The lofty heights of an Ital­ian-inspired gar­den af­ford Sue Bradley a view over the Dor­dogne Val­ley, while at home it’s time to harvest pump­kins and clear up in the gar­den

Living France - - Contents -

The hang­ing gar­dens of Château de Mar­queyssac, plus an ex­pat’s gar­den

The hang­ing gar­dens at the Château de Mar­queyssac, known as ‘ les jardins sus­pendus’, are one of the won­ders of the Dor­dogne Val­ley; a rolling sea of sculpted box that ex­ists in har­mony with the ver­dant land­scape sur­round­ing it.

Si­t­u­ated some 130 me­tres above the river, and com­mand­ing panoramic views of the cas­tles and vil­lages of the Périg­ord, the 22-hectare park be­longs to a château built dur­ing the 17th cen­tury by Ber­trand Ver­net, who com­mis­sioned a pupil of the cel­e­brated land­scape de­signer An­dré Le Nôtre to cre­ate a fit­ting set­ting for his home.

The sub­se­quent ad­di­tion of more than 150,000 pruned box ( Buxus sem­per­virens), along with stone pines ( Pi­nus pinea), cy­presses and Naples cy­cla­men ( Cy­cla­men hed­er­i­folium) to the ter­races sur­round­ing the castle, was the work of Julien de Cer­val, who took on the château in 1866 and whose choice of plants was driven by his love of Italy. He also built gaze­bos and laid five kilo­me­tres of walks around the château.

Af­ter de Cer­val’s death, the Bishop of Man­tua – later Pope Pius X – vis­ited, and his favoured spot un­der an arch­way of green­ery is now known as The Pope’s Seat.

In 1996, the chal­lenge of main­tain­ing de Cer­val’s cre­ation was taken up by Kléber Ros­sil­lon, grand­son of Mar­ius Ros­sil­lon, oth­er­wise known as O’Galop, the artist best known for cre­at­ing the Miche­lin Man.

He over­saw the restora­tion and im­prove­ment of the park, in­clud­ing the clear­ing of path­ways and ter­races and re­shap­ing of tens of thou­sands of box trees, the main­te­nance of which is car­ried out by a team of five gar­den­ers.

Sculp­tures by Gérard Chabert and Alain de Cer­val, a de­scen­dant of Julien, add a fur­ther di­men­sion to the gar­dens, as do a wa­ter­fall that flows from nine cis­terns carved into rock, and the pres­ence of free-roam­ing pea­cocks and an aviary of ex­otic birds.

The gar­dens at Mar­queyssac at­tract in ex­cess of 200,000 visi­tors a year, some of whom choose to scale its via fer­rata – a 200 me­tre-high rock face cir­cuit – while oth­ers pre­fer the gen­tle am­bi­ence of can­dlelit evenings ev­ery Thurs­day in July and Au­gust. www.mar­queyssac.com

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