This weekend, across Europe, the European Heritage Days (les journées de patrimoine) took place.  Across France, almost 17 000 monuments, many normally private, opened their doors to the public.  So today, we took advantage to see a couple of local chateaux, which we would not normally be able to see close up…..

Le Château de Montesson

The first visit was to this castle, situated just 20 minutes down the road, on the outskirts of the village of Bais.  We first came across it by accident, while on a drive out, turning a corner we saw this beautiful building surrounded by a moat…. sadly it wasn’t open to the public, so we had to be satisfied by looking at it from the roadside!  So, when we heard about the Heritage Days, we checked to see if it was taking part in the event and were delighted that it was!

Through the main archway, we were met by the owner of the property a lovely man who told us some of the history of the place… A Parisian, he had bought it some years ago after it had been abandoned by the Montesson family.  All around the buildings and garden were derelict, while the retaining walls of the moat were in ruins and there was more silt than water in the moat.  The buildings range from the 14th to the 17th century.  Henry III was the king of Poland-Lithuanian Commonwealth but abandoned this title when he inherited the French throne after his brother, Charles IX died.  He authorised the then owner of the château, René de Montesson, to fortify the castle.  It is believed that the ornate finish to the round tower is influenced from King Henry’s Polish connections….The castle, newly renovated/ fortified, would have therefore been visited, perhaps, occupied by the Royal troops at the time of the last religious unrest….

The current owner lives in the main building but said it was cold in winter!!

The old farm house that runs at right angles to the main building is no longer inhabited but he has kept it in good condition…. Quite the French fairy-tale farmhouse…

The moat surrounded the buildings and main lawns and beyond, over a stone bridge, a large area had been put down to a pear orchard and herbaceous borders, all surrounded by large beach trees and hedging…

It was all beautifully in scale with the castle and farm – the huge trees and hedges made a lovely backdrop for the property but didn’t make it feel hemmed in at all.  Further on, there was a dry ditch upon which stunning beech trees grew in a double row on the mossy banks…

Beyond that was another lawned area, which, in the past would have been the potager, watered from the ditch which would have held water, diverted from the river, for this very purpose – ingenious!

We followed a path around the moat to view the castle from different perspectives….

We felt that the current owner was a great custodian of the castle and had done a wonderfully sympathetic job on it’s restoration.  He was clearly very happy to be able to do so and it was a pleasure to meet him and see this beautiful château.  He said that he thought it wasn’t so much beautiful, more that he was adding warmth to the place 🙂

After leaving le Château Montesson, we had a little picnic near the site du Montaigu, overlooking a fantastic view from Bais, towards Evron…

The weather was mixed but while we had lunch we watched wisps of mist coming out of the woods, rain showers in the distance and then little patches of sunshine lighting up the odd hillside…

Le Château de la Grande Courbe

By the time we reached our next château, about 30 minutes away near Brée, the sun came out 🙂   This was another moated castle and when we arrived a guided tour started.  Sadly, the guide wasn’t very clear, so I found it hard to follow much of the dialogue.  However, I understood parts of this castle dated back to the 13th century and comprised of two medieval halls, a grange and stables, a tower and bed chambers, ‘donjon’ and wooden balcony, while outside, a beautiful Renaissance garden had been renovated with box hedging and herbaceous plantings….  The owners bought the castle when it was a complete ruin.  Work started around 2001 and it was incredible to see the extent of what had been achieved in that time – clearly still plenty to renovate but it is now habitable, in part….

This view made me think of Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shalott’…

It was a wonderful day out and a great way to find out more of the French history, both locally and nationally.  Next year, I think we may plan visits for both days of the weekend ♥