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House Hunting in France: A Once-in-a-Millennium Castle for $3.3 Million

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Perched above the Charente river and the village of Verteuil-sur-Charente, among the rolling hills of France’s Poitou-Charentes region, this 94-acre estate comes with a 14-bedroom stone castle, a separate library, chapels and a watchtower.

The Rochefoucauld family, among France’s most prominent nobility, took up residence in the 10,764-square-foot castle, called Château de Verteuil, after it was built in the 11th century, said Patrice Besse, the founding president of Patrice Besse, the Paris-based real estate agency with the listing. The castle “has been in the same family for 1,000 years, and it is like a work of art that has never been on the market,” Mr. Besse said. “In addition, it is of remarkable architecture, and its history is very important.”

The castle has a central pavilion flanked by two towers and two wings ending in towers, creating a V-shape. The estate’s conical towers, with candle snuffer roofs, and perimeter walls date to the 11th century, with period features including openings (called machicolations) used to drop stones or burning objects on attackers, he said. It was destroyed during the sieges of the Hundred Years’ War in the 15th century and then rebuilt with the original stones. Further modifications came the following century, when Italian craftsmen transformed it into an Italian Renaissance-style castle, Mr. Besse said.

The property was converted into apartments in the 18th century, with large windows incorporated into the facades; in the early 19th century, an extensive restoration was done to repair damages incurred during the French Revolution, he said. In 2010, the property obtained full protection as a historic monument in France.

One intriguing aspect of the castle’s history is its role as the former home of the Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries, which were purchased from the Rochefoucaulds in 1923 by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and donated to the Met Cloisters in 1937.

The estate has a triangular design with a landscaped central courtyard overlooking and spanning the length of Verteuil-sur-Charente. The fairy-tale-like castle makes up one side of the triangle, approached by a long driveway flanked by forested parkland and outbuildings. The castle is penetrated by an archway with floral mosaic floor tiles and enclosed by an atrium with views of the estate’s courtyard, which has an ornamental pond and medieval-style gardens.

One side of the courtyard, above the river, has walkways connecting the 861-square-foot library building and the 753-square-foot chapels building. The latter is connected to the watchtower, now used for storage, at the point of the triangular courtyard farthest from the castle. The third side of the courtyard is lined with tall hedges on a perimeter wall and looks out over the village.

The three-story stone castle has 14 bedrooms and nine bathrooms. The facade facing the courtyard is rendered in lime, and the roofs are all slate and were replaced in 2001 and 2013. All the windows have been updated since 2003, Mr. Besse said.

One side of the entrance archway opens to the main staircase, topped by a grand dome built by Italian craftsmen after the French Revolution. Beyond, two opulent Renaissance lounges have windows with park views and access to a corridor opening to the main courtyard. Rooms in the castle have such features as 14-foot coffered ceilings, herringbone parquet floors, frescoes, wall paneling, wainscoting and other embellishments.

While furniture is not included in the asking price, much of it is negotiable, Mr. Besse said. “The buyer will be able to choose from a wide range of furniture, paintings and decorative objects, like 17th-century Italian furniture, a Louis XVI commode and Murano chandeliers,” he said.

The other side of the entrance archway has a small living room opening to a dining room with coffered ceilings and a kitchen. Beyond the dining room is another staircase and a bedroom with an en suite bath. On the castle’s second floor, accessed by three staircases, are two more intimate living rooms and four bedrooms with en suite baths. Two of the bedrooms are highly formal, having hosted such visitors as Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, in the 16th century, and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in the 20th century, Mr. Besse said.

The castle’s third floor has a corridor overlooking the main courtyard that accesses nine bedrooms, five of which have en suite baths. There’s a marble fireplace in every room and parquet flooring throughout. Central heating has been installed in part of the castle, including the kitchen, a small lounge and bathroom on the first floor, and two bedrooms with en suite baths on upper floors.

The library building, which holds more than 1,000 books, has a vaulted ceiling and a gallery along the walls added in the late 19th century. The main chapel was restored in the late 19th century and its roof was replaced in 2013. Beneath it, a 12th-century apse was discovered in the 20th century, as was an 11th-century chapel. The outbuildings have been completely refurbished and equipped with a professional kitchen and restrooms to hold public events. They have rendered facades, waxed cement floors and original exposed stone walls.

The 94-acre estate is landscaped with cedar trees, conifers, box trees and yew trees, including a 500-year-old listed yew tree. On the river side of the property, two terraces have stone staircases, and a fish pond and washroom have recently been restored.

The village of Verteuil-sur-Charente, with several hundred residents, is about 27 miles north of Angoulême, with about 42,000 people, and about 45 miles south of Poitiers, with about 88,000. Both cities are historic attractions in the Poitou-Charentes region, and Angoulême is known for its annual international comic-book festival. Cognac, the small town known for its eponymous digestif, is about 40 miles southwest, while the beaches of the Atlantic coast, along with the cities of La Rochelle and Bordeaux, are about an hour and 45 minutes away. There are several high-speed train options to arrive in central Paris in about three hours, or Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport in about four hours, Mr. Besse said.

The housing market in France has been “on fire” the past few months as urban French residents with high-value homes, particularly those in Paris, have sought to buy in the countryside, including regions such as Poitou-Charentes, said Mike Braunholtz, sales director of the agency Prestige Property Group.

“They’re wanting to get a place in the country to escape to should they have to be relocating or need to be out of the city for future potential Covid strikes,” he said. “Another big driver is the price of borrowing has come down dramatically, so we’ve got people getting 10-year mortgages at 1.5 or 1.75 percent.”

Even the coronavirus lockdown from about mid-March to mid-May did little to slow domestic home purchases in France — though foreign buyers largely disappeared, brokers said.

“Obviously, foreign customers were very absent from the first months of this pandemic, but the French have largely compensated for this absence,” Mr. Besse said. Compared to last year, “we have increased the volume of our transactions by 50 percent, and this is almost exclusively with French people.”

Despite the post-lockdown buying frenzy, the July report issued by the Notaires de France is measured in its outlook for 2020. While 2019 was certainly booming, the property market in France may have peaked during the spring after almost five years of increased sales activity, with the year-over-year change in transactions in April down (by 1.2 percent) for the first time since July 2015. The Notaire’s summation warned that the recent spate of buying was largely the culmination of sales that were in the works before the pandemic, and may not compensate for the two months’ of lost activity.

(As of Oct. 5, France had reported 624,274 cases of Covid-19 and 32,299 deaths, according to the New York Times’s coronavirus map. On Monday, authorities in Paris announced that bars and most cafes would close for two weeks to stem a spike in coronavirus cases there.)

In June, foreign home buyers began to return as travel restrictions were loosened, said Tim Swannie, a managing director at Home Hunts, an agency in the South of France. “The lockdown seemed to give people time to think and prioritize,” he said. “Many people who had been considering owning their dream home overseas for a while decided to take the plunge. We’ve had a lot of interest from clients who lived in cities, particularly London, Geneva, Berlin, Amsterdam and Monaco, and had spent their lockdown in apartments with little outside space.”

Another driver of British home buyers in France has been the looming end of Brexit’s “transition period” on Dec. 31, 2020, Mr. Braunholtz said. “There’s a rush of people trying to buy something before Dec. 31, because a lot of people are worried that the French are going to make it more difficult,” he said.

Along with those factors, the traditional reasons foreigners seek homes in France are keeping the housing market moving in areas outside the big cities, like Poitou-Charentes, Mr. Swannie said. “This region offers great value,” he said. “It’s a varied and interesting region with something for everyone. The weather is mild, the scenery is beautiful, and it has great food and places of interest.”

In the first quarter of 2020, the median price for existing houses and flats in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region, which includes the Poitou-Charentes area, was 1,730 euros a square meter ($189 a square foot), according to the Notaires de France. In Poitiers, the historic center of Poitou, the median price for resale homes in the first quarter of 2020 was 160,000 euros ($187,500), a 2.4 percent drop from the first quarter of 2019, making it the only French city tracked by Notaires de France to see negative price growth.

However, a property such as Château de Verteuil doesn’t fall within the typical pricing parameters for homes in the region, Mr. Besse said.

“Regarding the market for buildings of character, like castles, manors, mills and farmhouses, there is no particular information database,” he said. The price “depends on the location, the size of the buildings and land around, and the work to be done there. Obviously, the architectural and historical character must be taken into account.”

The percentage of nonresident foreign buyers in mainland France has been falling steadily since 2008, until bottoming out at 1.7 percent in 2018, the latest year for which numbers were published, according to the January report by the Notaires de France.

However, Mr. Swannie said, he handled British, German, Swiss, Scandinavian, Belgian and other European buyers this summer, even as non-European buyers were constrained by travel restrictions. Traditionally, a broader array of foreign buyers includes those from China, Italy, the United States, Russia and the Middle East, he said.

Mr. Besse said that aside from French buyers, his firm traditionally handles Belgian, English, German and Dutch clients. Since the pandemic, he’s been receiving requests and handling transactions for American buyers, who remain barred from traveling to France by the European Union. “We also have a lot of requests from Australians who are waiting to come to France,” he said.

With a possible second wave of coronavirus in the offing, brokers were uncertain how long the resurgence of foreign buyers seen since June would last. Mr. Swannie said he’s noticed a slowdown in recent weeks after the introduction of quarantines in some European countries. “U.K. citizens, for example, can travel to France and enter freely, but when they return to the U.K., they have to quarantine for two weeks currently,” he said. “This puts some people off traveling.”

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers in France.

All home sales are handled by notaries, who are government-appointed legal experts mandated to protect both buyer and seller.

Buyers typically pay 7 to 8 percent of the purchase price in taxes, which includes the notary’s fee, Mr. Besse said. His firm provides valuations for about 1,800 euros ($2,100), or full property appraisals for about 2,400 euros ($2,800), depending on the size of the property.

Most properties advertised include the broker’s commission, which is paid by the seller and is typically 5 to 6 percent, Mr. Swannie said.

While French banks will lend to foreign home buyers, American buyers often face stricter lending standards, Mr. Braunholtz said.

  • Nouvelle-Aquitaine tourism: nouvelle-aquitaine-tourisme.com

  • French Ministry of Foreign Affairs: diplomatie.gouv.fr

  • Notaires de France: notaires.fr

French; euro (1 euro = $1.17)

The annual property taxes on this property are 3,350 euros ($3,900), Mr. Besse said.

Jérôme Broun, Patrice Besse, 011-33-1-42-84-80-85, patrice-besse.com

For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.

By: Alison Gregor
Title: House Hunting in France: A Once-in-a-Millennium Castle for $3.3 Million
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/10/07/realestate/house-hunting-in-france-castle.html
Published Date: Wed, 07 Oct 2020 13:31:41 +0000

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Limited time Amex points transfer bonuses ending soon!

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During normal times, points transfer bonuses by Amex or any other issuer gain a lot of traction. However, we live in unusual times. Travel is nowhere close to normal and only a small minority is actively looking to book travel. Amex Membership Rewards points, along with Chase Ultimate Rewards points are two of my favorite transferable points currencies. Amex, in particular, has the edge over Chase when it comes to international airline partners. At the moment, Amex is running two lucrative points transfer bonuses with their Membership Rewards points. However, if you’re looking to travel any time soon then now is a good time to transfer time as these limited time bonuses end on October 31.

Amex Points Transfer Points Bonuses

Amex is currently running points transfer bonuses for Hilton and Marriott. These limited time offers expire on October 31, 2020.

Hilton Honors

The standard points transfer ratio for Hilton Honors is 1:2. With this bonus, you’ll get a ratio of 1:2.8. For example, if you transfer 1,000 Membership Rewards points, you’ll get 2,800 Hilton Honors points.

Marriott Bonvoy

The standard points transfer ratio for Marriott Bonvoy is 1:1. With this, bonus you’ll get a ratio of 1:1.4. For example, if you transfer 1,000 Membership Rewards points, you’ll get 1,400 Marriott Bonvoy points.

Crunching the Numbers

During normal times, many frequent travelers tend to jump on these limited time transfer bonuses. However, how lucrative are these bonuses during the current situation?

For example, let’s say you want to book a top tier Hilton hotel. One night will cost you at least 95,000 points for a standard room. With this bonus, you’ll need 39,000 Membership Rewards points instead of 48,000.

Similarly, let’s say you want to book a top tier Marriott hotel. One night will cost you at least 85,000 points for a standard room. With this bonus, you’ll need 61,000 Membership Rewards points instead of 85,000.

In short, the higher the category of the hotel, the more lucrative these transfer bonuses become for you.

Credit Card Bonuses

If you’re falling short on Marriott or Hilton points, another option is to sign up for co-branded credit cards from Marriott and Hilton. Currently, many of these cards are running limited time offers. Please note that Amex and Chase restrictions may apply to these credit cards.

Card Name Sign-up Bonus Application Link
Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless 30k points
Apply Now
Chase Marriott Bonvoy Bold 5 free nights (up to 50k points each)
Apply Now
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card 125k points + Platinum Status for 2021
Apply Now
Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business Card 100k points + $150 in credits
Apply Now
Hilton Honors Business Card 130k points
Apply Now
Amex Hilton Honors Card 95k points
Apply Now
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card 140k points
Apply Now
Hliton Honors American Express Aspire Card 150k points + 1 free night
Apply Now

The Pundit’s Mantra

In most cases, I don’t recommend transferring points speculatively. However, if you do have a trip on the horizon, then it makes sense to use these Amex points transfer bonuses to your advantage.

In the past, I’ve used transfer bonuses to book some really cool trips. For example, I used a transfer bonus to British Airways in order to book a last minute trip to Colombia. However, given the current scenario, not many of us are planning such trips on the go.

Do you plan to make use of either of these points transfer bonuses before the end of the month? Tell us in the comments section.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is currently offering a limited time welcome bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points. You’ll earn a welcome bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. You’ll also earn 2x points all on all travel and dining spend and 5 x on Lyft rides.

Apply Now

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Disclosure: The Points Pundit receives NO compensation from credit card affiliate partnerships. Support the blog by applying for a card through my personal referral links. This article is meant for information purposes only and doesn’t constitute personal finance, health or investment advice. Please consult a licensed professional for advice pertaining to your situation.

By: The Points Pundit
Title: Limited time Amex points transfer bonuses ending soon!
Sourced From: travelupdate.com/limited-time-amex-points-transfer-bonuses-ending-soon/
Published Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2020 12:10:32 +0000

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Cruise Ship Rescues 24 People From Sinking Boat Off Florida Coast

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The Carnival Sensation was sailing in international waters off the Florida coast on Saturday when crew members spotted a crowded 36-foot boat that appeared to be in distress.

The ship maneuvered alongside the boat and crew members handed over blankets, life jackets, food and water to the 24 people onboard the smaller vessel, including two children, according to the Carnival Cruise Line.

As it floated 37 miles off the coast of Palm Beach, the boat began to take on water. The passengers were quickly ushered aboard the cruise ship through a side hatch that is typically used in port to load supplies via a gangway. The boat sank after the rescue, a Coast Guard spokeswoman said.

The rescued passengers were the first guests to board the cruise ship in months, Carnival said. They were evaluated by the cruise ship’s medical staff and quarantined away from crew members, the cruise line said. They were picked up by the Coast Guard after about six hours, the spokeswoman said.

The rescued boat was coming from Freeport, Bahamas, said Nicole J. Groll, the Coast Guard spokeswoman. It was not clear where the boat was headed, she said, nor was it clear what had happened to the boat that caused it to sink.

“The disabled vessel sank and actions are currently being taken to coordinate the transfer of the individuals ashore,” Ms. Groll said in a statement Monday.

The $45 billion global cruise industry serves 20 million passengers in a typical year. But since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, ships have been roaming the seas for months without guests, staffed by skeleton crews. Operations have been suspended until Oct. 31, and some lines have canceled cruises into next year.

Carnival operates 23 ships. While they are idle, they maintain a “minimum nonoperational manning status,” according to a spokesman. That means they are staffed by 75 to 100 crew members, including marine engineers, technicians and officers, as well as housekeeping, culinary and other staff members.

Occasionally, they perform rescues, the spokesman said. In July, the Carnival Legend responded to a call for help from a boat that had run out of fuel off the coast of the Bahamas. The Legend gave the boaters 25 gallons of gas to help them make their way back to Jacksonville, Fla.

Ships are obligated under maritime law to respond to vessels in distress, said Jim Walker, a Miami-based maritime lawyer.

The duty to rescue a derelict vessel falls to a ship’s captain, who “has both a moral and a legal obligation to help,” he said.

There are typically three or four such rescues every year, some of which involve migrants, Mr. Walker said.

“Often there is no true ‘rescue’ of foreign immigrants at sea because the cruise ship will call the U.S.C.G. who will pick them up and then return them to their home countries,” Mr. Walker said in an email, referring to the Coast Guard. “It is not so much a ‘rescue’ but an ‘interception’ at sea.”

In some cases, he said, a ship’s captain or the captain’s employer could face criminal charges for ignoring a cry for help.

In 2012, Princess Cruises was sued after one of its cruise ships, the Star Princess, failed to help a disabled fishing boat that had been adrift for days when it was spotted by crew members and passengers. Two of the people on the fishing boat died.

The cruise industry has come under fire during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly early in the outbreak as passengers and crew members were trapped aboard ships where the virus spread rapidly.

In February, more than 700 passengers were infected on the Diamond Princess as the ship idled off the coast of Japan. Nine of the infected passengers died.

In August, the cruise industry voluntarily suspended operations until Oct. 31, following the extension of a no-sail order for cruise ships through Sept. 30 issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency noted that from March to July there had been nearly 3,000 suspected and confirmed coronavirus cases and 34 deaths on cruise ships in U.S. waters.

The Carnival Corporation, which operates Carnival, Princess and other brands and serves roughly 50 percent of the global cruise market, has dealt with outbreaks on several of its ships, including Holland America’s Zaandam, which tried to unload sick passengers in Florida in April. Last week, Carnival Cruise Line canceled several cruises that were scheduled for November and January.

By: Marie Fazio
Title: Cruise Ship Rescues 24 People From Sinking Boat Off Florida Coast
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/10/19/us/carnival-cruise-rescue.html
Published Date: Mon, 19 Oct 2020 22:51:45 +0000

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2,000-Year-Old Cat Etching Found at Nazca Lines Site in Peru

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The image, stretching for 40 yards on a hillside in Peru, shows a creature with pointy ears, orb-like eyes and a long striped tail. It appears to be a cat lounging, as cats often do.

Archaeologists stumbled across the faded etching while remodeling a section of a UNESCO heritage site known as the Nazca Lines, Peru’s Ministry of Culture announced last week.

The catlike geoglyph — which experts say dates to 200 B.C. to 100 B.C. — is the latest discovery among the carvings of larger-than-life animals and plants previously found between the towns of Nazca and Palpa, in a desert plain about 250 miles southeast of the capital, Lima.

“The discovery shows, once again, the rich and varied cultural legacy of this site,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Nazca Lines were first discovered by a Peruvian aerial surveyor in 1927. Images of a hummingbird, a monkey and an orca were unearthed at the site. UNESCO has designated the Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Palpa a World Heritage Site since 1994.

The cat etching is believed to be older than any of the prehistoric geoglyphs previously unearthed at Nazca.

“It’s quite striking that we’re still finding new figures, but we also know that there are more to be found,” Johny Isla, Peru’s chief archaeologist for the Nazca lines, told Efe, a Spanish news agency.

The designs were believed to have been created when ancient Peruvians scraped off a dark and rocky layer of earth, which contrasts with lighter-colored sand underneath. Researchers believe that the figures once served as travel markers.

Drone photography has led to several discoveries in recent years, Mr. Isla said. In 2019, researchers from Japan, aided by satellite photography and three-dimensional imaging, unearthed more than 140 new geoglyphs at the site.

Research and conservation work had continued at the site even during the coronavirus pandemic, when most tourist sites have been closed. Archaeologists and employees were working on the Mirador Natural, a lookout point in the protected site, when they began unearthing something intriguing. When they cleaned the mound, clear lines showing the sinuous body of a cat emerged.

“The figure was barely visible and was about to disappear because it is situated on quite a steep slope that’s prone to the effects of natural erosion,” the culture ministry said in a statement.

The authorities said that even a stray footprint could mar the fragile grounds, and have imposed strict rules against trespassing at the site. Before the pandemic shut down tours, visitors were permitted to view the lines and figures only from planes and lookout points.

But disturbances at the Nazca lines have occurred, drawing widespread condemnation.

In 2014, Greenpeace activists left shoe marks near a large hummingbird design when they placed a sign that promoted renewable energy, Peruvian officials said.

“You walk there and the footprint is going to last hundreds or thousands of years,” Luis Jaime Castillo, a Peruvian official and archaeologist, told The Guardian at the time. “And the line that they have destroyed is the most visible and most recognized of all.”

In 2018, a truck driver was arrested after intentionally driving his tractor-trailer across three lines of geoglyphs.

Even as Peru works to preserve its ancient sites, officials reopened Machu Picchu this month for one lucky tourist after he became stranded during the pandemic and waited seven months to see the 16th-century Inca citadel.

By: Tiffany May
Title: 2,000-Year-Old Cat Etching Found at Nazca Lines Site in Peru
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/10/19/world/americas/peru-cat-nazca-lines-nasca.html
Published Date: Mon, 19 Oct 2020 08:48:43 +0000

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