NORMANDY, FRANCE, November 11, 2017 — It just doesn’t get any better than combining classic French cuisine with superb wine. Add in a love of France and a marriage between a professional chef de cuisine and an award-winning wine travel writer and it’s a union made in heaven.
Nicky and Patrick Hilyer have been living and working in Normandy, France since 2002. Nicky is the food expert, Patrick handles the wine. With nearly fifty years in the hospitality/tourism industry, the couple has now created a first-rate website that is a must for any visitor to the Normandy region of France.
“We Love Normandy” is a fantastic one-shop guide to one of the best known and most historic destinations in France. Nicky and Patrick offer everything from expert guide services to tips and information about what to see and where to go in Normandy.
In their inaugural issue of “We Love Normandy” the Hilyers have introduced readers to the top ten Chateaux of Normandy which we now proudly pass along to you.
Château des Ravalet, 50110
Château des Ravalet, Normandy: Jean de Ravalet purchased this former royal castle belonging to the French King, Francois I in the 16th century and built a Renaissance chateau on its medieval foundations. The history of Chateau de Ravalet is filled with murder, incest, bankruptcy, and beheadings, which make its secrets all the more intriguing.
By the 18th century, the castle became the property of the family of French diplomat, historian and aristocrat Alexis de Toqueville, author of “Democracy in America.”
Now owned by the town of Cherbourg, the grounds are manicured by celebrated botanist Gilles Clement whose Mandala Garden and Island Meadow have won many prestigious awards.
The house is only occasionally open to visitors, but the park and gardens are open year-round.
Château de Canon, 14270 Mézidon-Canon
Château de Canon, Normandy: This 18th century manor house was remodeled by noted Parisian lawyer and friend of Voltaire, Jean-Baptiste Elie de Beaumont. Along with his wife, Anne-Louise, the couple instituted the annual Fete des Bonns Gens — the Good Folk Fayre — a two-day festival of virtue that was held in the stables.
The French-style garden’s geometrical flower beds, elegant statuary and “mirror of water” lake reflect the perfect symmetry of the house. The remainder of the park, bisected by the River Laizon, was created in the English style at the turn of the 19th century. A guided tour of the house is available in July and August; the park is open from April to September.
Château de Pirou, Normandy: Viewing the pastoral serenity of Normandy today, it is difficult to imagine the turmoil of war that has ravaged so much of its history for the past thousand years. Chateau de Pirou, which dates to the 12th century, was built as a medieval fortress to protect the village of Coutances from invasions from the sea.
In the barn is an embroidered cloth, created in the 1970s in the style of the Bayeux tapestry, depicting the history of the Normans from Viking colonization to the conquest of Sicily. As with many ancient castles, Pirou has its legend: during a long siege, the Lord and his family escaped by transforming themselves into Geese.
Open every day except Tuesdays from April to September.
Château de Brécy, 14480
Château de Brécy, Normandy: Built by a judge from the city of Caen, this 17th century property is noted for its exquisite gardens and ornamental gates designed by architect Francois Mansart.
The fabulous wrought-iron gates open to a series of terraces, a statue-adorned Renaissance knot garden with sculpted flowers, dogs and fountains and a medieval walled garden to which French author Jean de la Varende wrote, “opens to the sky.”
Owners Didier and Barbara Wirth have been restoring the gardens since 1992. They open the gates to visitors from Easter until the end of May, then form July 1st to October 31st.
Château de Canisy, Normandy:
Canisy’s history began in the 11th century when one of William the Conqueror’s knights, Hugues de Carbonnel, constructed a Norman fortress near Saint-Lo. A dynasty was born that would last a thousand years: the present chatelain, Count Denis de Kergorlay, is De Carbonnel’s direct descendent.
During WW2 Canisy was sequestered by the Wehrmacht and used as an army hospital; after the liberation General Omar Bradley established his HQ at the château.
The castle sits in approximately 400 hundred acres of forest, pasture and landscaped parkland. The grounds are open year- round to visitors, the house by appointment. Eighteen guest bedrooms.
Château de Balleroy, Normandy: Built between 1626 and 1636, this château was the family seat of the Marquises of Balleroy for three centuries. In 1970, the property was purchased by Malcolm Forbes, and remains in the ownership of the Forbes family.
Arriving at the elegant gates, the imposing facade presents itself: a four-storied, cupola-topped edifice in grey granite and red pudding stone, flanked by two wings and a pair of pavillon lodges.
Surrounded by a landscaped romantic-style parkland and French knot gardens, Forbes, a ballooning enthusiast, also but a Hot Air Ballon museum that is well worth a visit, as is the parish church. Balleroy is open to visits from April to September.
Château de Carrouges, Normandy: An elegant twin-turreted gatehouse and decorative wrought-iron gates greet visitors to Château de Carrouges, a sombre moated castle built at the end of the 16th century. Other buildings were constructed as early as the 14th and 15th centuries. Inside you will find an interesting collection of furniture from the Renaissance to the Restoration, the kitchens with their copper pots, the bedchamber of Louis XI, fine fireplaces, ancient paneling and portraits and a fabulous brick staircase.
The castle, park, and gardens are open to visitors from April to September.
Château de Falaise, Normandy: Named for the bluff that rises above the little town, Falaise was an important military site long before William, Duke of Normandy was born here in 1027. William spent his childhood at Falaise before going on to earn his moniker – William the Conqueror – following the battle of Hastings and the conquest of England in 1066.
Although the remains of the current castle (much restored between 1986 and 1996) date from a little after William’s time, the chateau’s military importance and historic significance are unsurpassed in the region being the birthplace of the first Norman King of England.
The town was devastated during the Battle of Normandy in 1944, but the castle is open every day except the month of January.
Château de Fontaine-Henry, Normandy: This dynastic castle was reconstructed in the 15th and 16th centuries in the decorative style. The facade is topped by steep, tiled roofs. Described by the French novelist Jacques de Lacretelle as “a Loire château in Normandy,” Fontaine-Henry is one of the finest examples of Norman Renaissance architecture.
Today the Marquis Pierre-Apollinaire d’Oilliamson welcomes visitors to his family seat. In the landscaped parc à l’anglaise is the 12th-century chapel, numerous outdoor games and, in summer, a sculpture exhibition. Open daily (except Tuesdays) from mid June to mid September, and on weekends and holidays in the shoulder periods.
Mont Saint Michel, Normandy: We take poetic license with this one. Though not strictly a castle, this iconic marvel of medieval architecture has defended itself against invaders and tides since its foundation in the year 708. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mont Saint Michel attracts over 2 million visitors and pilgrims every year.
Since the construction of a new bridge which replaced the causeway linking the citadel to the mainland, Mont Saint Michel is once again a magical island. Surrounded at high tides by the shimmering waters of the bay, when the tide is out this is a place of pilgrimage for visitors arriving on foot across miles of sand.
Mont Saint Michel is a must-see destination and justly deserves to be nominated the best castle in Normandy. Open every day throughout the year, and in the evenings from 7 pm until midnight during July and August
Planning a trip to Normandy? Looking for chateau or hotel accommodation? Visit We Love Normandy
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.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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