September 28th, Friday - Excursion to Annevoie in Namur, Maredsous Abbey for Lunch & Chateau de Freÿr
I have been to this garden twice and just know you will love it…it is so uniquely different. Les Jardins d’Annevoie is just so special. Designed and laid out between 1758 and 1776 by Charles-Alexis de Montpellier, the chateau and gardens are an authentic historical record and, a living work of art. Graceful fountains and waterfalls fill the garden and the arbors with music. Above all, the Gardens of Annevoie reflect the history of the de Montpellier family, whose roots go back to the middle of the fifteenth century. Only at the beginning of the seventeenth century did Jean de Montpellier inherit the Annevoie estate, formerly owned by the de Halloy family. In those days, the de Montpellier’s were famous forge-masters. Jean de Montpellier’s son, Charles-Alexis, who was Mayor of the Court of Iron-merchants, made the means to lay out his Gardens and to extend the castle from this thriving industry (the work started in about 1758).
To this end, he found inspiration in his many travels through Europe. Thus the gardens’ concept is based on three philosophies: The French style or “art corrects nature”: The Italian style or “art adapts to nature”: and The English style or “art imitates nature”. These Gardens, where the splendour and majesty of the French style mix harmoniously with English romanticism and Italian refinement, have been designed to unveil their treasures only little by little, gradually as the walk goes along, and to lead you from one surprise to another, along with the extraordinary diversity in contrasts. Come and discover these magnificent, seventeenth century water gardens. Over twenty ornamental lakes and ponds fed by some fifty water jets, fountains and cascades go to make up water gardens which are unique of their type. Four springs act as feeders, while the Rouillon, the river that runs across the site, takes care of water collection and distribution. Charles Alexis had the sheer genius to locate the main reservoir, a 400 meter long canal at the highest point as well as installing a spring. Everything works entirely naturally; the water has been flowing non-stop for over 250 years.
From this wonderful visit, we journey to another unique and peaceful place, Maredsous Abbey where we might meet some Benedictine Monks who make this place their home. The abbey itself is an impressive structure, built in the neo-gothic style, and towering over the Molignée valley. Its buildings emanate a strong sense of spirituality, a calm which is quietly infectious. Here you can relax and enjoy the beautiful Abbey gardens, soak up their tranquil atmosphere, and admire the natural splendour of the abbey’s setting. Maredsous Abbey was founded in 1872 and was one of the first Belgian abbeys to re-establish its links with the country’s rich monastic past, after the destruction of the French Revolution (1789-1799). Today, thirty-two monks live, pray and work in this pastoral location. They follow the Rule of St. Benedict – ‘ora et labora’ (pray and work) – a tradition that goes back to the year 529AD.
We will enjoy a 3 course lunch here along with one of their famous Maredsous beers. Also equally famous are their cheeses and there is also a bakery here allowing you a really nice snack option for later on in the day if you want just a light dinner. The light Maredsous Blonde was the abbey’s first beer and the monks still drink it daily at lunch. The brown beer ‘Brune’ was originally only brewed for Christmas. The Maredsous Triple is served in the abbey on special occasions.
We end our day with a Guided Visit to another gem, that of the Chateau de Freÿr. Named after the Scandinavian goddess of beauty, the castle of Freÿr with its gardens in the style of Le Nôtre is located on the left bank of the Meuse, between Waulsort and Dinant (province of Namur, Belgium). They form one of the most magnificent natural sites in Belgium. It has also been classified as one of Wallonia’s major heritage sites. Dating back to the Middle Ages, Freÿr was a keep given in fief by the Count of Namur to Jean de Rochefort Orjol in 1378. His granddaughter Marie married Jacques de Beaufort in 1410. Their descendants have kept the estate until the present.
Designed in the style of André Le Nôtre in 1760 by Canon Guillaume de Beaufort-Spontin and enlarged by his brother Philippe in 1770, the gardens are set on walled terraces on the left bank of the Meuse. They offer views towards the woods to the north and towards the Meuse to the east, and their peace and serenity contrast with the naked rockface on the far bank. Ponds and fountains babble on the lower level where orange trees designs spread their delicate perfume. The trees came to Freÿr in the first part of the 18th century from Lunéville, the residence of the Duke of Lorraine. They are the oldest trees in cases in Europe. The wooden cases are still built according to the original design. The upper level is covered by hedge mazes (6 km) that unveil their mysteries one by one: a set of patterns inspired by card game figures, a theme also present in the terra cotta statues made by Cyfflé. At the very top of the gardens, the Rococo pavilion commands the view on the Meuse and seduces by its delicate stucco decoration, based on the theme of fertility with cornucopia and Tritons. The right bank of the Meuse is dominated by cliffs (more than 100 meters high, 340 million years old), from which one has an exceptional view of the estate.
For those of you that watched the series ‘Recreating Eden’ you would have seen an episode on this garden. What makes it really special are the orange trees, some as old as 350 years.
Back to our hotel – what a fantastic day we have had! Pack up tonight please.
Breakfast and Lunch Included, Dinner on own
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