2021, right after the pandemic, and this is how it's been working until today. We tried to maintain the history of the place. Most of the furniture are original and a lot of the elements in the interior are either original or restored. We kept the soul of the place.

Why did you choose to base your hub in this area?

In our case, we didn't really pick the area, since we already had the property. We had to decide what we wanted to do with it. So it could be a place for tourists, a museum or rented to a fancy five star hotel chain. There were several possibilities, but we decided that what makes sense for us is to make a change and bring something else to this rural area. Usually the tourist season here is the first two weeks of June. Now, we have people all year round without closing at all. So we didn't choose the place, but we chose what to do with it.

What did you manage to (re)build in your territory?

We are near a small village, but we are not even in the village because it's a big private property. Basically, we are located in between two villages. We are trying to bring a lot of positive impact. One of the main things that we managed to achieve is bringing here people from all over the world. From a financial point of view, we bring income from people that are not working within the French system. In our case, compared to other touristic places, people stay for one to three months. They not only contribute financially, but they also become part of the village. They become part of the locals, want to meet, contribute, see how things work and learn. It's a very different dynamic compared to regular tourism. From a nonfinancial point of view, we are working with local municipalities and trying to make them understand that this area has a lot of potential. We want to make cultural events happen in collaboration with the locals and work with local schools.

Having international contacts and learning different perspectives shows younger people a different reality.

Our clients are mainly foreigners, so English is the language for us in the house. We are sometimes doing informal dinners, cultural exchanges, language exchanges, with the local social club as well. The village next to us has an association, like a social club, where you can just go meet, play games and socialise. I think it’s a great thing for the local people who spent all of their life in a remote village, and especially kids, to see that people from all over the world are interested in their area. This gives them confidence that the place they are from is interesting for other people and also breaks the general belief that everything happens in the big cities. This is a misconception. Now, with the possibility to work from everywhere, you can make things happen in smaller areas and mainly for the younger generation, it makes them understand that if you want to have a career, to be successful, or to do something, even though you were born in a small village, and maybe your family doesn't have the means to send you to a big city, you can still have a career. Having international contacts and learning different perspectives shows them a different reality. It's very powerful to imagine a future no matter where you are from.

How do you envision the future?

In summer, we are planning on having special open days with some kind of concrete event. The locals don't really work on computers or remotely. It's mainly a rural area where people mainly work on farms.

We are looking for projects that we can do together with the municipality for local impact.

We want to organise events and special days where we can do things together. One of the things that we are working on for spring is hosting travelling families. It's families with children who are travelling full time and are homeschooling. There are not many places in the world that facilitate travelling families, so they're staying with us for a month. We are hosting 10 families in our space. Then 40 finalists are coming for the meetup and 30 other families are staying in the surrounding villages in guest houses and apartment rentals. They are all meeting up and working from our place in the castle for the month. They're currently planning to have a prom night for their teenagers because they never went to regular school. They were always homeschooled so they never got the chance to have a proper prom night. So we are planning to invite some local teenagers to join the prom night and exchange. During this whole month, we are looking for projects that they can do together with the municipality for local impact. We have this huge resource of people that have time and motivation. Let's check what is needed instead of deciding what to do.

We would love to do much more. We are still quite a new business. We started less than two years ago, during very uncertain times in the pandemic. So the first year, we were quite focused on the survival of the business itself. Now that we have quite high interest, it gives us the opportunity to think a bit more about what we can do in collaboration with the locals.

What I would like to do a bit more, in the short term, is more events and direct integration with the locals. Cultural, music, even culinary events we can do together. I would really like to start working with local schools or high schools. One of the projects we really hope to implement, but it's still in a very early stage, is to invite teenagers from local schools in our coworking space. They can use the facilities, the fast internet and the coworking space.

Our big dream would be to have a permaculture farm on the property, which will be some kind of community farm in collaboration with people from the village and the residents, especially those staying a bit longer.

In the co-living, we do a lot of skill shares and inspirational talks from our residents. Most of them have very interesting stories, they travel all around the world and do very interesting and unusual jobs. I'm really hoping that we will manage to organise some open nights with inspirational speeches from our residents, where they could give some kind of different perspective, but also for locals to practise their English and communicate with foreigners.

When it comes to the long term, we have a huge project in mind. Normandy is a very fertile land because it's humid and sunny, so everything grows here. We have a building on the property that hasn’t been restored yet and we are gradually now starting to put back the roof and have plans for it. Our big dream would be to have a permaculture farm on the property, which will be some kind of community farm in collaboration with people from the village and the residents, especially those staying a bit longer. It's a project that has several aspects. It's good for the environment, but also brings people from the villages and the co-living people working on a common project. For the future, it could generate a bit of income for the local community or a cooperative they invest a bit of their time in, and then use and produce.

Spotlight Practice: Acting as local connector

As co-living, one thing that we encourage our residents to do is to think about something that can be done locally. What is very interesting is connecting the residents, in our case with local nonprofit organisations. Sometimes, remote workers are nomads, they will go to a place for one or two months and they will either have a lot of work, or help with something, but they don't speak the language, they don't know where to start, they don't know who they can contact. One thing that hubs can play an interesting part of is to become this connection, this bridge between locals, local NGOs and local projects and giving them the temporary resources that the co-livers can offer. This can range from physical help to actual help with technology, coding, marketing, websites, all these things that nomads do easily and very often local people don't know, especially from small villages. They don't necessarily have the knowledge and the access to technology. So being the connection between local projects and digital nomads could be an interesting way to contribute.

Katia Dimova, Founder of Chateau Coliving and Coworking. Katia gave us the insights of the history behind her hub, going back to the Medieval Times, and of how it is now projected into contemporaneity.