intoHistory, geschiedenis beleven in authentieke logies
Grandvoir is a very modest hamlet in the Ardennes, set in the grazing lands surrounded by rich game forests in the south of Belgium. The old castle-farm lies on the banks of the river with its four wings laid out round a beautiful cobbled courtyard. On a site probably inhabited in Roman times and fortified in the Middle Ages. The defensive building of the Grandvoir Castle was then rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries by master iron-workers. Although not very pretentious in appearance, this castle has been home to several important families and has quite a chequered history….
On discovering Grandvoir, the visitor is struck by the harmonious contrast between the shaley masonry (grey and solid) and the framework round the bays in pale yellow limestone, two typical types of stone in the region. The former emphasizes the horizontal, rather squat form of the buildings; and the latter, securely rooted, highlights the vertical projection.
The ancient fortified medieval house was probably surrounded by water, given its proximity to the river. Moreover, some of its cellars are still flooded. The castle lost its defensive role once it had been converted into a stately home in the 17th and 18th centuries, when its owners, the marshals of Neufchâteau and subsequently blast furnace owners, wanted to avail themselves of all the luxuries inherent in their social status.
The master iron-workers were among the most influential people in the region in pre-industrial times. Their metallurgical workshops were well located in the Ardennes, where abundant mineral seams, rivers and forests enabled them to produce iron, cast iron and top quality steel. These raw materials were highly sought after for tools, weapons, firebacks and rolling stock.
It was François de Valfleury, the Lord of Batilly, who obtained permission to build several furnaces in Grandvoir in 1668. Through marriage, inheritance and leases, the castle became the property of Lambert de Jacques, who decided to renovate the living quarters. A string of salons, each featuring an elaborate fireplace, now takes up the ground floor while the East wing has been furnished with a major bedroom and a private chapel. The barn and other annexes on the two other sides of the courtyard are proof that the castle once had agricultural land, mostly prairies and orchards. And that excludes the pockets of forests, ever greater in extent which were required for wood-charcoal production. Lambert de Jacques was knighted in 1727, a date which can still be clearly seen on the facade anchors.
At the peak of their prosperity in the years between 1760-70, the Grandvoir furnaces began sadly to decline, particularly after the French Revolution. The Jacques family had to resign themselves to selling the property to Mathias Petit (connected to another famous family of master iron-workers) to stave off ruin.
Jean-Herman Collard, who bought the Grandvoir Castle in 1813, was a brilliant man of letters. Former legislator and member of the Council of the Five Hundred in Paris (the Assembly of the Directoire), he managed the property with a rod of iron. To such an extent that his relationship with the village created tensions. He was found in the woods a year later with his throat cut. A murder which remains unsolved to this day …
Presumed portait of the Collard de Belloy Sisters
His brother took on the management of the property, and was soon followed by his two daughters, Joséphine and Elisabeth Collard de Belloy. The former was the wife of a rich industrialist from Sedan (France), with some unsavoury connections, from whom she was finally able to extricate herself. The latter never married, spending her whole life waiting for an improbable proposal of marriage from Prince Pierre-Napoléon Bonaparte …
Pierre-Napoléon Bonaparte, nephew of the victor of Austerlitz and second cousin of emperor Napoleon III, did in fact live for several years a short distance away from Grandvoir, whose woods he leased in order to indulge his passion for hunting. History remembers this ebullient adventurer for his whimsical and excessive character (in addition to his combat victims, three or four murders are laid to his charge), but the consideration he showed during his visits to the castle, convinced the younger of the two daughters that this impetuous soldier in exile would make an excellent husband …
Probably deceived by their steward and a maidservant, the two sisters were gradually dispossessed of their huge fortune, ending their days in great hardship. When they died, their heir searched the castle and came across some precious treasures which they had hidden out of distrust or miserliness.
There is a secret cubby hole, hidden under the hatch next to the bed in the castle’s largest bedroom. Here it was possible to keep items of value out of view of prying eyes or even hide a human being.
After falling into the hands of the Petit family, the castle traversed the 20th century discreetly. Fighting took place nearby on 11th May, 1940, when German troops came up against several French divisions sent to protect Neufchâteau, but it is probably normal wear and tear and successive purchases which are to blame for the greatest damage to this venerable building …
In the end, it was Geoffroy and Barbara Dewitte, a young couple passionate about hospitality, hunting and gastronomy, who bought the Grandvoir Castle in 2011. Since then, considerable restoration work has been undertaken under the aegis of the Department of Cultural Heritage of Wallonia and the Commission of Monuments and Sites. Period woodwork, parquet flooring, frames, (cast) iron features and other original vestiges have been thoroughly studied and now feature in a setting in which contemporary design also has a place.
The castle’s interior finishings were entrusted to a woman designer and reflect a savvy combination of heritage and design
© Grandvoir Castle
Today Grandvoir Castle has become a delightful, tastefully furnished hotel, deep in the countryside, where souvenirs of the past combine gracefully with simpler 21st century creations. The setting is perfect for hunting and fishing enthusiasts as well as history buffs and nature lovers. This 3-star establishment (which deserves a 4th star) exudes a cosy, family atmosphere. A special mention for its restaurant and wine cellar.
Griffon Tower @ Amis du Château de Neufchâteau
Neufchâteau, a former fief of the (then) counts of Arenberg, still retains a few walls from its medieval castle which gave the town its name. Moreover, the heritage crafts of the commune from the 18th to the 20th centuries make for an interesting walk: check out the mill, tannery, dairy and slate works … Other vestiges of its rural history can be discovered in surrounding hamlets.
For those interested in the Second World War, Neufchâteau was surrounded by 27 small forts destined to impede the expected progress of German troops. A circuit helps you to discover some of them.
The foundries at Mellier, the Château de la Trapperie as well as Orval Abbey (whose 3 furnaces made it one of the most powerful abbeys of the 18th century), are also worth visiting.
Anlier Forest, one of the wildest of Belgium © FTLB-P.Willems
For those who love flora and fauna in the wild, they will enjoy walking in the extensive Anlier forest, one of Belgium’s most beautiful forests. However, do take special care during the hunting season! More information can be obtained from the Fédération touristique du Luxembourg belge.
To fully appreciate the period atmosphere of Grandvoir Castle, do not hesitate to enhance your stay by reading a few books (nothing beats a good historical novel to bring old stones back to life). Listening to some period music may also be a good way to transport you back in time… A few suggestions:
Books to be devoured in situ
Period music to be enjoyed on location
Pour moi qui suis toujours un peu inquiet de voir un décorateur déployer sa créativité dans un environnement d'époque original, j'avoue que ma visite à Grandvoir m'a réconcilié avec le design de notre siècle. A la différence de copies "dans le style" pas toujours très réussies, le très contemporain a l'avantage de se détacher sans ambiguité sur le fond historique. Et pour le coup, le mariage des genres est très réussi, conférant à l'hôtel son caractère "grande classe". Si les tonalités taupe et vert de gris de la peinture n'ont sans doute pas grand chose à voir avec celles qui ornaient les pièces au 18e ou 19e siècle, elles s'harmonisent à merveille avec le brun patiné des boiseries et les lumières de l'Ardenne, faisant ressortir les reliefs anciens et autres témoins du passé. Un mot aussi sur l'accueil : la rénovation du Château de Grandvoir est le grand rêve d'un jeune couple, qui fait montre d'une telle hospitalité qu'on en oublierait presque que le site est aujourd'hui un hôtel. A la cuisine, Sophie, une amie qui est associée au projet depuis le premier jour, déploie d'étonnants talents de chef-coq.
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Château de Grandvoir
Mr et Mrs Dewitte
La Cornée 66
+32 61 21 06 20
+32 486 99 83 85
Hotel’s own website
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