A Château Built on Water
Built on the ruins of an ancient fortress, the château d’Ô is a fairytale castle in the centre of a lake, its Renaissance turrets delicately pointing to the sky.
In the twelfth century, the village of Mortrée in the Orne was at a strategic point on the frontier between the plain of Argentan and the Bocage of Normandy. Long periods of war alternated with times of peace in Normandy, so the nobleman Robert d’Ô constructed a fortress on an islet at a broad point in the Thouanne river, where it would be surrounded by a wide stretch of water on all sides. Robert d’Ô also accompanied the first Duke of Normandy on crusade to the Holy Land.
Destroyed by the English during the Hundred Years War, the fortress was rebuilt after 1449 by Jehan d’Ô in Gothic and Renaissance styles, the whole structure built on piles driven into the boggy islet. At the rear two round towers flanked the main building.
In the sixteenth century Francis d’Ô completed main building work by adding the two wings of the castle, one of which is an example of Henri IV style.
Francis d’Ô was Royal Treasurer but was himself almost penniless at his death in 1594 due to his extravagant personal spending; the property was seized by the Crown and auctioned in 1611 to Alexandre de la Guesle, who died heirless. His niece then sold it to Count Luynes who passed it to the Montaigu family. This family did further work on the château d’Ô, including interior decoration.
In the eighteenth century the Rocques family obtained the domain; the Orangery was built in the château grounds outside the moat and the large gallery that connects the main building to the entrance pavilion was rebuilt towards the end of the century.
In 1841, the family of Albon acquired the château and the moats were enlarged in order to reflect the château in its entirety, as we see it today.
Unfortunately the last heir of the Albon family let the château fall into neglect in the late nineteenth century; the castle fell into disrepair and the moat and become a silted tangle of weeds.
In the early 20th century, the château came into the hands of the state and served as a vacation camp for those in need in the Navy and then for children. Uniformly over-painted, the interior of the house became characterless. The former guardroom was transformed into a kitchen.
In the 1970s the latest owner, Jacques de Lacretelle, came across Château d’Ô and fell in love at first sight. In 1973 he and his wife took possession of the estate and they began bringing it back to life. Repair work started aided by grants and practical assistance from public bodies. It took several years to consolidate the walls, renew the moat and restore the château and setting in all its beauty.
The repairs to the interior of the castle led to some singular discoveries. In the large living room behind the painted walls was hidden a huge mural of the nine Muses, gathered around a trompe l’oeil of Apollo. Restoration was carried out by an expert of the Louvre who spent eight months to repair the fresco.
In another room are discovered other trompe l’oeil panels painted to resemble marble.
Upstairs, the large gallery that connects the main building to the Entrance Pavilion is not only made luminous by windows on both sides, but also by chandeliers and huge mirrors that line the gallery between each window.
Château d’Ô is Mortrée, south of Argentan. Free entry and guided tour – don’t forget to tip generously.
You can also visit the nearby Château de Médavy, the village of Camembert and Haras National du Pin.
According to one source the château is open daily July and August from 10am to 12pm and from 2pm to 6pm.In June and September from 2.30pm to 6pm and at Easter and All Saints 2.30pm to 5pm. Closed Tuesdays June and September. More information (French): http://www.patrimoine-normand.com/index-fiche-29738.html
According to another site it is open 31/07/2015 to 09/09/2015 from 10:00-16:00. More information : http://www.normandie-tourisme.fr/pcu/chateau-do/mortree/fiche-PCUNOR061FS0007M-1.html
Given the conflicting information, best check by ringing in advance: Tel : + 33 2 33 39 55 79