Garden Working Holidays at Château Bellenau
in La Manche, Normandy!
Online Magazine Article February 2007
If you have a love of gardens you will be delighted to spend a working, gardening holiday at this romantic Château, set among some of the most beautiful and historic gardens and parklands. Your holiday involves you in helping to develop the 19th century enchanted garden "Le Jardin Mystique de Paradis" featuring a magnificent rock lined valley with chapel and caves, a network of waterways bordered by islands, meandering pathways and bridges, and a tall folly tower
The Château has a most interesting history and first records show it as belonging to the French Crown in 1409. Prior to that there was reference to it as connected with Belenos, the Celtic God Spirit of Health, Medicine and Light. Over the years Château Bellenau was owned by several families. The La Fosse family resided there for eight generations - read more about them further on. Eventually it passed into the hands of a Mr and Mrs Fauvel who developed it as a farm until sad circumstances caused them to sell the property to their nephew Mr Grandin in 1987. Mr Grandin decided to explore other commercial possibilities for paying guests.
In 1999 STEPHEN ALDRIDGE purchased the property from Monsieur Grandin, returning the name to its original form of Bellenau and opening it up as Group Venue, beginning the restoration of the dilapidated gardens back to their former glory.
The History of the Gardens:
The La Fosse family owned the Château from 1717 - 1903. Young PIERRE-ETIENNE-JOSEPH LA FOSSE (Pierre V), student of medicine, was born in 1828 at Saint Côme du Mont. He had a dream of Bel Enault in which he envisaged a splendid garden behind his house planted with rare trees, excavated with ornamental lakes, full of caves covered by rocks. On the death of his father in 1848, inheriting a vast fortune, this romantic young man abandoned his studies and began to realise his lifelong dream; his work lasted at least forty years and employed more than 200 workmen to create the paradise garden. He spent all his fortune. He had to sell the stud farm that his father had created with 20 racehorses. (The P. LA FOSSE prize is still raced each year at Vincennes.)
The gardens were laid out on the edge of the CARENTAN marsh in a style true to the fashion of the time. Between two gardens in the French style he created a very personal idyllic park where he could spend time with his interests as a botanist and naturalist, encouraged by the enthusiasm for exotic foreign plants which had possessed COTENTIN from the beginning of the century.
He began by planting poplars to give protection from winds from the north and east, followed by other big trees of tropical origin, (ARAUCARIA, SEQUOIA and YUCCAS), to provide shelter for many exotic plants which he hoped to acclimatise. Beside the marsh he made islands surrounded by moats and ponds which could be crossed by boat. He planted trees and shrubs to form thickets or groves among which he created winding paths; it was like "a newly invaded primeval forest" - a rustic-like place created by ivy covering the wild grapevines hanging on every side, making this solitary place right for meditation and repose because it was perfectly peaceful there in spite of the wind outside.
The garden itself is dissected by the tributary of a winding river which meanders through an artificial valley bordered by rocks and interspersed with caves. Rustic bridges, resting on the tops of the rocks link the paths from one side to the other. These winding paths allow you to examine, on foot, rare plants growing in the caves and in the water.
For those wanting a "non working" break, The Château is a delightful place to stay and is situated in the countryside but close to beaches and is just half an hour from Cherbourg. The landing beaches are not far away, as is historic Bayeux . Château Bellenau has a library, conference room, Yoga Studio and so is also a perfect venue for conferences and courses.
The bedrooms combine tradition with comfort and the facilities on offer to help guests relax include a Spa area with sauna and plunge pool as well as tennis court and other outdoor attractions such as boules. Food is freshly cooked using vegetables grown organically in the potager wherever possible.
There were collections of ferns, one species of which became transparent in the light, collections of lichen or aquatic plants, palm trees facing south or bamboos close by the rivers. All these plants of tropical, or sub-tropical origin, coming mainly from the Paris Museum , were often acclimatised for the first time at Cotentin. They tolerated temperatures just under 15o centigrade and enhanced the reputation of this original tropical garden. At the same time LAFOSSE adorned these caves and small buildings with inscriptions to describe them. One on them contained a miniature kitchen. He constructed a neo-gothic Chapel, the arches of which rested on a carved base, in memory of members of his family; the stained glass window is dated 1878. Beside it a picturesque seat with the base of a fountain around it allows the walker to experience the coolness of the place in complete silence. From the top of the rock you can see the whole garden, and the inside of it is hollow and forms a hiding.
Finally he set up a School of Botany behind the garden among square flower beds where collections of bulbs and well labelled hardy perennials were arranged in order.
In short, P.J.F. LA FOSSE developed, at Saint-Côme-Du-Mont, a genuine botanical museum side by side with a spectacular "earthly paradise" which was recognised by numerous learned societies and tourist guides. LOUIS ENAULT's Paris to Cherbourg guide of 1859 devoted eight pages to it. At a congress in 1869, at ISIGNY, the NORMAN ASSOCIATION received LA FOSSE and awarded him a silver-gilt medal presented by ARCISSE de CAUMONT.
In 1882 the LINNÉNE SOCIETY OF NORMANDY awarded him the Linné medal in Normandy for the cultivation of the first palm trees from China . LA FOSSE had the presence of mind to date his buildings. Fifty years passed between the first date on the pavilion in the park and that of the last, 1899, on the house. He died in 1897 at the age of 69 having at last realised the fulfillment of his dream. Shortly after his death his wife sold the property.
Pierre V's son PETER VI, a doctor in medicine, married Olga SATIE, the famous musician's sister, at the age of 35. He died the very year of his marriage, (leaving a posthumous son, PETER VIII, a doctor at Pucarville). In 1900 his mother, Olga SATIE, left for ARGENTINA where she dedicated herself to the education of Polish refugees. She died there in 1948.
Today, many of the plants and trees are still growing and flourishing, the garden remains intact and is in constant renovation by a dedicated team of international gardeners.
An organic produce garden has also now been created on the estate using traditional potager methods.
To Contact Château Bellenau:
Tel : 00 33 (0) 233 713 048