Chasing Normandy’s Medieval and Jacques Garcia’s Baroque

A day in Normandy for me means visiting my favorite Baroque folies, and seeing my dear friend, the fiery shepherdess Constanze.  On this particular beautiful Norman day in July, Constanze became the tour guide for my traveling companion and I.  Constanze knows all to well when I visit exactly what my intentions are…to see as many chateau and other French heritage sites as possible.  That is of course how we met…two years prior I was on a precise chase to find the folies she is the guardian of.  If it wasn’t for her, my dream of seeing the little Chateau de Morsan would never have been.

 

We started our tour in the countryside at Morsan, then made our way to the medieval commune of Le Bec-Hellouin to see the Bec Abbey, which dates to the 11th century.   During the Anglo-Norman 12th century, Bec Abbey was once a very influential abbey.  It became a ruin during the French Revolution (like most French places of dignity and heritage) and didn’t see a revival until the 20th century when Olivetan monks resettled it and made renovations.  Today it is known for it’s works in Anglicanism and the beautiful pottery produced by the monks that call Bec Abbey home.

Morsan France

Le Bec-Hellouin France

Tour Saint-Nicolas Bec Abbey

Bec Abbey France

Bec Abbey France

Tour Saint-Nicolas Bec Abbey

Bec Abbey France

Bec Abbey Church

Bec Abbey Church

Bec Abbey

From Bec Abbey we made our way to Château du Champ-de-Batailleand into my favorite era in time, the Baroque.  I’ve known about Château du Champ de Bataille for sometime.  It’s been on the list of chateaux to chase for years.  I’ve heard stories of it’s larger than life famous French interior designer owner, Jacques Garcia, from his contemporaries that are quite amusing, so naturally the idea of finally experiencing his realm was quite exciting.  Château du Champ de Bataille is of course private, so the inside and it’s exquisite antique furnishings are off-limits to photographs, so there are none to show.  There were times I was very tempted, but didn’t want to risk the confiscation of my Canon.  I can say that as an admirer of Versailles and my dearest Marie Antoinette, there are furnishings that in my opinion should be donated back to their place of origin.  I completely understand they have been collected and acquired by legal means, and if placed in the situation of letting go of one of Marie Antoinette’s pieces of furniture, I might think differently…

A detailed tour of the garden was not possible, as we arrived an hour before closing.  A tour of the chateau was the priority as the gardens are contemporary in their creation and not from time period.  Nonetheless they looked equally charming.

To understand what I’m talking about, follow this link:  http://quintessenceblog.com/jacques-garcias-champ-de-bataille/    The author of this blog was allowed to photograph the exquisite collection.

 Château du Champ-de-Bataille

 Château du Champ-de-Bataille

 Château du Champ-de-Bataille

 Château du Champ-de-Bataille

 Château du Champ-de-Bataille

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And this is where the chase comes to a close… until the next one.

Elissa’s Personal Chase…A folie d’amour.

Originally posted to the French Market Maven May 15, 2012 as Chasing Normandy 

Photos & Story: Marie Z. Johnston

Having spent many a childhood summer on the vast and dramatic Normandy coastline, it wasn’t difficult to say ‘YES’ when invited along on an expedition to the area. The purpose of this trip?  To locate, once and for all, a lovely little ‘Folie’(maddness) built as a hunting lodge for Louis XV that my friend had seen in a book and obsessed about ever since!

Normandy Sheep
We really had no plan, just a general idea of the direction we were headed in and a desire to see as many chateaux as we could, time permitting. Our first stop was the12th century Chateau d’Hartcourt.  An impressive example of medieval architecture, this chateau not only is one of the few remaining examples of it’s kind, it is also home to the oldest arboretum in France with 230 acres of trees and walking paths.
View of the moat at Chateau d'Hartcourt

View of the moat at Chateau d’Hartcourt

Entering the grounds of the Chateau d'Harcourt

Entering the grounds of the Chateau d’Harcourt

'medieval' stairway

‘medieval’ stairway

View from the chateau to the garden

View from the chateau to the garden

Wandering paths and inviting benches of the arboretum

Wandering paths and inviting benches of the arboretum

Gates in the walls to lure you deeper in the forest

Gates in the walls to lure you deeper in the forest

Mind you this was a spontaneous stop on the way to ferreting out the ‘folie’, and while quite an impressive place, it was not the chateau Elissa had in mind.  We climbed back in the car and set off to find the ‘nearby’ hamlet where said illusive chateau is perhaps in hiding.  Elissa had done her homework well! After a couple of false starts we eventually found ourselves on theRue du Chateau and there, behind a massive, locked gate and a bank of trees, we could just make it out.

Glimpsing the infamous 'folie' amongst the trees

Glimpsing the infamous ‘folie’ amongst the trees

After driving around and around the property trying to find a way in better view of the place, we saw something red on the road, in the distance by the main gate.Given that we were driving and the something red was walking, it took but a moment for our big grey van to pull up beside a red haired woman in a red jacket with three dogs.  A few moments of conversation, a couple of questions answered and lots of big smiles later we were standing smack in front of the ‘folie’ withConstanze and her friendly canine companions.

Elissa and the 'folie'

Elissa and the ‘folie’

Pan before the fountain

Pan before the fountain

An ancient tree on the property

An ancient tree on the property

To our surprise and amazement, Constanze invited us in (provided we removed our shoes which we gladly did) she then gave us a grand tour from the ‘cave/cuisine’ to the tippy top bedrooms.  Each room was more fantastic than the next, some had the original painted and gilded wood paneling complete with portraits of people who must have loved the house in times past.  “Madame’, who owns the place, is obsessed with the 18th century and some 25 years ago spent a great deal of time, effort and money recreating the 18th century in this gracious retreat not too far from Paris.

The kitchen in 'la cave'

The kitchen in ‘la cave’

The spiral staircase cares not a lick for windows

The spiral staircase cares not a lick for windows

another view of the spiral staircase

another view of the spiral staircase

The yellow room through the grey rooms door.

The yellow room through the grey rooms door.

Constanze allowed us to take as many photos as we wanted, that said, we promised her not to publish anything particularly identifying or revealing.  So the images I am sharing with you, my readers, are only some of the beautiful details of this rather  fantastic house.

Details, details

Details, details

After viewing the house, we put our shoes back on our (now frozen) dusty feet and Constanze took us to see the much older towers standing guard independently of the house and to meet her sheep.
Open to the elements, the stone walls have turned mossy

Open to the elements, the stone walls have turned mossy

Ancient graffiti - a sketch of the village church.  Was this a stonemason's home?

Ancient graffiti – a sketch of the village church. Was this a stonemason’s home?

Constanze and her sheep

Constanze and her sheep

The sun was getting low and we had kilometres to go before reaching our bed for the night. Tomorrow was to be another day of Chasing Chateaux and a visit to Omaha beach.
We said good-bye to Constanze, the sheep and the dogs and headed off, literally, into the sunset.
A grand and satisfying adventure to be sure…. and more to come.
Horse stables of the 'folie'

Horse stables of the ‘folie’

A Bientot,
MarieZ
To get a better sense of what this folie d’amour truly looks like on the inside, check out the blog Trouvais.  Trish, the creative mind behind Trouvais, is as smitten with the 18th century as Elissa.  Many interior design books of the late 90’s and early 2000’s featured this chateau.  One in particular titled, Classic Style, by Judith Miller may still be available for purchase.