In the valley of the Meuse lie hidden precious gardens. We have already written about the Château d’Annevoie. Another much less advertised jewel is the Château de Freÿr. The mansion is a massive rural residence which dates back to the sixteenth century. The gardens, the main reason for the visit, make up for the hundred and thirty km you have to travel from Brussels with their spectacular location and the oldest set of potted orange trees in the whole of Europe.
The gardens were designed in the eighteenth century in a purely French style. They are therefore rational and straight. Nevertheless, they are so well integrated in one the most beautiful spots of Belgium that you could reasonably conclude they were planned by a Zen master. The mansion is in some way annexed to the gardens having regard that they don’t look at it but to the almost quiet flowing lake the Meuse river forms in this bend. There are ponds and fountains in the gardens, but the tranquil mirror of the Meuse remains the protagonist. Surrounding this already exceptional location are the mountains, or more adequately described—I don’t forget we are in the Low Countries although only six km. from the French border—the cliffs around the gardens. Here, it has been proved that you don’t need elevations to create a mountain atmosphere if you play with the depressions of the plain to make a hill out of a crag—instead of going up a mountain you go down a valley. Besides, there are beautiful needles along the river—you will probably see people climbing them. So, despite being in Belgium and not even in the Ardennes, you are surrounded by rocky hills, sunk in the middle of a rather broad valley.
The second reason to visit the gardens consists in a set of 24 potted orange trees which are more than three centuries old, even older than the trees of the famous orangery of Versailles. Their age is known because they were bought in 1735 to the Duke of Lorraine before the annexation of that territory to France. They were sent here from the Luneville Palace, “the versailles of Lorraine”, by boat. The incredible story of these giant bonsais is exuberantly explained in the information sheets of the orangery. I hope these vegetable monuments will stay alive here for a long time; unless a Chinese investor comes to buy the property and send the orange trees back to China to set up an amusement park.
Image credit © Ruskin in Brussels