Updated on 23 March 2023
Reading time: 4 minutes
Renowned for its Renaissance facades, lavish furnishings and one of the highest chateau roofs in France, the Château de Fontaine-Henry in the Normandy département of Calvados has been a classified historic monument since 1924. Having visited the chateau and its grounds, naturally my family, friends and I jumped at the chance to take a VIP tour of this beautiful chateau, including a trip up onto the roof terrace, with the current owner Marquis Pierre-Apollinaire d’Oilliamson, the latest lord in an 800-year-long line to inherit this historic ancestral home.
Medieval stronghold and garden of medicinal plants
The Marquis of Oilliamson welcomes us from the porch to what he fondly dubs his ‘Loire Valley chateau lost in Normandy’. Built at the beginning of the 13th century, the chateau remains in an exceptional state. Its facades, built both in the Louis XII and Renaissance styles, are as intricate as fine lace. Our host tells us that it was in the 16th century that this building ceased functioning as a medieval military fortress and became a family home. He invites us to take a walk around the chateau’s garden of medicinal plants, which was inspired by Hildegarde de Bingen, a Benedictine abbess and visionary healer.
Pews for the knights and ladies
In the chateau grounds we find the vast Chapelle Notre-Dame de Val Busnel, which can hold 120 people. Dating from 1200, the chapel is in fine form having just undergone major restorations, and the pews on either side of the aisle are completely unique. Reminiscent of the early Gothic style, the chapel was built for a large wedding in the Harcourt family. We take a moment to picture in our heads the ceremonies and services that may have taken place here, attended by knights and ladies, before the Marquis voices our thoughts out loud: ‘The chapel and chateau still hide many a secret from times gone by.’
Stepping back in time in the Salle des Gardes
After exploring the spaces beneath the chateau, both photogenic and mysterious, there are more surprises in store. In this chateau, every nook and cranny reveals a new secret about life for the family who lived here, the people in the village and the history of that time. The Salle des Gardes (Guards’ Room) was built during the time when the Tilly family lived in the chateau, and the pillars and ribbed arches here are extraordinary. Five staircases lead to the upper floors. The Marquis tells us that the chateau’s inhabitants found refuge in this room during the D-Day Landings on 6 June 1944.
Coats of arms and other relics
Above the three fireplaces, nine coats of arms adorn the thick walls, those of the families who have lived here. The chateau’s 800 years of history mean that there is a multitude of relics to be found here, and we are transported through successive eras and reigns of French history, through the chateau’s furniture, art, porcelain, silverware and paintings by artists such as Rubens, Titian and Hyacinthe Rigaud, portraitist to the Sun King himself. The Marquis of Oilliamson’s knowledge is endless and we happily listen to him reveal the extraordinary past and present of the chateau, all 52 levels of it!
An exclusive visit to the roof
Our VIP tour ends with the moment we’ve all been waiting for; the ascent to the roof, reputed to be one of the highest chateau roofs in France. Once up there, we take a moment to enjoy a wee dram and some shortbread – the surname Oilliamson derives from the Scottish name Williamson, part of the Gunn clan – as we admire the spectacular view of the surrounding Normandy countryside. The tour has been a wonderful opportunity to learn all about the fascinating history of the Château de Fontaine-Henry, brought alive by Marquis d’Oilliamson’s passionate commentary. But by no means did the Marquis have time to divulge all of the chateau’s secrets, so we will definitely be back again!
The Château de Fontaine-Henry
Renowned for its Renaissance facades, lavish furnishings and one of the highest chateau roofs in France, the Château de Fontaine-Henry in the Normandy département of Calvados has been a classified historical monument since 1924.
Château de Fontaine-Henry
3 place du château, 14610 Fontaine-Henry
+33 (0)2 31 26 93 67 | [email protected]
VIP tour of the Château de Fontaine-Henry with the Marquis d’Oilliamson, culminating in a drink on the famous rooftop
Not advised for anyone who suffers from vertigo
Please wear comfortable, practical shoes.
At 11am on every final Sunday of the month from May until September
By reservation only
€19 per person
All of the above information is subject to change.