A 16th & 18th century chateau, its lake, its dovecote
and its outbuildings in 4.5 ha in the Champagne region
Somsois, MARNE champagne-ardennes 51290 FR

Location

On the land of the old Marchs of Charlemagne’s Empire, 2½ hours from Paris, 3½ hours from Liège and Brussels.
In a little town, not far from the banks of the Der, Europe’s biggest artificial lake, classified as a national hunting and wild animal reserve, with its 4,800 hectares of water surrounded by a 5,000-hectare national forest.
The common crane, the biggest wild bird to be found in France with its 2-metre wingspan, is the symbol of this internationally renowned bird sanctuary.

Description

Like a delightful secret concealed from onlookers behind the vegetation, this property stands in a little village, at the end of a country lane which then continues through the countryside.
In the tradition of the old farming properties, this estate is organised like a Seigneurial farm in keeping with the style of a “Gallo-Roman villa”. Furthermore, a Gallic cemetery, miscellaneous objects and ornaments, were found on the chateau’s land in 1865.
This property is laid out around a vast courtyard, enclosed by the main house and the outbuildings. A dovecote, dominating the enclosure, stands in the parklands extending in an L-shape below. The boundaries of the property are delimited by a lake, spanning a surface area of approx. one hectare, fed by natural springs rising from the hillside. Ingeniously designed, it winds through the parklands like a river, creating a poetic decor that stretches for as far as the eye can see and is barely troubled by the flight of wild ducks.
The drawbridge was destroyed around 1760, but the entrance to the enclosure is still in the same place, between the main house and the outbuildings.
The Seigneury, well documented by numerous archives, obviously belonged to multiple successive owners through inheritance or auctions which can be summarised in three main phases.
Christophe-Lefèbvre received the land in 1580 following an exchange, it having belonged to Protestant families at the start of the Wars of Religion. He undertook to build a castle there. The location was well chosen, the site picturesque and the plan fairly well designed, but scarcely were the materials amassed, the limestone quarried and the foundations above ground, when he sold the site and the materials already collected to his father-in-law, Jacques de Linage, on 23 January 1588. A transaction that very probably took place for political reasons. Jacques-de-Linage was an influential individual and man of the law who was very close to the Holy Catholic League. It is possible that he was given substantial financial aid as barely a month after his purchase, he received the Cardinal-de-Lorraine and his brother, the Duke of Guise for a few days.
The third person of note in the history of this chateau is Claude-du-Gretz. An officer having made his fortune in the Indian Colonies as well as having married extremely well, he acquired the Seigneury in 1759 and converted the old defensive castle into a chateau, reflecting the neo-classical style. He landscaped the gardens and created the lake, on the site of the old Gallic cemetery. It was during these works that the workshop of a forger, with melting pots and coins, was discovered, a site which is still visible today. It was perhaps there that the Linage family, orchestrated by the Guises family, forged the money that paid the devotion to the League’s cause.

The chateau

The main house, on the left-hand side of the enclosure, takes the form of a large, single-storey, U-shaped building, partially built over cellars and dominated by a corner pavilion, spanning two levels. The roof, with eaves curving slightly upward, is covered with flat tiles and features single, wooden roof dormers that illuminate the attic. The integrity of the roof is closely watched. One section was recently replaced but successive phases of works will have to be scheduled over the next few years so that it can be completely restored.
Constructed from limestone, the surrounds framing the doors and slightly arched windows are made of dressed stone.
Although the main courtyard exudes stately austerity, the facade overlooking the parklands is built on a robust stone base. It features a decorative chessboard pattern, cleverly alternating limestone and red brick. In addition to the pleasant geometric motifs formed, the varying reflections of the light constantly change with the movement of the sun.
The horseshoe-shaped porch, taking up the central section, is whole but in a very poor state of repair.


Ground floor
The main entrance hall opens in the centre of the building via double oak wood doors, enhanced with wrought iron and a glazed fanlight. They are topped with an engraved stone, depicting the coat-of-arms of Jacques de Linage, its red background featuring a gold, engrailed St Andrew’s cross together with four fleur-de-lys.
Red terracotta floor tiles, worn by centuries of use, cover the entire hall as well as the gallery that extends on either side to the two wings set at right angles. It provides access, on the parkland facade, to a large lounge lined with Louis XV style panelling. A marble fireplace is topped with a pastel portrait of the father-in-law of the owner of the premises in the 18th century, his wife facing him from between the two windows. The wooden flooring is laid in a strip pattern. A second room, flanked by two anterooms, has wainscoting and a marble fireplace.
This is followed by a room, completely lined with panelling and featuring oak wood, strip pattern flooring. The wall facing the marble fireplace bears the trace of an immense tapestry or painted canvas, unfortunately no longer in existence.
The next room features panelling, painted a majestic dark green, which flanks a fireplace with a floral motif. The herringbone pattern wooden flooring is in a very poor state of repair. It also includes an anteroom, housing the old latrines.
The gallery comes to an end in front of an impressive, semi-circular arched door, in the pavilion, which opens into a vast vestibule. It provides access to a room, with an anteroom. Vestiges of stucco decoration indicate that this was a stateroom or a noble bedroom. Opposite, the house ends with two dilapidated rooms, probably once guard rooms and then, at a later time, probably treasury rooms. This is where the estate manager would have received the Seigneur’s taxes, paid in kind or silver.
At its other end, the right-hand wing houses a kitchen and a bread oven. The floor is paved with terracotta tiles, the impressive stone fireplace is in good working order. The kitchen provides access to the vaulted, limestone cellar as well as to a stairway, going to the attic.
The pantry, with a serving hatch, is set between the kitchen and the dining room, the panelled panelling is bare, a recess houses a ceramic wood-burning stove.

First floor
A 17th century, oak wood stairway goes up from the pavilion vestibule to the first-floor landing. The latter provides access to a vast L-shaped room, in a very poor state of repair, as well as to three bedrooms, one of which has an alcove and a recess for a ceramic wood-burning stove. A delightful door, glazed with small panes, leads from said bedroom to the attic, housing two very small, staff bedrooms.

The outbuildings

The outbuildings reflect a similar architectural style to that of the main house, with an alignment of alternating rows of brick and limestone. With half-timbering on the courtyard side, the two buildings are perpendicular. They comprise a vast barn, with a sheet metal roof, and an old cowshed, with a packed mud floor and a Roman tile roof.
The octagonal, half-timbered dovecote, featuring a turning ladder, stands outside the enclosure. Topped with flat tiles, its 900 dove-holes bear witness to the size of the original estate; the usual measure being two dove-holes per hectare.

Our opinion

A property that bears invaluable witness to the rise, in the 17th and 18th centuries, of a new aristocracy, founded on the shipping trade and not landed property. Heritage that escaped the time of a pleasant way of life, a subtle harmonious balance between stone, a verdant setting and water, that it is now essential to save.
This place which would possibly not have pleased the great builders, but one where, most certainly, Jean-de-La-Fontaine took great delight. It is one of those “literary chateaux” that inspire. Honoré-de-Balzac could have described it, but then maybe he did in the following verse.
“Puis je vis dans un fond les masses romantiques d'un château mélancolique séjour plein d'harmonie, trop graves pour les gens superficiels, chères aux poètes dont l'âme est endolorie. Aussi, plus tard, en aimai-je le silence, les grands arbres chenus, et ce je ne sais quoi mystérieux épandu dans son vallon solitaire”. (Then, I see in a valley the romantic buildings of a melancholic chateau, a place full of harmony, too serious for superficial folk, but dear to poets with suffering souls. And then, later, I will enjoy the silence, the tall, leafless trees and that mysterious something spread throughout its solitary valley.)

Exclusive sale

430 000 € Negotiation fees included
400 000 € Fees excluded
Forfait de 30 000 € TTC à la charge de l’acquéreur


See the fee rates

Reference 313443

Land registry surface area 4 ha 52 a 16 ca
Main building surface area 520 m2
Outbuilding surface area 700 m2
Number of bedrooms 5

French Energy Performance Diagnosis

Consultant
North & West Marne and East Aube department


Florence Fornara +33 1 42 84 80 85

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NB: The above information is not only the result of our visit to the property; it is also based on information provided by the current owner. It is by no means comprehensive or strictly accurate especially where surface areas and construction dates are concerned. We cannot, therefore, be held liable for any misrepresentation.

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