The Magic of Marqueyssac
"L' Autre Vie" A blog by Rae-Helen Fisenden June 5th, 2022
I have written about these gardens before, but I've often wanted to write more about the history of a place Neil and I count as one of the most special we have encountered in all of France. It's history, like much of France's, is chequered, and marked by periods of varied fortune and mismanagement. It really is however, a story of great passion and vision, which began in 1692 by a man named Bertrand Vernet of Marqueyssac. He acquired the property for his family and began work on the construction of the terraces that surround the property. Seated high above the Dordogne Valley, the main construction of the garden, and walks, really date from the end of the 19th century. Julien De Cerval inherited the property in 1861, and dedicated the last thirty years of his life to the beautification of Marqueyssac. From Italy he imported and planted tens of thousands of box trees and transformed Marqueyssac into a pleasure garden.
In the second half of the 20th century, the chateau was inhabited less regularly, the upkeep suffered, and the gardens deteriorated to an overgrown maze of mayhem. The miracle that is now Marqueyssac is still family related. The restoration of the site, which began in earnest in 1996, was undertaken by Kleber Rossilon, (already responsible for the restoration of the Chateau de Castelnaud), along with the support of a descendant of the Marqueyssac family.
For one year, 60 companies and 10 gardeners worked to re-open paths, clear the view points over the valley, restore the chateau, and cut back the boxwoods to manageable heights for restructuring. A massive task!
We have watched this extraordinary transformation for fifteen years now, having visited the garden in 2007 for the first time. The Cliff Walk along the rock face of the gardens is 100-200 metres above the valley, and offers stunning views of the undulating hills and the river beneath. The Belvedere Lookout is situated at the very end of this cliff walk and offers those who make the final High Walk climb, extraordinary views of the region.
There is an Archway which was created in 2009 and, in July and August on specific evenings, this monumental artwork is highlighted by thousands of candles individually lit. It is magical.
Marqueyssac employs five full-time gardeners for 3,500 hours annually, and we have often seen them in action when we have visited. The beautiful flowing shapes and spheres of the garden pay homage to the art of Japanese topiary, but reflect the rolling topography of the valley. The gardeners are highly trained and execute their training with incredible precision. They do not use any form of machinery to trim and shape the box trees and hedges, but always utilise hand shears. This is to ensure that the leaves are cut cleanly and do not bruise or tear. The spheres are shaped using only the human eye for reference. Incroyable!
There is a Restaurant which overlooks a panoramic view of the Dordogne Valley from which you can simply sit, eat and gaze at the spectacular beauty. Peacocks frequent this area and to the delight of the patrons often display their glorious tail feathers.
The restaurant is famous for its delicious, bespoke ice-creams, replete with a feather butterfly decoration as a memento.
Restoration of Marqueyssac continues, and from 2011-2016 the chateau's structure and limestone slabs were restored. In 2017, the limestone slab roof of the central tower was painstakingly and expertly restored over a two year period, at an exorbitant cost.
There is a very enjoyable labyrinth that children love to explore as well as two playgrounds throughout the park. Waterfalls and water features also dominate the gardens as well as delightful areas to picnic under a shady arbor.
From a Boxwood Chaos a garden of exceptional beauty has been crafted.
It is 25 years since its restoration began in earnest, and I really believe that patient tending has most definitely rewarded those with vision and passion. But, why don't you be the judge of that, and see for yourself?
Rae-Helen Fisenden ourcottageinfrance.com