“ Address: 14170 Vendeuvre / Tel: 02 31 40 93 83 / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Website: www.vendeuvre.com. „
Following a rather disappointing visit to the castle in Falaise we were on our second sightseeing trip in the Normandie. The destination would be another chateau, this time the one in Vendeuvre, and to say that my family was less then enthusiastic would be the understatement of the year. The girls were still upset from the visit of the day before and stated that they would "never want to see a castle again" and even my husband made a long face. Well, I was on a mission...
We all had enjoyed visits to stately houses and castles so far and I had no intention of letting one misfortunate choice to get in between that. I promised them all that this one would be more fun and started to pray to my lucky stars that the information brochure in our cottage was right about what we were about to experience.
How we got there :
The chateau is located in the small hamlet of Vendeuvre, in between Falaise and St Pierre sur Dives. Falaise, Lisieux and Caen are all not far and we found the castle to be signed out very well. There were roadworks on the day we went and even we had to take a detour we had no problems in finding it. As we went with our own car I cannot comment on public transport but I have seen a bus stop close to the entrance. Albeit, it is a very small village and I can't imagine that buses pass from there very often so would recommend to rely on own transport.
A bit of history :
The castle was built from 1750 to 1752 after plans from Jaques Francois Blondel. It is very much a typical French country estate and has been owned by the same family since its completion. The owners, the family Le Forestier de Vendeuvre, are descendants of the Counts of Flanders which came to France as part of the entourage of Queen Mathilda, the wife of William the Conqueror. The family has settled down in the area of Vendeuvre in the early XVIII century and took on its name. They still live in the chateau.
Our visit :
The car park of the chateau is located right in front of the very impressive main gate. The whole castle is surrounded by a wrought iron fence and we got a good view on the formal Versailles-style gardens that lead up to the house.
Upon entering to the site your first visit will be to the Orangery were you can buy your ticket and can also purchase a guide book. The fee for the whole site, which includes the orangery, the chateau, the kitchens, the surprise water gardens, the grotto and the mazes was Euro 8.5 for us and Euro 6.5 for the kids, the guidebook was Euro 2. It always amazes me how much cheaper the entrance to attractions like this are compared to similar ones in the UK.
Right next to the Orangery is a small playground were I had left the family behind while I went to get the tickets. It only consists of a set of swings and a see-saw and both are very old and didn't look very inviting. The swings were so shaky that, concerned about safety, we decided not to let the girls go on them. If you want to avoid a discussion with your kids whether they will be fine or not I recommend to give the whole playground a miss.
As we were right in front of it we decided to start our visit from here. Here one gets a chance to view one of the most famous collections of miniatures in the world. Apparently it was Countess Elyane de Vendeuvre who started this collection at the age of 7 when she received the miniature of a writing desk as a present from her aunt.
This absolutely marvellous collection includes many masterpieces of craftsmen who, to obtain their mastership during the trade-guilt era, had to present the members of the Guild with a masterpiece. There are countless little objects like a miniature staircase, chests of drawers, grandfather clocks and much more on display. Further we've seen one whole room filled with silver miniatures only which included the tiniest set of cutlery I've come across so far. There are also "models" which had been used to advertise a new piece of furniture that had been designed by a master craftsman of times long gone by. These tiny replicas of the original had been send to the courts in order to make it easier to make a purchase decision without having to send the full-size item. Again the collection is made mostly of small items of furniture and I was very taken by some of the tiny cabinets, which had small drawers and doors to open, ornate handles and were made with such an eye to detail. I found them fascinating.
There are hundreds of miniature items including tiny versions of books, doll-house size ceramics, glass and oh so much more. Of course children's furniture, dolls houses and toys weren't missing either.
All in all this was a visit that especially my older daughter and me enjoyed a lot. Our little one didn't quite get the idea why they'd put all these lovely things behind glass and was rather annoyed that she couldn't play with them. My husband found this all "a bit too girlie", but did light up a bit when we reached the miniature musical instruments and weapons.
Just a few steps away from the orangery you reach the sweeping stairs that lead to the entrance of the chateau itself. As impressive as they look, I fear they would prove to be an insurmountable obstacle for wheelchair users.
Once inside we were greeted by a friendly lady who handed us some plastic folders with information about what we were going to see. There weren't many rooms to visit, it isn't exactly a huge castle and only the lower floor is open to public, but what was on display was lovingly furnished and the furniture and accessories were exquisite.
The rooms that you can access are the dining-room, were the table is laid out for dinner and you can admire a very old and odd looking automaton which serves coffee to the dinner guests, the drawing room with its magnificent views over the formal French back-garden and several games tables. Gin rummy anyone ?
The next room we found ourselves in was the state bedroom. This was a bit cramped as they had put that much stuff in there that it was hard to see the items that were a bit in the background. The strangest item of furniture we've seen here was certainly the wig-stand which was used by the owners of the house to place their powdered wigs on over night. Apart from this there is also a library, another bedroom and a smoking room. Quite nice was a lamp that had a glass bowl underneath in which a gold fish is living.
To reach the kitchens we had to leave the house and walk around to the back-entrance at the basement level. The first thing we've passed when entering to the corridor was the only toilet on site. As we were already there we decided to pay a visit. The toilet is located in a small room under a staircase with massive stone walls and also home to the largest spider I have ever come across outside a zoo. The room generally wasn't very inviting and could urgently do with a revamp but it really took some persuading to get the girls to use it as they were so scared of the spider. Well, at least no-one will be tempted to spend even one second longer in there than necessary while the crowd waiting outside gets bigger...
The kitchen and the laundry room, which can be reached through the kitchen, are fantastically furnished and look as if they are still in use. Both rooms have vaulted ceilings, there are several ovens in the kitchen which were used either for roasting, braising or to make pastry, loads of copper pots and utensils (like a tripe warmer), pottery earthenware and some fake vegetables and sausages completed the illusion. One can take a glimpse in the well filled pantry and in the wash-house is an indoor well and some dishes are standing in the racks to dry. I would have loved to stay a bit longer as there was so much too see, but a bus-group of tourists came shortly after us and they were not only a bit loud, but also a bit unruly for which I assume the consumption of too much vin the table with the lunch is to blame.
We left this jolly crowd behind us and escaped to the kennels which are just opposite side. Now I have to say that I have never seen anything like this before in my life. This room contained a huge collection of old kennels for cats or dogs and most were just replicas of a bigger piece of furniture (the owners ?) and looked like small beds or chaise-longues. Some were travelling kennels which looked incredibly luxurious and one had the shape of a little tent and was used to assure that the dog who was lucky enough to call it his own didn't get too much sun if taken to the beach. The kids were absolutely fascinated by this small pieces of furniture - some had cuddly toys in them to make it a bit more clear who they were made for whereas my husband had a less romantic view of those pampered doggies and just thought it was all a bit weird and crazy.
Well, now it would have been the right time to get something to eat, but to our surprise there was nothing. Although we had read about a refreshment centre this turned out to be closed and the small gift shop that is also located in the basement didn't sell any food. At least they had cold drinks a it was a very hot day and we also found some overpriced cookies. We really would have preferred something a bit more substantial and the only ones who were happy were the girls. So if you would like to pay a visit don't forget to bring some sandwiches, as the visit will take a few hours.
Leaving the house behind us we finally came to the part of our visit that really makes Vendeuvre something special :
There are several gardens on the grounds of the chateau which all have different themes and purposes.
The French garden : Located right behind the house. This is what we already had a glimpse of from inside of the house and were we had our little snack. It is a typical classic French garden that overlooks the meadows of the Dives valley and the hills of the Pays d'Auge.
The kids quickly got bored here and we went on to see the main attraction of the castle - the surprise water gardens. Here you can find all kinds of fountains or little pieces of art created with water. There is a tree where the illusion of a rainbow is created as soon as you walk by, man-made waterfalls, bridges over the little river with water displays, a pavilion where you have to expect to get wet as soon as you try to enter and several other "surprises". All in all it was great fun but we were more or less soaked at the end. Luckily it was such a beautiful and hot day and we didn't mind and I can only recommend you not to wear your best clothes and not to come on a cold or rainy day or you will miss out. The kids a great time in this part of the park and it was really fun for us too as you cannot guess before from which direction your next "shower" will come.
In other parts of the garden you can find a maze in which you are supposed to follow the trail of a rabbit, there is a shell grotto which is lavishly decorated with sea shells only and several garden rooms with very imaginative themes. The gardens are huge and I could've spend much more time exploring them as there just was so much to see. It didn't get boring for one minute and whoever is responsible for their creation has invested a lot of time and imagination (and money) in realising them. Every part is perfectly maintained and we all enjoyed our walk. In the end we left not because we had enough but plainly because we were hungry.
I'd come back here anytime again, although only on a warm and dry day and with enough food for a picnic in the garden. The fact that the restaurant is only open for lunch and closes early and that there wasn't anything to buy on site was really the only down point of our visit. That there is only one toilet could have been a bit of a problem with two relatively small kids if it had been busier but as there weren't many visitors when we were there it was ok and the waiting times were acceptable. Vendeuvre is perfect for visitors of all ages and you can easily spend several hours here. There is a lot of walking involved and I am not sure how well the castle would fare with wheelchair users as I also haven't seen any disabled toilets and am quite sure that I haven't seen any other entrance to the house apart from the stairs.
All in all it was a great day, good value for money and my daughters can't wait to see the next castle. I've got my work cut out - it will take a bit of research to find anything that will beat this !
In this castle which is still lived in and furnished, you will discover the world formost furniture collection, the art of living of the XVIilth century, the kitchen brought to life by a model of a talking cook, the surprise water gardens and the shell grotto. Exhibition of new dog-kennels in 2005, Tulip festival all the month of April (2 to 6pm).