Château de la Roche Courbon and its gardens

Château de la Roche Courbon is a large château, developed from an earlier castle, in the Charente-Maritime département of France. Located about 20 minutes by car from Rochefort.

History

Under the current castle, there are caves whose prehistoric furnishings show that they were inhabited during the Mousterian (- 120,000 years), Aurignacian (- 40,000 years) and Magdalenian (- 10,000 years) times. In other places of the forest which surrounds this residence, remain: Gallo-Roman village,  Merovingian tombs and, well before the current residence, the remains of walls of the eleventh century.

Around 1475, Jehan II de Latour built a fortress made up of two main buildings, with four powerful towers and a massive keep. This fortified castle, built in the shape of a triangle on a rocky outcrop, is naturally defended by the marsh. To the north, in advance, the Tour de la Fuye stands guard. After three centuries of conflicts between the French and the Anglo-Aquitans in the region, it is not possible to build a castle other than strong and defensive. In 1603, Jacques de Courbon, having married Jeanne de Gombaud in 1595, totally freed Romette from a joint possession of one hundred and thirteen years.

In the seventeenth century, Jean-Louis de Courbon, Jacques’ grandson, transformed La Roche-Courbon as can be seen in the painting by the Dutch painter Jan Hackaert (1628-1685).

The castle is at the height of its beauty, surrounded by sumptuous French-style gardens which will emerge before those of Versailles. The main building opens to the light: large windows are pierced at the rising and at the setting, the roof has Mansart-style openings. An elegant balcony is built in projection on basket-handle arches, supported by five Tuscan columns. A double-level staircase leads down to the gardens, bordered by the lazy Bruant (a small river which flows a few kilometers further into the Charente).

The surroundings are harmonized with an esplanade supported, overlooking the stream, by a high wall. Shrubs surround this large terrace, flanked by two Louis XIII style pavilions topped with slate “fish scale”. Another document, signed around 1710 by Claude Masse (1652-1737), military architect of Louis XIV, shows that the eastern main building and two powerful towers no longer exist. It is believed that a fire destroyed a significant part of the building.

The continuation of the eighteenth century did not see many owners except, in 1785, the Marquis Sophie-Jacques de Courbon Blénac who, for 240,000 pounds, found the family property. He settled in the castle, undertook a series of embellishments: the monumental stone staircase serving the floors for the interior and the wrought iron gates, emblazoned, in the gardens.

One of the former owners of the castle was Jean-Baptiste Mac Nemara, lieutenant of the Frigate and ensign of a marine company, who in 1713 married Julienne Stapleton, daughter of Jean Ier Stapleton, one of the first Irish of Nantes. He bought the castle much later, in 1756, a little before his death, for the sum of 130,000 pounds. The Revolution occurring and the marquis not having emigrated, the castle is not sold as national property. In 1817, his daughter sold the estate at auction. Then begins the long sleep of La Roche Courbon, before its second rebirth in the twentieth century.

Pierre Loti (Pierre Loti was a French naval officer and novelist, known for his exotic novels and short stories) often went on vacation to his sister’s home in Saint-Porchaire. During his walks through the surrounding countryside, he fell under the spell of the castle of Roche Courbon, abandoned, in ruins, in the middle of the brushwood. Taking advantage of his notoriety, the writer made it possible to save the site by a press campaign and made known this castle, which he readily nicknamed the “castle of Sleeping Beauty”, title of a beautiful text that he dedicated about.

After the war of 1939-1945, the estate, classified as a Historic Monument partly in 1925 and in 1946 as a whole (castle, gardens and park), is open to visitors.

Architecture

The keep dates from the 15th century.

The castle, restored in the 17th century, has a facade adorned with Renaissance arcades.

From the Renaissance terrace, a double-level staircase leads to the French-style gardens on stilts.

They consist of an orchard, a flower garden, geometric flowerbeds and lawns that frame a pond.

Today, the Château de la Roche Courbon is open to visitors all year round and also offers rental rooms for weddings and all kinds of professional or private events. Many activities are offered there (old wooden games, nature races in the Gardens and the forest, medieval festival, egg hunt, escape game, Christmas market, etc.) A prehistoric trail (PrehistoZen) is set up on the banks of the Bruant.

Address: Rue de la Belle au Bois Dormant, 17250 Saint-Porchaire, France

Hours:
Wednesday 10AM–7PM
Thursday 10AM–7PM
Friday 10AM–7PM
Saturday 10AM–5PM
Sunday 10AM–7PM
Monday 10AM–7PM
Tuesday 10AM–7PM

GPS coordinates: 45°50′10″N 0°46′53″W

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