12 November 2018

Château des Ormes

This summer we visited the beautiful Château des Ormes which is located between Tours and Poitiers in South-West France.
Construction on the Château began in 1642 by the Pussort brothers, and it was expanded in 1729 by new owner Marc-Pierre de Voyer de Paulmy d'Argenson, Minister of War for King Louis XV and friend of the philosophers of the Enlightenment. It is a truly stunning piece of architecture here in the Vienne valley. The Château des Ormes has known many renovations over the years but the interior remains as beautiful as ever: full of unique antique furniture, paintings, and some of Argenson's original priceless collections. 

The main entrance to the grounds is drawn straight from a fairy-tale. The tall black gates open onto the centre of the court, and the short walk through the 'English style' gardens to the main door allows you to take in the full grandeur of the place: 3 stunning pavilions of white stone, a farm and several barns.
This post will feature pictures of the interior (the rooms open to the visitors). I'll also be including some Historical context: this Château played an important role in the time of the Enlightenment. Many famous figures walked its gardens and halls. As someone with a Baccalaureate in Literature I found it all very exciting!
The first room visitors can explore is the long entrance hall in the main pavilion (1st picture): a stone staircase on either end, large windows on one side and 3 large doors on the other. Large paintings decorate the walls, and a dozen marble busts (probably plaster copies) line the hallway. It is a light and spacious room, no sign of ruin or decay plagues the ceilings or walls. Although this room has clearly been remarkably restored it still pays homage to the rococo style as used by d'Argenson in his 18th century expansion. 

The Dining Room
The door on the very far left of the hallway next to the staircase leads you to the 1908 dining room (see above). The first thing I noticed was the natural light flooding the space. There were 5 large windows in this room alone and 1 set of shutters had not been opened. I can only imagine how beautiful this room would look with all 5 sets open at sunrise or at dusk. The room felt light, clean, spacious. A reminder of the value of daylight in a different era.
The colours of the stucco-marble in this room were a bit of a surprise: delicate shades of yellow and pink. The guide explained the technique used to dye the marble (which if I remember correctly involved rabbit's fat), it was all a little complicated but you can just imagine the work that went into this room alone!

The Grand Vestibule (pictured below) really is one of the most stunning rooms I have ever seen. Once again it is bathed in beautiful natural light which bounces off the white tiles, walls and ceiling. The sound of footsteps echo through the hall- it's a beautiful sight. Enough to make anyone feel the desire to live in such a place.

The current owner of the Château, Doctor Sydney Abbou (a gynaecologist from Paris), has spent many years collecting old antique furniture and tracking down original collections which had previously been sold by another owner in the 80s, to pay for refurbishments. I had a little look through the Château's website and some of the furniture seen in our photographs is missing in theirs, which are only a couple of years old!
Renovations to the exterior are ongoing- to the right of the courtyard there are several large barns, one of which has been blocked off for construction work. It's unclear whether this will be open to the public in the years to come, or if the owners' plan on expanding the visit if/once other pavilions have been restored. I can only imagine the cost of it all! Whatever the case I believe that many things will have changed by my next visit.

The 2nd door off the Grand Vestibule leads you to the Blue Lounge (see below), once named 'battle lounge' for the paintings which illustrated the battles under Louis XV (Fontenoy, Lawfeld, Menin). Those paintings were sold in 1975.
Once again the room is characterized by the natural light flowing through the two large french windows. A large chandelier hangs above the seating area, centuries old pianos (the details of which escape me- but the tour guide insisted upon their value) occupy the corners of the room and beautiful delicate artworks painted by owner Mr Abbou decorate the panelled walls.

The three main rooms of the tour are connected so you can walk through them without having to go back out to the main hallway. The Grand Salon (on the right of the Blue Lounge) is perhaps the most exquisite room of the Château: we spent ages taking it all in. Four mirrors are placed between 3 large french windows, making the room feel even bigger than it is. Two large pianos take centre stage, and various antique furniture completes the rest of the room. Tapestries which once decorated these walls are now in the Louvre museum in Paris. 

Marc-Pierre de Voyer de Paulmy D'Argenson, minister of War to King Louis XV in 1742 is perhaps the most famous owner of the property/land in its 600 years. He and the King were close: both of them shared a passion for the Arts and the King deeply valued D'Argenson's advice. Eventually Madame de Pompadour (the King's 'favourite') grew jealous of their special relationship. This sparked a rivalry between the two which festered until their deaths. Madame de Pompadour claimed that d'Argenson was responsible for the attack on the King in January 1757 and the following month, the 1st of February 1757, the King ordered d'Argenson to quit his position and exiled him from Paris, forcing him to remain at the Château des Ormes indefinitely.
D'Argenson returned to Paris after Pompadour's death in 1764 only to die several weeks later.
During his exile, d'Argenson had the Château renovated in the Rococo style and had several apartments set up for his friends: Parisians, Philosophers, Encyclopaedists and members of the Academy of Science. The Château des Ormes therefore became one of the 'intellectual centres' of the Enlightenment with famous guests such as Voltaire, Marmontel, Fontenelle, Dom Deschamps, future Charles X among others. (source)

I studied Philosophy as part of my Baccalaureate in Literature so I'm very familiar with the names and their work- it's quite amazing to think that they all used to meet up in this very place! They played such an important role in French History, making this Château all the more valuable- it became a Historical Monument in 2012 and rightfully so. You can only imagine the secrets these walls could tell!

There are two kitchens in the Château: one from the 18th Century and one from 19th. The oldest (see above) still has many of its original furniture. This room was only recently renovated but it still feels very authentic. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of the fireplace but the stones in front of it were so deformed from the years of use- they really have managed to honour the History of this building.

I also enjoyed visiting the other areas of the Château, notably the farm and the barns. I love the stonework- whenever I think of France that image always pops into my head.

You can see another gate in the picture below (left hand corner, next to the farm) which leads you to the woods surrounding the river, and to the 'ice-box' building which used to store ice which had been brought up from the mountains!

The pictures below are of the 19th Century kitchens, smaller and more modern than the other one on the other side of the property.

Suzette II
This place is full of surprises- I didn't expect to see a very valuable Historic boat in the barn! Suzette II (built in 1902) was found in one of the barns back in 2001, hidden under a pile of bits and bobs. It was declared a Historical Monument in 2002 and fully restored in 2006.
The icebox (see below) and the boat aren't the only rare features you'll find in the Château des Ormes: there is also a fully functioning power plant in one of the pavilions. It was established in 1906, back when the vast majority of homes were still lighted by gas.

There's so much more to say about this Château, but D'Argenson's special 'herbarium' (an encyclopedia of the world's plants) deserves a mention. This large collection was rediscovered in a small room in the Château in the early 2000s. The owner's had the pages expertly cleaned and some of the plants reassembled.
We were lucky enough to see one of the volumes of this collection (there are about 50 of them) and admire the dried plants on the pages and the hand-written notes next to them, which share the plants' Latin name and the date it was picked- the oldest plant was picked by d'Argenson in 1804! D'Argenson worked on this project his whole life (as did his offspring after his death, until 1870), it's remarkable that this valuable collection has survived all this time!

(Source - Visit the official website for the Château des Ormes here)

This Château is absolutely worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Vienne. The guide was very kind and informative and the visit was absolutely worth the money.

Guided Tour: 10 euros per person - 1h15 mins
Self-Guided: 7 euros per person

Open from the 30th of June to the 1st of September, every day between 2pm and 6pm except on Tuesdays.

You can book a rendez-vous any other day of the year: 0680956193.


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