intoHistory, geschiedenis beleven in authentieke logies
La Tour, whose salon with its Rococo-style decor will captivate you, was lovingly and extensively restored in 2009 © Jan Verlinden
In the 18th century, Bruges was no longer the bustling commercial hub that it had been in the Middle Ages, as the water channel that linked it to the sea had silted up. However, this «Venice of the North» maintained its prestige, great families and palaces. The well-to-do sought out its peaceful gardens which continued to flourish between the first and second city walls. Here were to be found some delightful ‘follies‘ – small, well-appointed houses, built with the sole aim of enjoying a relaxed lifestyle with close family and friends. The Rococo salon, intimate Louis XVI bedroom and stucco-studded belvedere and alcoves in La Tour (the Tower) have a rich, romantic and sparkling history to tell. This is a very exclusive guest house … for lovers of refined living!
In the 14th century, Bruges was so prosperous that it was undoubtably the richest city in the north of Europe. Its old ramparts were bursting at the seams and an extensive, new rampart was built so that the rich merchants, bankers and other foreign agents attracted by this commercial port city could settle here in safety. Many craftsmen and small businesses as well as a few farms were located in this extended area.
At the end of the 16th century, Jacob van Ockerhout had several houses, a few workshops, an oil mill and a factory producing candles and soap. A vast walled-in green area, along the Annunciatenstraat and the canal running beside it also belonged to him.
To the left of the canal, J. van Ockerhout’s plot of land shows a small house in which the market gardeners lived – this would become La Tour – Marcus Gerard map (1562)
It was not before the 17th century that the archives mention the presence of a Huyzeken van playsance (a little house of leisure) in this surviving green space in the heart of the city (and greatly appreciated at a time when nature loomed large in people’s lives). Its owner, Joris Aerts, was a rich dyer – as well as a shipowner and counsellor of Bruges. A man of taste, he collected furniture, paintings, pewterware, fine fabrics, medals and rare agates. Unfortunately, this aesthete was riddled with debts and his goods were sold off at his death in 1716.
La Tour (described in the archives of the period as “het Heester”) with its lofty windows, typical of the transition between the Grand Siècle and the Age of Enlightenment © Jan Verlinden
A certain Ignace van Tours bought the garden and its “estre” (or heester in Flemish, a room set up in an open area or garden). The lawyer was probably responsible for rebuilding this ‘folly’ in its present form: a tower with two, then three levels as well as a small, adjoining one-storey house. The craftsmen whom he employed to carry out the decorative work were strongly influenced by the Rococo style in vogue under Louis XV. It was also during this period that the site took on the appearance of a pleasant orchard.
The deed of sale which confirmed Albert Coppieters as its new owner in 1804, described the property as “a large, beautiful garden and pleasant residence with wallpapered walls, having several rooms and a little tower with ceiling consoles and other features”. The purchaser was an influential man: he ultimately became the last burgomaster of the “Brugse Vrije“ (the largest countryside castellany in the County of Flanders) prior to the conquest of the Austrian Low Countries by French armies (1792). His opposition to the edicts of the Revolution forced his resignation from this important function.
Canon Charles Bernard Coppieters Stockhove
Since then, the property and its “heester” have remained in the hands of Albert Coppieters’ family, through descent or marriage. Among his descendants was a Spanish consul in Bruges and a canon Coppieters, who was known for his generosity to various churches as well as Leuven University. There is considerable pride in maintaining this family property which is now a listed historical monument.
The little glass-fronted salon at the top of La Tour is a idyllic spot in which to read and relax with its panoramic view of the spires of Van Eyck’s city. © Jan Verlinden
Eight generations later, Francis and Louise Hardy have picked up the baton and undertaken extensive and careful restoration work. La Tour has now been re-thought as an exceptional guest house, with its unique bedroom, combining an historic-style decor with modern comfort and colour.
The vase perched right on the top of La Tour is not a simple roof decoration: it is probably the golden goblet which appears on the family crest.
Showcased in a verdant setting, you will be struck by the garden designed by its current owner, Francis Hardy. Try to imagine what it was like in the 18th century, ornamented with statues and protected from prying eyes by its high walls. This delightful pavilion stood out against the sky, outlined by its ochre-coloured quoins and window casements. The brick masonry around the main entrance reveals the existence of age-old oval bays (oculi) and some baroque decor, probaby stucco work, which has now disappeared. As for the tower roof, the slope takes the form of an oriental pagoda, which emphasizes its unusual character as a ‘garden folly’, and confers an exotic feel to the building.
Were these 17th century masonry motifs in dressed variagated stone visible or concealed under plaster? © Jan Verlinden
What finesse in this Rococo decor, stucco as delicate as lace © Jan Verlinden
One of the characteristics of private architecture in the 18th century was the introduction of human-scale living spaces, cosy rooms, ideal for private conversation, intimate dining, gambling and seduction. Rooms full of light, but intimate in terms of their sculpted wooden panelling, heavy swathes of curtain and curved reliefs in the form of shells and garlands of voluptuous flowers. There’s a subtle play of curves which grow and recede or come together to reflect the meanders of the soul, the lines of the human body and the unpredictability of human affairs. The little salon on the ground floor is an excellent example of this, even though the stone flooring and painted walls are modern. Do admire the elegant fireplace in marble from Rance (famous enough to be used in Versailles) and the two elaborate Louis XV consoles which frame it.
The Louis XVI style dominates the bedroom with its more subdued decor and straighter lines. The beautiful Chinese-inspired wallpaper is a reminder that Flemish merchants had numerous contacts with the Orient in the 18th century. The fine oak panels on the floors were once painted to look like fake-marble.
The old alcove, cleverly re-designed as a bath © Jan Verlinden
The “belvedere“, a little room with glass panels on all four sides on the second storey of La Tour, was built at the end of the 18th century, to allow one’s gaze to wander in all directions and explore new horizons, just as the enlightened soul loves to plunge into classical authors and the writings of new thinkers, scholars, great navigators and philosophers. Unfortunately, the original trompe-l’œil decor on the ceiling, attributed to Jan Garemijn’s workshop (1712-1799) – well known Rococo painter in Bruges, has not survived. On the fragments that remained prior to restoration work, elegant figures in brightly-coloured attire appeared to lean over a balustrade, eavesdropping on conversations.
The stucco ornaments between the windows conjure up the four seasons. © Jan Verlinden
© Johan Desender – SintGillis.Brugsebuurten.be
The St. Giles district where La Tour is located used to house a great many Bruges artists such as Hans Memling and Pieter Pourbus. They are buried in the old hall-church of St.Giles, the only one in Bruges to have a clock at the top of its belltower. A stroll round the neighbouring streets will help you imagine how life was lived in the past, at a time when many small craftsmen were hard at work.
Many other districts also retain traces of the economic boom experienced by Bruges in the 18th century under the Austrian régime. A new canal called the ‘Coupure’ was dug (to join the Schelde via Ghent) and the quayside was soon adorned by many sumptuous mansions.
The owner of La Tour, art historian and cultural guide, is at the disposal of guests who wish to be introduced into the mysteries of Bruges and area (price to be agreed depending on the circuit).
In 2012, the town of Bruges published a very elaborate downloadable brochure, devoted to cultural records which guarantee its presence as a World Heritage site. Here, in addition to the history of this trading city, you can find a wealth of useful information enabling you to place the various cultural events, reflecting its rich artistic and craftsmanship heritage, in their proper context.
All love stories take on a special resonance in the peaceful intimacy of the Belvedere, but the comedies of Marivaux have a particularly rococo feel to them … Why not delve into “The Game of Love and Chance” ?
Although Bruges was once a bustling city with vast industrial clout, festivities and joie de vivre, the image the city left in the literature of the 19th and 20th century (before its restoration), tends to be that of a melancholic ancestral city which does not know how to address its souvenirs other than through swathes of mist and greyish images… Next to several other writers and poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has described his emotions in verse, a moving testimony from yet another bygone era.
Among the numerous composers of 18th century chamber music, Johann Sebastian Bach was certainly in vogue in Bruges. His sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord are a fitting accompaniment to the decor and refined atmosphere of La Tour.
On y retourne, sans hésiter. Etudiante déjà, j'y étais accueillie chaleureusement par Louise et ses parents à l’occasion de weekends-découverte de Bruges. Il y a quelques années, avec Francis, son époux, Louise a entamé la restauration minutieuse de La Tour. Ils ont remporté le prestigieux prix de la Ville pour cette belle réalisation. Le jardin, dessiné par Francis, encadre l’ensemble comme un îlot dans la ville.
Un logement à réserver les yeux fermés… Passées les portes cochères, le lieu et l'accueil sont enchanteurs.
Absolutely delightful period house, restored with special care for its original 18th-century decor. Every detail is important, and comfort is a key concern to the owners. Mr and Mrs Hardy will be happy to tell you about the special history of this family 'folly'. And to tour you around Bruges if you are interested to discover it with a professional guide. A very intimate place, perfect getaway for culture lovers. Be sure to organize your stay long enough in advance...
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La Tour (het Heester)
Francis and Louise Hardy
+32 50 34 43 38
La Tour’s own webiste
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