intoHistory, geschiedenis beleven in authentieke logies
When you come upon the charming hotel chateau de Gilly, once a castle, it is difficult to imagine such a picturesque place disturbed by periods of dramatic upheaval throughout its history.
© Chateau de Gilly
The original Benedictine priory, founded in the 6th century, by the soon to be famous Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris, might have developed peaceably, despite the rather unprepossessing marshy environment in this part of Burgundy. However, given the extraordinary charisma and influence exerted by the nearby Cistercian Abbey of Citeaux (founded in 1098), it fell under its shadow. The priory and its lands were sold to the Trappists following decades of petty rivalries.
Fortified priory (1)
Used by the monks to age the precious wines produced in the local vineyards (which are still some of the most prestigious vintages of Burgundy), the priory was transformed into a fortified castle in the 14th century to protect the religious community and house the precious treasures of the Abbey of Citeaux). The waning of the Middle Ages was one of the most troubled periods in French history, tragically rent asunder by the Hundred Years War: where armed attacks and pillage were common occurrences. The fortified monastery was pillaged and almost totally destroyed at the end of the 16th century, during the religious wars between the Catholic League and the Huguenots, led by the future king Henry IV. The only remains of the original priory are the monks’ kitchen and the cellar storeroom (magnificently restored to their former glory today).
Jean Petit’s coat of arms © Chateau de Gilly
When France was once again at peace in the 17th century, Gilly was reborn from its ashes. The abbot of Citeaux built a dazzling country residence, flanked by seven pavilions and lavishly decorated throughout. The cellars are once again stocked with “foudres” (large barrels) of high quality wine and the castle becomes an important cultural hub. The abbots Nicolas Boucherat, Pierre de Nivelle and Jean Petit have all left their stamp on this period of prosperity.
At the end of the 18th century, under the French Revolution, all church properties were nationalized and the domain was sold to wealthy developers, together with its 100 hectares of land and vines. In 1978, when the Département of the Côte d’Or acquired the site with the aim of creating a theatre space, the “Théâtre de Bourgogne”, the buildings were in a very sorry state … in the end René Traversac, the founder of the hotel chain “Les Grandes Etapes Françaises”, took it upon himself to undertake the vital restoration work so nine years later, Gilly Castle came once again into its own.
> Have a look at the nice Visitor’s Guide of the Chateau de Gilly.
There are many majestic vestiges of the past: vaulted ceilings from the end of the Middle Ages and the abbot’s prestigious apartments, not to mention the 18th century pavilions and formal French gardens. This is Cistercian architecture at its peak and it is on show throughout. The skilled workmanship is a credit to many highly talented craftsmen.
Of particular interest is the old priory kitchen, with its central pillar, elegant ribbed vaulting and monumental double fireplace. Today it is the living area and one of the castle’s most evocative places. The 14th century cellar storeroom, now the restaurant dining area for “Le Clos Prieur”, is a masterpiece of Gothic art. You can easily imagine hundreds of barrels of Clos de Vougeot stacked up in this cellar, with their unmistakable atmosphere of damp oak and tannin. The former huge reception area in the Abbot’s apartments, built at the time of Pierre de Nivelle (1625-1635), is a sight to behold, with its splendid ceiling of rafters decorated in Louis XIII style. These have been lovingly restored under the aegis of the “Monuments Historiques”.
Do take a stroll in the gardens, laid out according to an original engraving, with a trout pond and pond with rushes (a reminder that the Abbey of Citeaux was built in the marshes). La Vouge, which flows through the property, has been carefully tamed. Admire the 14th century bridge (formerly the drawbridge), the staircase which leads to the abbot’s house (with its fine wrought iron railings), the garden pavilions and the old parish church of Saint Germain (whose presence within the monastery enclosure gave rise to frequent periods of tension with the townsfolk).
The first consideration must be budget; the most authentic rooms are also the most sought after (such as the room of the father abbot, the day pavilion or the vast rooms in the tower with their beautiful fireplaces). The second floor and the pavilion which houses the reception are the most modern areas of the domain, built at the end of the 20th century. Room decoration is refined and typical of 1990s renovation criteria, with large floral design wallpaper. Depending on the room, you will discover tommette tiling, a French-style or painted ceiling, a fireplace, perhaps an old coat of arms …
Gilly castle provides its guests with a very detailed Visitor’s Guide. How delightful to see the light play on the white stone, pick up the fragrance of roses which grow in the castle grounds, touch the statues on display in the garden in summertime, hear the burbling river, or enjoy the incomparable bouquet of the wide range of wines from the Côte de Nuits … And do not forget to sample some typical Burgundian specialities, blackcurrant liqueur, mustard, cheeses, escargots and gingerbread …
The coat of arms of the abbot Pierre de Nivelle, who is became famous owing to the refurbishments he ordered for the abbot’s residence, shows a stag’s head beneath a cross. This motif can be seen in various places around the building, particularly on the white and ochre ceramic floor tiles. You will notice that the cleric has taken the trouble to replace the cross between the stag’s antlers by another design so no one will trample on the symbol of Christ’s martyrdom … Could you identify it?
Clos de Vougeot © Michal Osmenda
Please fill in all fields, your email address will not be published
Notify me of followup comments via e-mail.
SIGN INto our newsletter
GO ON EXPLORINGhistoric accommodation
READ OUR ARTICLES