Chateau de Boutemont

The new owners' main goal is to make this Normandy's hidden gem with its fantastic history, irresistible charm, atmosphere and extremely beautiful gardens generally known.

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Owners of Chateau de Boutemont
Artiom Ganin has sat down with the new owners of Chateau de Boutemont in France's Normandy. The couple has chosen to remain anonymous. They had the privilege of buying the beautifully set castle from Mr. and Mrs. Sarfati who previously had turned down several offers. Why? Because they were ready to sell their chateau - their life's cause - only to those who would care as much about it as they did. We've discussed the uniqueness of Boutemont which is among the few castles to have preserved an original feudal mound. We also talked about the owners' vision for their castle which back in the days was frequented by category A stars like Alain Delon, Charles Aznavour and Mireille Mathieu. The couple say their goal now is to open the chateau to as many people as possible and make it well-known among tourists and castle enthusiasts.

THE PERFECT MATCH

Castles_and_Palaces (CnP): Would you kindly tell me about yourself and your background?
Owners of Chateau de Boutemont (OCB): Both me and my husband work in the artworld, both contemporary and traditional. For example, he supervised the restoration of beautiful gardens in Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. This is all I can tell you.
CnP: How interesting – and now you have a whole chateau for yourself to focus on. By the way why did you choose Chateau de Boutemont? What is so special about it?
OCB: We knew instantly it was the match! We really feel at home here. You know we fell for this hidden gem with its fantastic history, irresistible charm, atmosphere and extremely beautiful gardens.
CnP: You say it was an easy decision. It's quite an adventure to live in and run a big chateau, isn't it?
OCB: True. The decision to acquire the chateau was rather easy to make. We signed the purchase agreement in the depth of winter. Then it was a real challenge to move in, you know, furnish, refurbish, to get to know the castle and its corners and secrets. By the way, the chateau had a few surprises for us along the way of course. To sum it up - it was a lot of work, at first this amount of work seemed too much to bear especially if you take into account the fact that we both have full time jobs. But with a passage of time, it became more manageable so to speak.
CnP: You purchased the castle from Mr. and Mrs. Sarfati who had owned it since 1976 and had invested their souls into making it a fantastic property. Do you know why they decided to sell it?
OCB: This is absolutely right. For Mr. and Mrs. Sarfati it was their life passion. They got older and they decided to sell their castle about 5 years ago. But they did not want to just sell it to anybody. They wanted to hand it over to someone who would care as much about the chateau as they did. They wanted to make sure that the chateau and especially the gardens would get as much care, love and attention as possible. To be honest during the 5 years the castle was on sale they declined the offers from several potential buyers.
CnP: This must be very flattering! In one of your interviews you said that you stand for even greater openness and you felt sad a lot of locals - let alone people coming from abroad - have no idea such a gem existed next to them, so what's the plan with the castle?
OCB: We re-opened the chateau to the public this year and used a lot of new communication channels like leaflets, game booklets, new signage. We restored the historical rooms. The gardens were closed due to COVID and they really needed a lot of attention. Now we are planning to open a tea room next year, too.
CnP: Is the castle in a good shape or does it need to undergo restoration?
OCB: The castle is in rather a good shape all things considered. Still some of its parts like the ticket desk, the orangery, the green house and the caretaker's house do need a lot of attention and investment.

CnP: To what extent should a chateau i.e. a very old building be adapted to modern times? Does it have to exist as is or should the owners introduce modern elements like solar panels and other sustainable technologies?
OCB: Our chateau keeps pace with the times and of course new parts have been added over time but we wouldn't want to make visible improvements we feel that would be wrong.
CnP: The original fortress was built back in the 11th century during the Norman invasion of England but the chateau as we see it now was built in the 16th century. Where's the oldest part of the castle?
OCB: The first Chateau of Boutemont is literally behind the corner. It was built as a military fort in 11th century for baron Fauguernon, one of William the Conqueror's knights. This motte and baily castle was located in a vantage point. It controlled the Touques Valley and was strategically placed between Lisieux and Pont l'Eveque. The Boutemont family owned the castle till 1180 as Hugues de Normandie Boutemont is recorded paying his taxes.
OCB: Some time later the lord and lady of Boutemont decided that the old fortress was too damp and cramped for them. In the early 14th century they built a more comfortable home next door but some parts of this building were incorporated into their new home and are parts of today's chateau. In 1524 the lordship of Boutemont passed to the recently knighted Philippe Paisant, who was eager to rebuildi it in a style informally known as 'stately medieval' with turrets, a drawbridge and a moat – all the latest in 16th century Normandy design.
CnP: Does the drawbridge work?
OCB: Yes it does and it's wonderful!

TRACES OF THE PAST AND REMARKABLE GARDENS

CnP: Are there any traces left of the original fortress or maybe some parts which would show the castle's former defensive nature?
OCB: Parts of the original fort are next door in the field. Boutemont's motte or a feudal mound has survived till nowadays, it can be found next to the later stone castle. Mottes were not just a huge lump of earth but a carefully constructed structure and were usually built up in layers or around a rubble core where there was no existing natural mound that could be used. A timber palisade, a tall defensive wall made of vertical planks or logs, would have been erected around the keep or donjon on top. There is uncertainty as to the exact design of these buildings as evidence is sparse, mainly coming from stylized images on the Bayeux tapestry or descriptions from contemporary writers. It is likely they were simple timber structures in order to keep the weight down on the earthen motte and so they could be erected quickly by soldiers and locals.
CnP: Do you live in the castle now?
OCB: We do. Actually whenever we can we live in the castle. Our residence is located in the south wing of the chateau. We love to be there. One of the strongest emotions I have is when I walk down the cedar path towards the castle. This view is simply mind-blowing! But that's not all - the silhouette of the chateau as seen from the gardens is so charming!
CnP: Tell me a legend about your castle which you love most of all?
OCB: I was about to tell you a legend but it turns out the one about mysterious masonic meetings which we thought had occurred in the lodge, is not true!

CnP: Funny! People love legends about freemasons. What about your castle ghosts – have you spotted anything unusual in the chateau?
OCB: Oh, Chateau de Boutemont is a very friendly chateau with appeased ghosts and spirits. Spending time alone here has never been worrying.
CnP: I know you have an idea to organize a quiz for children – will it be something medieval/witch/ghost hunting?
OCB: We are lucky enough to have an elf hut in the gardens and this garden elf takes the kids on a tour along the garden path asking funny questions. Basically this creature helps the kids to learn interesting facts about the castle and its history while having a lot of fun. It is also possible to visit the chateau's two historical rooms.
CnP: Tell me about your Remarkable French Gardens – what's your special source of pride there?
OCB: We owe the design of the gardens' "outdoor rooms" with elegant vistas, the reflecting pond and fountain to the wonderful landscape architect Achille Duchene who brought the art of the traditional French garden to an international clientele. The restoration of the historic gardens of Vaux-le-Vicomte was among his finest early works. One of his most original creations is the Water Parterres at Blenheim Palace completed in 1931.
CnP: How interesting! The palace is not among my favorite buildings to be honest. But I have to admit the Italian gardens and the water terraces are impressive. Your chateau looks absolutely great from the outside! But how does it look from the inside – which epoch do the interiors date back to?
OCB: The drawing room is decorated in the neo-gothic style, the chapel's ceiling also reflects the Gothic revival, the loge which used to welcome concerts and esoteric sessions displays a freemasonry decor as one of the previous owner is said to be a freemason himself.
CnP: Do you have something which is absolutely unique and can rarely be seen in other chateaus?
OCB: Of course we do! We have a feudal mound, few castles can boast having it!
CnP: The chateau is linked to world-famous Bruno Coquatrix. The man who gave a kiss of life to iconic Olympia in Paris invited category A stars to his home – like Alain Delon, Charles Aznavour, Mireille Mathieu. Any plans to "capitalize" on this part of the castle's heritage?
OCB: Bruno Coquatrix rented the castle to invite his friends who were also stars. We mainly plan to focus on the development of the gardens but why not host "Festival du Film Americain de Deauville" events at Boutemont! I bet a lot of wonderful stars would be happy to attend them and they would certainly enjoy the chateau's unique atmosphere.
CnP: Speaking about this very special atmosphere - do you plan to offer accommodation for tourists? I am sure a lot of people would love to experience the chateau this way and spend a night or two in the castle! Or is it just a castle for the family?
MM: At the moment this is a castle for the family only.

CnP: Do you keep in touch with local community? Do you employ anybody from nearby villages?
OCB: Yes absolutely, we employ 7 people from nearby villages like caretakers, gardeners, a ticket desk officer, a cleaner and of course we hire dozens of companies to restore, repair, preserve, renew, plant, and so on and so forth
CnP: Could you tell me a little known fact from the history of the chateau, the one that people would hardly find on a history book! Or something really outstanding!
MM: Oh, this is very interesting. One of the previous owners, the Drouilly family, were hat makers. At the time everyone wore hats and this business brought them a great fortune. In order to pay tribute to what funded their beautiful gardens the topiaries at the entrance of the estate represent various hat shapes, which were popular in the early 20th century!
CnP: How cute! Please tell me which castle in France do you find attractive apart from your own chateau?
MM: I personally adore Chateau de Beynac in Dordogne.

CnP: Agree, this castle looks terrific – I like the color of its walls! What piece of advice would you give to those who are dreaming about buying a castle for themselves – either in a bad or a good shape?
OCB: I would tell you this – do buy a castle which is in a good shape. And if you are a handywoman or a handyman and you have a lot of time that's just fantastic.
We very much hope that you liked the interview with the owners of Chateau de Boutemont in Normandy.

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Photo credits: @Chateau de Boutemont

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