NORMANDY, France. There is something uniquely appealing to American travelers when it comes to European castles like the Château de Colombières.
Visitors to France have two popular options to experience historic châteaux like this. Both are equally beguiling.
Visiting Europe’s historic châteaux
In the Loire Valley, travelers can trace French history in the grounds and gardens of some of the most famous and largest castles in Europe; Chenonceau, Chambord, Chantilly, Cheverny, Chinon, Villandry, Blois and Azay-le-Rideau to mention a few.
Normandy, on the other hand, is an ideal spot to actually immerse yourself into the château experience by staying in centuries old fortresses and residences literally oozing with the romance of French aristocracy.
There’s also a third option. It is also possible to do either form of châteaux-hopping in each of the two regions.
WeLoveNormandy: The website
Thanks to the popular website WeLoveNormandy, it is even easier today than ever before to enjoy ten centuries of history in contemporary comfort while temporarily stepping back in time to embrace the lifestyle of French aristocracy.
Patrick and Nicky Hilyer are your guides here through the wonders of the region. They offer their expert knowledge of gardens, little known historic sites, charming medieval villages and, of course, the D-Day Landing Beaches. Spend time reliving the French Revolution, the Crusades, the Hundred Years War, the Renaissance and more while enjoying a château as your base for day trips that capture the imagination.
Visiting the Château de Colombières
Château de Colombières, with its massive stone walls and fairytale towers, is one such captivating property in Normandy. Here, guests cross the ancient moat into a sunny courtyard that transports them back in time faster than Mr. Peabody and Sherman’s Wayback Machine.
Add in the hospitality of Count and Countess de Maupeou d’Ableiges, whose ancestors became the custodians of this château in the mid-18th century. And now you have the recipe for a travel experience that most people only dream about. (Visit the Château’s website at this link.)
From William the Conqueror to D-Day
To truly understand the ingredients that comprise this unique journey, you must first consider its thousand year old military history beginning with William the Conqueror’s knights and ending during the weeks following D-Day when the United States Army’s PSYOPS headquarters were based at Colombières.
With its strategic location on the edge of the Isigny Bay marshes, Colombières was once called the “Watchtower of the Marshes.” In the past, much like Mont St. Michel, the rising tide washed up onto the lands surrounding the fortress, enabling repeated invasions of the hinterland from the sea.
Perhaps not surprisingly, ten centuries later, on June 6, 1944, the “Allied invasion” took the same route from the sea through the marshes to the castle.
Dating back to the 11th century, Colombierès was a fortress occupied by William, Raoul and Baudouin of Colombières, who were comrades in arms of William the Conqueror during the invasion of England in 1066.
The oldest parts of the present day castle date to the end of the 14th century when the wealthy Bacon du Molay built the fortress in keeping with the defensive architecture of medieval times.
The rich history of the Château de Colombières
Among du Molay’s designs, which are visible today, are a quadrangle flanked by four huge towers with arrow slits and a 9ft-thick and 36ft-high surrounding wall topped with a gallery with openings in the floor through which stones or burning objects could be dropped on attackers. There is also a moat and a drawbridge.
During a visit in 1371, French King Charles V described Colombieres as a fortified castle that could withstand a siege.
The history of Colombieres is rich and diverse. In 1759, the impregnable fortress became the property of the Girardin family.
Related by marriage to the present owners, the Maupeou d’Ableiges family, it was during this period that the fortress was transformed along classical lines into a beautiful residence.
On the morning of D-Day in June, 1944, a German motorized gun battery that had been hidden under the elm trees of the castle’s drive suddenly left for Colleville followed immediately by the command post of the 1/352nd Panzer Division, which had also been stationed at the village of Colombières.
Marching on foot across marshes which German forces had flooded to make them impassable, the American allies liberated the village on June 9, 1944.
In the process, a dozen German soldiers were captured. As a result, the castle became the center of all American press and radio communications as well as the headquarters of General Omar Bradley.
Today Colombières is a place for exploration. After settling in, take time to climb the spiral staircase to discover the castle’s best kept secret – three impressive guestrooms.
Sumptuous Guestrooms at today’s Château de Colombières
Louis XVI with its queen-size double bed and 18th-century furnishings, has views of the moat and the wild Bessin countryside.
The Suite de la Tour is a circular bedroom set within a 14th-century tower with a private sitting room. The Gothic stone lintels, exposed beams, baronial fireplace and period furniture create an ambiance of stately antiquity. In one unusual twist, the modern shower today actually occupies the former location of the original medieval latrines.
Suite du Guetteur gets its name from its stone benches. From these, sentries once kept watch against English invaders through the mullioned stone windows and ancient arrow-slit “loopholes.”
All accommodations include breakfast. Château de Colombières is centrally located to visit all the gardens and sights of Normandy, including the D-Day Landing Beaches.
In short, Château de Colombières is the ideal place to step back in time. Here, you can serve as a 21st “sentry” and enjoy a good “knights” rest.
— Headline image: Enjoy timeless tradition at Château de Colombières in Normandy.
(Photo by @anibasphoto — Chateau de Colombières.)
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is a founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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