Before the appearance of modern, affordable and accessible tourism for the less privileged classes, the young aristocrats (especially the British) made what is called the “Grand Tour”, an educational and recreational trip prior to adulthood and marriage. The journey could last from several months to several years, depending on the wealth of the family; and always included a visit to Paris, at that time the cultural center of Europe, and another to Italy, to study the classics.
Sometimes I like to entertain myself from this small window doing a virtual Grand Tour. Like the ancient British, I like to approach France and Italy to observe beautiful landscapes and landscapes and investigate the history of all the picturesque places I discover. I love discovering details and curiosities: from how the first medicinal gardens were, to how the essence of flowers was extracted in ancient times. I am fascinated by everything related to gardens and history.
In the section ” Gardens of the world ” you will find many of the stories that I have been collecting and to which today I will incorporate one more. We go on a trip to Normandy, France, to the beautiful Chateau de Customer. This palace, inspired by the greatness and beauty of the Palace of Versailles, was built to reflect a timeless ideal of nobility and elegance. It is located in a peaceful green valley near Paris, surrounded by extensive gardens and farmland.
A little history
The imposing Chateau de Courtomer was built in the eighteenth century on the ruins of a medieval castle that still holds the cellars. Because of the French Revolution, construction was paralyzed for a few years, until it resumed and could be completed. Both the old and the new castle were for many generations owned by the Saint-Simon family, first barons and then marquises of Customer.
The customer is one of the last large family mansions built in France and is the example of the lifestyle that ended in 1793 with the execution of Louis XVI. With the peasant revolts of the “Grande Peur”, the Baron de Customer and his family escaped a fate similar to that of his monarch leaving the property. They returned to the castle in 1794 to continue their work and finish the interior design, but, only five years later, he was later sacked. With Napoleon’s rise to power, Antoine de Saint-Simon was able to return to his luxurious home.
The Saint-Simon family were great fans of literature and music during the 19th century, and in the palace, they surrounded themselves with the most famous French artists of the time: Châteaubriand, Chopin, Balzac, Victor Hugo, etc. The heiress of the last Marquis de Courtomer married the Marquis de Custine, Astolphe Louis-Leonor, also a writer. In 1905, the property passed to the viscount of Brimont, a distant relative of the family, and a hundred years later, in 2005, it was bought by the current American owners, who have restored and updated it to offer to lodge and celebrate events.
In France, in the years before the Revolution, the English garden style was all the rage. In England, the natural landscape had long since replaced the knot gardens, the trimmed topiary and the perfectly aligned trees of the Tudor era. The gardeners like Capability Brown, who worked during the second half of the eighteenth to the great aristocrats of England, created lakes, slopes, hills and groves perfect with the help of hundreds of workers wielding shovels and wheelbarrows pushed. It was a nature enhanced by the eye and the hand of man.
Like the Revolution itself, the new garden ideal was an overthrow of the old regime, of its inflexible “garden à la française” with avenues and paths bordered by rigid rows of trees and flower beds arranged in complex geometric or spiral designs inspired by the embroidery of the time. The French garden, which dominated nature severely, was associated with the monarchy, especially with the authoritarian absolutism of Louis XIV. His main gardener, Le Nôtre, developed the last “Jardin à la française” at the Palace of Versailles. Although the truth is that it was imitated throughout Europe during the next century.
In 1864, the trees that had been planted by the Marquises of Customer in the early nineteenth century were reaching maturity. Its subtle forms, on the green meadow in front of the castle, formed a “parc à l’anglaise”, a genuine English park. The groves of lime and sycamore trees, chestnut trees and shade bananas, the undulating grass and the charming stream that runs through the property created the “natural” look.
Some years after the Revolution, the fury of the English park cooled remarkably in France. Invaded by the nostalgia of their ancient lost traditions, the French resume their own gardening style and return to designs that deal with the beauty of order and symmetry. This happened in the Chateau de Customer and, today, the palace grounds show the successive gardening styles of many centuries of family ownership.
The current owners have taken over and care with care for the Customer’s legacy. Carefully prune the orderly rows of lime trees and replace lost trees to maintain the park’s original structure. Conifers (wild pine, Atlas cedar, and larch) and exotic specimens (Davidia and Magnolia) planted since the 16th century, when European explorers began to bring rare species from Asia and the Americas, also grow in the Customer forest.
There are also more recent species planted by current owners, such as small trees and shrubs ( hydrangeas and viburnums, dogwoods and Cercis ) that add color in spring and autumn to grassy meadows. The flowerbed of red roses has been replanted along with the pit with a variety that blooms throughout the summer. Fragrant French roses and wisteria are perched on the walls of the Orangerie and the farm walls. A mixed edge surrounds the walled garden pond. In front of the farm, there is a small orchard of cider apples, traditional Normandy, and some lemon trees, in large planters, which spread their delicious perfume in the summer air and spend the winter in the Orangerie.
I love that walk in winter, with the ground full of fallen leaves and the fog that forces you to guess what’s beyond. I also like the French doors of the Orangerie that let sunlight through its windows. And the farm, the cows and the chickens. The serene bedrooms, which have little to do with our theme, but I could not help including.
I hope you like it as much as I do. You will tell me.