After some very rainy period, the weekend was announced as dry and warm. That sounded like the perfect time to make a little trip to chateau de Freÿr and its gardens. We already passed this estate a few times and took a glimpse from above the big rock cliffs along the river Meuse. But now it was time for a real visit.
Chateau de Freÿr and the surrounding lands are already in the hands from the same family since 1410. The oldest part of the current castle was built in 1571 in what is one of the first examples of Renaissance Mosane style. In the 17th century 3 other wings were added. Also the interior of the castle is worth a visit and, although the display is not up to modern museum standards, bares witness of a rich history. It’s here where Louis XIV from France signed a peace treaty with Spain in 1675. Later called the Coffee treaty, as it was said Louis XIV drank a cup of coffee that day. This is supposed to be the first time that coffee was served in Belgium.
But let’s continue to the gardens that were conceived in 1760 by two brothers that inhabited the castle at those times. Two walled renaissance gardens were revamped at either side of the castle. The hedge garden in front of the castle was turned into a simple esplanade in the 1970’s, but the contemplative garden at the back is still intact. When one of the brothers died the upper gardens were added.
The lower garden is dotted with four ponds and separated in two parts by linden threes. These threes were symbolising the columns of the mosque in Cordoba, but mainly act as a way to break the perspective of the garden. The last part of the lower garden is where it really gets interesting.
This part of the garden is dotted with all kind of citrus and orange trees. Some of these are up to 350 years old and make them one of the oldest potted citrus trees in the world. In the 18th century they were brought to the castle and never left since. In winter they are put in the two orangeries, one of the oldest in the low lands. These trees play a big role in the history of the garden and even saved the whole estate during the terror in 1794. A disciple of the feared Robespierre ordered to save the castle and other buildings until the orange trees were shipped to his own estate. The trees were already on barges when Robespierre’s reign was over and his disciples were arrested. The trees were put back in the garden and the castle was saved. The trees seem to be very resilient as they survived even the flood of 1995. The years after they suffered because of the chemicals in the flood water, but thanks to the good care of the gardeners they are saved for future generations.
We now climb to the higher gardens with its labyrinths in rococo style, topped with an elegant pavilion. Just in front of this pavilion you can see a reminder of the old railway that was built here in 1860, cutting the garden in half. It’s thanks to the interference of King Leopold I that the railroad was not built lower in the garden, which would have destroyed the labyrinths and at the same time the beautiful Le Nôtre perspective from the pavilion downwards to the valley.
This garden was a real joy to visit, especially when taking in account its history and the beautiful setting next to the rock cliffs (some over 100 meter high) at the river Meuse. Don’t forget to drive to the other side of the river to a viewing point on top of those cliffs to see the garden from above (15 minute drive).
Info : http://www.freyr.be (looks old fashioned, but contains an enormous amount of information in several languages)