Elegant 18th century propertywith walled garden
and vestiges of medieval château
The Walled Gardens – a delight for lovers of secret gardens. Intimate & private. Close the door on the modern world. No-one will know you’re home….
The property sits on the edge of a medieval village, at the end of a tiny lane that encircles the castle. A small wooden gate opens onto a secret garden entirely invisible from the exterior. There is an undeniable magic to the vision we find on the other side of the door, and one that never fails to delight, however many times we visit this property.
An ancient stone wall circles the gardens and pool, with far reaching views over the Gascon countryside behind the property.
The garden has several different sitting areas, and lots of shady nooks and crannies, for reading or dining.
The poolside melts discreetly into the far corner of the garden.
The 18th century house – high ceilings, elegance & a wealth of original features.
The original wooden door, with its fantastic original metalwork opens onto an elegant central hall, with charming floors made of Caroline poplar.
The main house is purely 18th century in style, with high ceilings, wainscot and original panelled doors. The original panes of glass sit in their original wooden window frames.
The central hallway opens onto a dining-room, with a medieval fireplace (an addition to the building from an earlier period) which in turn opens onto the kitchen, with a door onto a flight of stone steps to the garden.
On the other side of the grand hallway, there is a double reception room, with windows to each side, high ceiling and gorgeous wooden floors.
At the far end of the hallway is the large master suite, with bedroom and ensuite bathroom.
The 2 lower levels of the main house : 2 extra bedrooms, an artist’s atelier & plenty of storage
A small stairwell to the lower level of the house is currently blocked with a glass floor panel, to create two separate living areas. Access to the downstairs level can be easily re-instated.
The lower garden level dates back to medieval times, its thick stone once being part of the château at a time when several wings to the original castle were still standing. The 18th century architect who designed the main house, used the original castle foundations on which to create a new home.
The lower downstairs garden level is divided into two sections each with its own access.
On the one side we walk down from the outside to a room on the lower garden level which the current owner fondly refers to as “the atelier”; a room in its original condition and currently used as an art room. From here a flight of stone steps leads deeper into the bowels of the château, where there are several areas for storage. The area is dry and cool with beautiful thick stone walls.
A second door leads to the garden level where there are two bedrooms, a bathroom with a quirky iron tub (a nod to modernity), a shower-room and a study.
The Separate guest house in the gardens
Further useful accommodation is available for guests and family in the private cottage in the gardens. With a large open-plan room downstairs, comprising a kitchen and a dining-area, with a fireplace, there are two bedrooms up on the first floor, with a shared bathroom.
The original walls of the Château
Most people content themselves with an ornamental fountain in their gardens, a small gazebo or a water feature.
This property boasts a splendid Medieval castle with consolidated walls, and an open air view to the skies above. These walls have hosted a number of famous musical events over the years.
For this property we wanted to let the current owner tell you the story in his own words and with his own photographs.
This is something new at BLISS IMMOBILIER and we hope you enjoy reading it.
Our interview with the owner…
Why Gascony? Why this property? And what drew you in?
Gascony was a name that resonated for me with historical interest and beauty. Its fabulous countryside, quiet roads, and wonderful food are a rare combination, even in France. To then discover, some sixteen years ago, that I could afford to purchase these magnificent buildings so full of history, yet not have to live inside or maintain the château, but to live in a beautiful and very manageable 18th century house next to it, with a garden, and a separate guest house and the luxury of a pool, well, how could I resist that?
Do you remember the first time you came here…?
That was back in the time when Internet was a new thing, I didn’t particularly want to use it, but allowed myself to be persuaded that it was a good idea. I typed into my computer GASCONY and up popped a picture of a magnificent castle. It never occurred to me for one second that I would be able to purchase such a place, but I thought why not go and have a look just for the fun of it. It was a sunny day in February. The agent at the time couldn’t arrange for me to see the inside of the house, so in the end I was given a big old rusty chateau key and sent off to explore unaccompanied. I found myself quite alone in this magical place, and although I was not able to go into the house at that stage, I was able to see the gardens and to go into the tower, and I was completely captivated. I knew without even seeing inside the house that I would like to buy it.
Man can’t live on ruined château walls alone. Tell us what appealed to you about the lovely 18th century house when you finally stepped inside?
You enter through a magnificent double old oak door. This makes you pause, because it’s so beautiful and so full of history; and that’s just the door! Every crack, mark, and repair; every piece of ironwork. Plus its great key!
Once the door swings open, you see a place full of light, a house where every single window has a fabulous view out across the countryside. A place in which your spirits are uplifted by the calm and the tranquillity, and you feel able to think.
Can you talk to us about some of your favourite details inside the house?
There are many. Some of the most striking features are the handles and ironwork on the panelled doors. I particularly like the mixture of different woods that have been used in the main double doors in the salon.
I love the wonderful curving oak fire mantel place which is in lovely contrast to the enormous monumental stone fireplace which is in the other side of the house in the dining room, in a room which has a floor made of tiles that are signed by the man who made them sometime in the 18th century. These terra cotta tiles make a lovely contrast with the salon floor which is polished Caroline poplar; a wood which is hard to find nowadays because the planks you get nowadays are not that wide because the trees don’t grow anymore to that size.
I particularly like the contrast between the bright and sunny level upper level I’ve just been describing, and the cosy lower level, medieval in construction, on which the house rests.
Downstairs, you can peer out of an ancient slot window with walls that are two metres thick. You have medieval oak beams that are harder than concrete; you can’t even bang a nail into one of those; but they are curved and beautiful and full of character.
Between the upper and lower levels of the house there are extraordinary variations of height. The 18th century rooms are bright and tall and airy, whereas down below it’s lower but still full head-height.
There is an area which I call my workshop which looks as if the door was last opened in medieval times. It still has its beaten earth floor, its medieval privy though the wall, its chute for the delivery of something. I don’t know what.
The separate guest house in the garden has been used a great deal by musicians who come to stay here in residence, because it is such an ideal place for young talented chamber musicians to concentrate on their music.
The musicians come and spend a week or so here in the guest house, where they have a beautiful room in which to rehearse a whole quartet and upstairs two bedrooms and a bathroom just for themselves. Quite separate from the main house. They arrive thinking they will do a bit of touring round the area, to see some of the lovely villages and markets around here; and in fact they choose never to leave, but to play all day long. Or compose.
The acoustics in the salon where we do the recitals are warm and exactly as they should be for a salon-style concert.
Out in the castle where we do slightly larger concerts on the little stage I built, the acoustics are fabulous because the ancient walls are worn, so the surface is not flat or polished; and that is why the sound comes back in such a beautiful form.
Tell us about your first concert & the night you first opened the space inside the chateau walls to the public?
It was still quite a mess inside in those days. I’ve done an enormous amount of clearing and tidying and consolidating since then. On that night, the violinists had to stand up to perform, as we didn’t have any chairs; and the audience had to sit on stones on the ground.
We had the most magical performance there, given by an Australian viola player, which I will never forget. He played his piece and then afterwards said: “Do you mind if I go on?” Then he stood in the castle walls and simply improvised. It was an enchanting moment under the open night sky.
On performance nights the stars come out one by one, as the concert progresses, so there is that incredible contrast of feeling the safety of these huge walls around you, which are 15 metres high, and yet one is looking up to the heavens with the night sky above. Magical moments.
Tell us about the ongoing renovations & how you became known as the man with a hundred chairs…
The house was already beautifully restored. Each year I added and developed the space within the château walls in which this beautiful music was created. One year I built a stage. On another, I levelled the floor completely. The year after I put tiles down. Gradually I increased my collection of chairs until I became known as “the man with a hundred chairs.” In the end it rapidly got to the point where it was always sold out, which meant between 120 to 130 people per concert.
Fondest moment …
My favourite moment was in many ways the end of each concert, watching the audience leave. They had do come out one by one via a small medieval door, where I was able to observe that look of awe and amazement at having witnessed something very special. That was my reward for all that hard work organising those performances. It will be sadly missed, and it would be wonderful if whoever takes on this place could continue with something along those lines. I would be very pleased to help.
Tell us about some of the events you hosted in the walled gardens?
Another lovely thing about coming out from those concerts was that the performance didn’t have to be the end. You come out from the castle door into a very beautiful garden which is in its own way like a series of outdoor rooms, because it has different section, terraces and corners and people would love to linger, and sometimes we would even set out tables and chairs to have a dinner here after the concert which was a very beautiful and special occasion. The house lent itself very well to this with two sets of stone stairs to the house, so you could have people bringing the food in and out, up one staircase, from the spacious kitchen and preparation area, and musicians coming down the other staircase.
How was life here for you, over the years?
The time I perhaps most enjoyed was the one on my own, when isolation was required of me by the pandemic rules. I found myself alone with my library which dates back to my time at Oxford. I decided it was time to give myself the treat of reading Homer again in the original. Sometimes in the beautiful salon and often at the top of the tower where I felt close to humanity. Although I was isolated, I felt extremely safe, free to think the way I wanted to think, and able to look out over huge space. Surrounded by huge medieval walls. No one could see in, or see me, but I could see out for miles and miles.
Has this been a creative place in which to live, for you & for others?
I’ve done a lot of writing here, and so have many other people. Three books have been written here which have all been published. A whole quartet has been written here too. It’s a place in which people are immediately able to relax, unwind and let their creative imaginations roam. It’s a place that lends itself to that because there is that sense of safety. You feel two things:
1) I am alone. No-one will bother me here, and
2) even if they wanted to they couldn’t, I’m safe behind my thick castle walls!
The surrounding area
This is a remarkable place, in so far as if I turn left, I can walk down the hill to the rolling countryside which goes on forever. You can walk all day in those open spaces. If I turn right out of the door, I can walk down through the village (with its baker’s and restaurant) to the bus stop, where I can get a bus which meets the TGV train which takes me to Paris in just over three hours. If I go the other way, on the bus, or on a bicycle, I will be in the beautiful medieval town of LECTOURE, a fascinating place, filled with so many interesting people doing interesting things. It’s a town full of individuals. It’s a very sociable place and full of unpredictable happenings and not what one would expect for a town in the middle of the countryside. Further afield you have fantastic markets. The food you buy here is the best you will find anywhere. I cannot believe there is anywhere in the world where you can find such wonderful cheeses and fruits as you get here, and always served with a smile, without fail.
If you have a little more time, you can get to the Atlantic coast and the sea, in two and a half hours. Two and a half hours you are on the Mediterranean coast. Two and a half hours south you are at the bottom of the chair lift that takes you up to the top of the Pyrenees to ski. And if you go above that you will arrive at the Observatory on the top of the Pyrenees’ where you can stay the night observing the planets and stars with one of the biggest telescopes in the Northern Hemisphere. Then you can come home back to your tower when you have had your fill of the world…..
A hard decision then, to leave?
I have spent 16 years here, and I feel proud to be leaving a now useable space inside the château walls. I have also made vast improvements to the house, including a very clever, invisible heating system, which works at the touch of a button.
It is sad to leave, but things move on in unexpected ways, especially when you meet a beautiful woman and you decide to marry her – even when you thought you would be alone reading Homer in your castle tower!
It was wonderful to be able to get married here in the chapel at the top of the château, and now, my new wife and I intend to go off together and start a new adventure of our own.
I was looking for a fine old house, not a castle. When I realised I could buy both for the price of a one-bedroom flat in London, with a guest-house and a pool too, it was impossible to resist. I moved into the beautiful eighteenth century house in 2007 and gazed at the magnificent medieval towers forming the backdrop of the garden. Then sitting on one of the terraced lawns, I looked the other way, at the ever-changing colours of the rolling hills of Gascony. The great castle wall behind me emanated a deep sense of security and continuity, while the open views in front filled my head with calm. Inspiring both ways!
On clear days you can see the whole range of the Pyrenees on the distant horizon, topped by the white speck that is the famous observatory –a fascinating place to visit with the Astronomy Festival, sited just down the road from here, because we have one of the last remaining truly dark night skies in Europe.
Yet it is not simply that you can see out so far, but also that no-one else can see in. The place is entirely private, protected by its sturdy walls. The moment they step through the little oak door in the wall, everyone stops, stands still and gazes. It takes you by surprise, because from the outside, you have no idea what might be within. No-one knows that there is a beautiful garden full of charming little terraces, shady corners, mature cedars, apricot trees and even a few vines.
When you do step out, you can turn left and be on the countryside paths in less than a minute, or turn right and amble down to the bakery or the restaurant or the bus stop. (The bus goes to Agen and meets the TGV to Paris. 30 minutes to cross Paris and there is the Eurostar waiting to take you to London or Lille).
I have had both houses re-roofed and insulated, and installed a type of heat pump, which gives you a warm house (or cool one) in 10 minutes, just at the touch of a button. Then I set about clearing the neglected interior of the castle and towers and consolidating the masonry. I am proud to be able to confidently say that I leave the building safe and sound for another century at least.
I obtained planning permission to install floors and a roof and to create a concert hall. The place has a fabulous acoustic, as I soon found out when the musicians arrived for the first of what was to become a very successful and much-loved annual festival of classical chamber music. The audiences adored listening to the talented young players, who came from all over the world. They told me how they loved to watch the stars come out overhead, as they sat listening among the great stone walls and arches. So the roof was parked, (but remains a possibility, with permission already granted). Instead I used timber from a cedar in the garden to build a mezzanine, to protect the stage and the precious Steinway grand.
One of my fondest memories is watching the faces of the audience coming out one-by-one through the little arched doorway; beaming faces, filled with awe and lofty dreams. Each would whisper a few words to me, as they entered the moonlit garden in the hushed twilight. When a child piped up and said – Mum, where’s my old violin, I want to start playing again – I knew it was all worthwhile.
Friends and musicians would often arrive full of plans for touring the quiet country lanes to visit the fabulous markets and the innumerable pretty villages. But they felt so at home, at ease and freed from the daily stresses of city life, that in fact they never left the premises. Musicians simply played all day and other guests wrote – three published books have been written here, as well as a string quartet, composed in the study at the top of the tower.
A BBC Young Musician of The Year, who spent a week working here, said she could play for ever because the castle felt like a gentle giant protecting her. Wildlife seems to agree. It is uplifting to see the red squirrels leap through the cedars, or a flamboyant hoopoe flex its crest, or to spot the owl of Athene, perching on a corbel, as young kestrels test their wings around her, and the hummingbird-hawkmoth checking the roses and the swallowtail butterflies making for the rosemary across the pool.
I knew I would live here, even before I had seen inside the house. Its ancient oak front door welcomes you into a bright and airy home. The high rooms are graced with joyous panelling, magnificent fireplaces, caroline poplar floors, amazing door-handles and even a tiled floor signed by the person who made it 300 years ago. Every window has a view that makes you stop and stare. It is a hard place to leave. But when the right person steps through the little gate and you marry her in your own chapel in the tower, it is time to start a new adventure and hand on the magic kingdom.
Our thoughts here at Bliss
This property comprises a beautiful 18th century residence with a guest house and the walls of a medieval chateau in the garden. We love the walled aspect of the property and the privacy the walls provide.
The property has plenty of guest accommodation in the cottage and on the lower garden level of the main house but because of the layout of the property it will appeal to a couple or a family with older children.
The castle walls provide a fantastic entertainment area for concerts. The chapel on the top floor (if one is not afraid of heights) is an incredible place for a wedding!
This property will appeal to lovers of historical properties in search of a highly individual home.
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