The story

Chateau d’Orcher


Chateau d’Orcher is a castle in the commune of Gonfreville-l’Orcher in Normandy France. Built to protect the mouth of the River Seine, it includes an imposing square crenellated tower. In 1360 it was partly destroyed on the orders of officials from Harfleur. Rebuilt later, it was taken by the English in 1415 at the same time as Harfleur.

In 1434, the castle and its associated possessions and privileges were given to the Duke of Bedford. In 1449, the estates reverted to the Crespins and later, by legacy, went to the Brézé family in 1488 and finally to the O family in 1539.

Thomas Planterose took possession in 1735 and over the next ten years set about transforming the castle. In the 19th century, the estate became the property of the Rochechouart family, who had the castle restored.

The castle grounds are open to the public all year. The Château d’Orcher is listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.


Château d’Orcher

From the top of its cliff, Orcher overlooks the Seine estuary and the Normandy bridge. The fortress was transformed in the 18th century into an elegant dwelling, with particularly refined woodwork.

The 30-minute guided tour will allow you to discover the entire ground floor with in particular the old guard room protected by 2.8m thick walls transformed into a library (5000 volumes from the 18th to the present day) ), the large living room with famous rock-style woodwork and the restored vestibule which has regained its 18th century radiance.

On this occasion, you will also see the restored Manneville collection, a series of 5 single-story portraits that showcase the richness of 18th century dresses and uniforms painted in the famous Bernay workshop.

By crossing Orcher you will travel from the Middle Ages to the 21st century with a stopover in the 18th century and you will discover the living environment of exceptional personalities involved in the history of Normandy and France.


Where is Normandy, France?

One of 18 regions in the country and historically referred to as the Duchy of Normandy, the Normandy area of France is located in the northwestern section of the country. A significant portion of Normandy borders the English Channel, and the region featured heavily in battles during the Hundred Years War as well as World War II.

During the Hundred Years War, many castles near Normandy, France, were fortified, ensuring they could serve as strongholds during battles. This allows them to be monuments to architectural styles across several centuries, allowing you to see how the locations grew and changed over time.


The etymology of the first part of the name is Gunfridr's farm, a Scandinavian farmer who probably settled in the 10th century.

The Orcher suffix comes from the name of the first seigneurs of the village, now corrupted to Orcher, but originally Aurichier (alor = alder and kjarr / ker = marsh. Cf. Ellerker, Yorkshire), that took themselves in turn their name from the same place, where the chateau is located.

The commune was created and recorded in 1251 with the merger of the two parishes of Gonfreville and Gournay. A priory had stood here since 1024 but long before that, Bronze Age people had been here, witnessed by the tools unearthed during the 19th century and the name Gournay is a Celtic archetype *Gornako, connected with a wet place.

Heraldry

The arms of Gonfreville-l'Orcher are blazoned :
Gules, the refinery within two stalks of wheat, stems in saltire . argent.


History

The Auricher fiefdom was created by the Duke of Normandy for a family who got the name Aurichier from a place down in the Seine Valley and built the castle with a chapel (Sainte-Honorine) on top of a cliff overlooking the Seine. The square keep was surrounded by a trapezoidal enceinte, defended in the 13th century by three square towers. In 1360 it was partly destroyed on the orders of officials from Harfleur. Rebuilt later, it was taken by the English in 1415 at the same time as Harfleur.

The Crespin family was dispossessed by Henry V. Some French sources state that Henry gave the castle to John Falstaff, the fictional Shakespearean character, but this is almost certainly meant to be Sir John Fastolf. In 1434, the castle and its associated possessions and privileges were given to the Duke of Bedford. In 1449, the esates reverted to the Crespins and later, by legacy, went to the Brézé family in 1488 and finally to the O family in 1539. In 1604, the Orcher land was decreed to be the property of Georges Laillet seigneur of Auricher, and consisted of castle, fortress and house covered with slate. In 1632 the estates became the property of the Potier family.

Thomas Planterose took possession in 1735 and over the next ten years set about transforming the castle. He employed master masons François de la Motte and Jacques Lesueur, both from Picardy, and a master plasterer from Caudebec-en-Caux, Courtel]. The elegant woodwork was created by a carpenter from Le Havre, Le Roux. The two north towers and the ruins of the great keep in the north-west were demolished, along with the curtain walls.

In 1795, following the division of the estate with the death of Madame de Melmont, the property was described as a "dwelling house castle and accessories and a farm of 145 acres". In the 19th century, the estate became the property of the Rochechouart family, who had the castle, notably the tower, restored in 1857 by the architect P. Philippon.

The castle grounds are open to the public all year. The Château d'Orcher is listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.


Hotel and History

Chateau Eza was built 400 years ago within the ancient city walls of the 9th century village of Eze. It´s name did not come per chance. During a boating trip, most likely with his father, William first visited the village. Three years later, he left his court and bought the ensemble of little homes and baptized it as Chateau Eza. Until 1976 it was known as "The Prince of Sweden's Castle".

Already possessing a love for France, he was taken by the spirit and tranquility of the Chateau and left his royal court to pursue his writing talents here. He published many works including

Legend has it.

In the mid-20th century, the Castle of the Prince of Sweden is left to its own fate, according to the wishes of several owners who split into several apartments until a wealthy diplomat from Genes, General delegate of the International Red Cross, André Rochat aware of the historical and aesthetic value of this property, bought one by one every lot from 1976 to 1980. He will be the master of the house until 1993. He undertook extensive renovations to restore the Chateau Eza appearance as it had at the time of the Prince of Sweden.

Noting the increasing public interest in this place now, he could not resist to the temptation of creating a tearoom. The success helping, it became a restaurant and a hotel. Château Eza is now part of the upscale hotel on the French Riviera.


The Auricher fiefdom was created by the Duke of Normandy for a family who got the name Aurichier from a place down in the Seine Valley and built the castle with a chapel (Sainte-Honorine) on top of a cliff overlooking the Seine. The square keep was surrounded by a trapezoidal enceinte, defended in the 13th century by three square towers. In 1360 it was partly destroyed on the orders of officials from Harfleur. Rebuilt later, it was taken by the English in 1415 at the same time as Harfleur.

The Crespin family was dispossessed by Henry V. Some French sources state that Henry gave the castle to John Falstaff, the fictional Shakespearean character, but this is almost certainly meant to be Sir John Fastolf. In 1434, the castle and its associated possessions and privileges were given to the Duke of Bedford. In 1449, the estates reverted to the Crespins and later, by legacy, went to the Brézé family in 1488 and finally to the O family in 1539. In 1604, the Orcher land was decreed to be the property of Georges Laillet seigneur of Auricher, and consisted of castle, fortress and house covered with slate. In 1632 the estates became the property of the Potier family.

Thomas Planterose took possession in 1735 and over the next ten years set about transforming the castle. He employed master masons François de la Motte and Jacques Lesueur, both from Picardy, and a master plasterer from Caudebec-en-Caux, Courtel]. The elegant woodwork was created by a carpenter from Le Havre, Le Roux. The two north towers and the ruins of the great keep in the north-west were demolished, along with the curtain walls.

In 1795, following the division of the estate with the death of Madame de Melmont, the property was described as a "dwelling house castle and accessories and a farm of 145 acres". In the 19th century, the estate became the property of the Rochechouart family, who had the castle, notably the tower, restored in 1857 by the architect P. Philippon.

The castle grounds are open to the public all year. The Château d'Orcher is listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.


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Roussillon and the Ochre Trail

At the western edge of the Luberon's ochre country, russet-red Roussillon sits on a hill 10 km / 6 miles east of Gordes and is one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France (Most Beautiful Villages of France).

The sudden explosion of brilliant colour in the landscape - set off by green forests of pines and oaks - comes as a dramatic surprise as you drive through this area. It's caused by iron oxide deposits in the sandy soil, whose origins can be traced back millions of years, when Provence was under water.

It's still not known exactly why the geological changes should have caused these pigments precisely here and not elsewhere in the region. The Roussillon Tourist Office website gives a little more scientific detail and also suggests a fanciful alternative explanation: a legend involving a troubadour, a châtelaine and a doomed love affair!

One fact is established: it was a citizen of Roussillon, Jean-Étienne Astier, who studied the properties of ochre and began extracting it from sand on an industrial scale at the end of the 18th century.

While mining has long since ceased in the region (apart from in nearby Gargas), ochre has become the cornerstone of Roussillon's thriving tourist industry. Today it's the second most popular village in the Luberon after Gordes, beguiling visitors with its riotous colours. It gives a whole new meaning to painting the town red.

WHAT TO SEE

Even the official literature admits that the village of Roussillon itself is a bit short of heavyweight historic sights. The lower part is densely lined with cafés and shops selling pottery, art, pigments and souvenirs.

The place de la Mairie or Town Hall square is the main hub of activity, along with the place du Pasquier on Thursday mornings when there's a weekly market and traffic gets even more congested than usual. The Roussillon Tourist Office is also in this part of the village on the place de la Poste.

Further up the hill, Roussillon is a little less spoiled, with some very pretty and photogenic alleys and corners to explore, the traditional provençal church and bell tower and 17th and 18th century houses painted in all the local ochre shades from soft gold to deep, rich red.

Walk right up to the belvedere at the top of the village for panoramic views across the surrounding countryside towards Mont Ventoux and an orientation table to help you get your bearings.

Roussillon is also well-placed for hiking trails. Apart from the very short Ochre Trail described below, it is - at the other extreme of the spectrum - on the Grande Randonnée GR6 long-distance footpath. In the immediate area this footpath also leads to such nearby attractions as Rustrel and its "provençal Colorado", Gordes and the Abbaye de Sénanque. Buy a large-scale map IGN 3142 of the Roussillon area.

Roussillon has several exceptional literary connections. One is not less a figure than Samuel Beckett. During the Second World War, the Irish playwright fled from Paris - where he fought in the French Resistance - to go into hiding in Roussillon.

There he worked on a farm and vineyard (as well as continuing his Resistance activities) and wrote a novel, Watt.

A couple of years later Beckett referred to Roussillon and the Vaucluse at some length (by this writer's usual standards, at least!) in his most famous play En Attendant Godot / Waiting for Godot.

Laurence Wylie, a distinguished authority on France and the French, also lived in Roussillon in the early 1950s and published a portrait of rural life in the village (lightly disguised as Peyrane) in 1957, illustrated with his own photographs. The book, Village in the Vaucluse, remains in print today and is regarded as a classic.

THE OCHRE TRAIL

The Conservatoire des Ochres, 1.7 km / 1 mile out of town on the D104 road to Apt, is warmly recommended, as are the ochre mines of Bruoux in nearby Gargas, just 7 km / 4.5 miles to the east of Roussillon.

But the main and most-visited attraction in Roussillon itself is the Sentier des Ocres, or Ochre Trail, a short and easy hiking trail through a former ochre quarry and the surrounding woods. It's sometimes also referred to as the Chaussée des Géants, or Giants' Causeway.

The route, which starts near the centre of the village, is indicated with rather small and easy-to-miss footpath signs.

If you're driving, look out for the Parking des Ocres: it's right by the entrance to the Sentier (and, before you go in, check out the nice view across to the village from the parking area).

Two circuits picked out by coloured markers, are proposed: a shorter, yellow one which takes 35 minutes and a longer, red one of 50 minutes. Both run in a loop and could be comfortably completed in less than the "official" time by most walkers.

But they do involve a number of steps and - apart from a short stretch with ramps right at the beginning of the circuit - are unsuitable for wheel- or push-chairs.

You should keep to the path and respect the environment by resisting the temptation to collect some earth as a souvenir (you could face a fine if you're caught in the act).

The Sentier des Ochres is a fun outing for families, especially since children under 10 get in free, but don't get them dressed up in their best light-coloured clothes and shoes (and don't get dressed up yourself)!

At intervals along the way, panels in French and English provide some basic information about the history of ochre production as well as the local geology, flora and fauna. Roussillon's sandy soil is acidic, unlike the alkaline limestone in most of Provence, and so its vegetation is quite distinctive.

You'll spot green and white oaks, chestnut and white poplar trees as well as pines and possibly also heather and fern and even wild orchids. Keep an eye out too for animals (badgers, foxes and deer have been seen on the trail).

This said, the Sentier des Ochres attracts a thousand-plus visitors a day in the main season, and your main wildlife sightings in summer are likely to be of other tourists.

Go early - or late - to avoid the crowds and heat, and bring some water. It's generally felt that the colours are at their most intense at sunset.

In spring, though, the trail can be just as imposing and entirely deserted, as on our visit in early April - and it's beautiful even in overcast weather.

While most publicity images of the ochre show the landscapes in brilliant sunlight, we've posted some photos (above and top left) which were taken on a grey, cloudy morning, when the yellow and red pigments showed up in sharp relief.

Do beware on days of high wind, when dust swirls around, and if it's raining, when the path can be slippery (the site may be closed in very wet weather). Note, too, that the Ochre Trail shuts down for about six weeks in January and early February: check the Roussillon Tourist Office website for the exact dates and opening times, which vary over the year.

You can make savings if you are intending to visit both the Sentier des Ocres and the Conservatoire des ocres et de la couleur in Roussillon by buying a ticket couplé or combination ticket.

And if you want to complete the ochre trail with trips to the Mines of Bruoux in Gargas and to the Musée de l'aventure Industrielle in Apt, you get a reduction to those venues too if you show your ticket couplé. It also gets you a discount to a handful of other attractions in the region, including the Fondation Vasarely, another superb destination for anyone interested in colour.

HOW TO GET TO AND FROM ROUSSILLON

By car: Roussillon is 47 km / 29 miles east of Avignon, 25 km / 15.5 miles north-east of Cavaillon and 10 km / 6 miles north-west of Apt.

It's right in the middle of a small pocket of six Most Beautiful Villages of France, the other five being Ansouis, Lourmarin, Ménerbes, Gordes and Venasque. If you were short of time, you could drive this entire circuit in under two hours.

According to the tourist material, the central car-parks are free outside the main season. Apparently Roussillon starts its season early, however: a charge (a flat rate for the day) was already being levied when we visited well before Easter.

If you want to save money (or if you are driving a camper van or caravan, which are prohibited from the centre of Roussillon), there's a free car-park 800 metres / 870 yards to the north of the village. As at many popular tourist destinations in Provence, car-parks are vulnerable to break-ins, so do not leave valuables in your vehicle.

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By bike: Cycling is a popular option here (if you don't mind the hills!) and plenty of companies offer guided and self-guided itineraries. If you want to make your own way around, you can plan a route with the help of the Vaucluse Tourist Office's excellent guide to cycling in the region and rent a cycle or electric bike with one of the local bike hire companies.

Click here for some suggestions (at the bottom of the page) and our own general introduction to cycling in Provence.

By public transport: Like most villages in Provence, Roussillon is not easy to get to by public transport. The nearest train station is in Cavaillon, 27 km / 17 miles to the south-west. A bus serves Roussillon from Apt and Cavaillon. Click here for details and timetables.

If you are spending longer in the area, you might look into the system of Transport à la Demande (Transport on Demand), which involves telephoning ahead to reserve a place on a public bus. Further details on the website for the region of Vaucluse.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

The Roussillon Tourist Office is on the place de la Poste, 84220 Roussillon. Tel: (+33) 4 90 05 60 25

The official regional website Vaucluse Tourism in Provence includes a guide to Roussillon and other attractions in the area.

Photo credits (from top): © SJ for Marvellous Provence, Nadine Tardieu for CDT Vaucluse, SJ for Marvellous Provence, Thorsten Brönner for CDT Vaucluse, SJ for Marvellous Provence, Nikata for Wikimedia Commons.

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