In the heart of the rolling hills of bucolic Bordeaux vineyards and a few miles from nearby Saint Emilion, where the most prestigious wine in the world is grown, there is a splendid XVIIIth century Château, called La Forrest. Hundred-year-old Cedar trees line the driveway leading into the property and behind the Château are formal gardens called “à la française” that are surrounded by 56 acres of vines, which total 70 bucolic acres.
Not every grand estate has a dignified family legacy.
Yet if put into the context of the times surrounding the property’s past history, we begin to paint a vivid picture of the reason’s for such sad disrepair. Although the interior has not been touched for many years, the property continues as a grand estate from it’s primary purpose: vines that have produced income for centuries.
La Forrests’ past history blends into a proud future with serene, discreet charm of this outstanding property. Despite needing to be completely restored, the original purpose of the home was designed as a place of worship. The architecture is known as Chartreuse, an attractive and pleasing design that originated in the 18th century.
A “petite Chateau” or Chartreuse is usually built on one level and frequently forms a courtyard on one side, with multiple outbuildings. There are many of these attractive properties in Aquitaine and they’re also found in other regions of France. Where the architecture came from is steeped in ancient history.
Carthusians were part of an 11th century revival of Egyptian solitary ‘desert life’, where they were founded by a group of hermits near Grenoble, later called La Grande Chartreuse in 1084 by Bruno, formerly a canon and teacher at Rheims, France. Their rule was written by a man named Guigo who also founded six other charterhouses in France, all strictly centralized on the Chartreuse design.
This design was a combination of communal and solitary elements of monasticism, where Carthusians lived in separate cells for more private than common prayer. Never relaxing their austerity, nor ambitious to proliferate, they were noted for their holiness-many distinguished men took vows-and for their powerful mystical tradition that nourished such writings as The Cloud of Unknowing.
Carthusian observance has uniquely never changed: Nunquam reformata quia nunquam deformata, “Never reformed, because never deformed”. The quiet holiness of the early 18th century Chartreuse contrasted sharply with the noisy, restless, ambitious and sordid whirl of the city streets, drawing many nobles for spiritual direction and even resident retreat. Its last prior and monks were all heroically martyred at the dissolution.
La Forrest is situated in the heart of the Entre-deux-mers wine producing region of red AOC Bordeaux. The busy market towns of Libourne and Sauveterre are equidistant and is a perfect tranquil location while still being close to Arcachon, which is approximately an hour and a half’s drive.
The south facing wing of the chateau faces beautiful formal gardens in all three (7 1/2 acres) hectares of land. The vineyard is approached by a long drive of hundred year old cedar trees that lead straight to the main carriage gate entrance.
The “à la Francaise” gardens cradle the walls of the chateau. Also called jardin à la française, it is a style of garden based on symmetry and the principle of imposing order over nature.
The landscape design reached its zenith in the 17th century, with the creation of the gardens of Versailles, which were designed for king Louis XIV by the landscape architect Andre Le Notre. The style was widely copied by other courts of Europe.
Because the vineyard is situated in the middle of vines, there is an enchanting oasis feel.
Two wings flank the front walled entrance and the back wall has two towers on each end. Although the core of the building has yet to be restored, there are beautiful rooms with original features and superb character.
This splendid 18th century chateau was built when France ruled the world in fashion, politics and it’s monarchy reigned supreme. But it was not too last. In 1789 the french revolution began with the storming of the Bastille and by 1793 the french king Louis and his queen Marie Antoinette were executed by the guillotine.
Many of the religious order houses were sacked and burned as the common people, now known as the third estate, took power from the first estate (monarchy) and the second estate (aristocracy).
For six years the reign of terror poured down on the country and many of the original leaders of the revolution were executed to restore order. It was in this power vacuum that General Napolean Bonaparte began his rise to power.
Busy with wars in far off lands, Napolean kept his focus on military pursuits and the religious properties languished. Fortunately the value of the estate was in the vines, which kept La Forrest from complete ruin.
While the French wine industry expanded after the nation began to stabilize, La Forrest vineyard achieved modest success selling it’s grapes to the local co-op.
Although history has not been kind to the past owners of this exceptional vineyard, La Forrest will continue its long held traditions of past harvests, while the Château still seeks to gain a modest sense of dignity of times past.
Photos curtesy of Stewart Cook at http://www.classic-french-chateaux.co.uk/