“Who wants to save a forest with its feudal château camped in the middle, a forest so old that nobody can tell you its age?”, Christine Sebert, the current owner of the Château de la Roche Courbon repeats the emotional appeal of French writer Pierre Loti. Those words mark the beginning of a family adventure spanning three generations.
In 1908, timber merchants were about to cut down the forests surrounding the estate, an architectural jewel set between two cliffs and described by Loti as “Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.” In 1920, the château and gardens were saved from abandon by Madame Sebert’s grandfather, a friend of Loti’s, who bought the estate and undertook a vast restoration campaign.
That work was carried on by his son, and today, continues with Christine Sebert and her husband. Thanks to the efforts of this one family, the château and its gardens are progressively being restored to their former splendor. Restoration of the common’s wing supporting the château will be completed this year after a five-year campaign, thanks in part to two grants from French Heritage Society.
As Madame Sebert explains, “the château is a focal point of regional cultural life, local economic activity and interaction with school children. Near Rochefort and Saintes, the château is a major tourist attraction of the region welcoming some 35,000 visitors a year, making it the most visited château in the Charente region”.
The château has eight full-time employees who help maintain the estate and oversee its various activities including artisans’ workshops, student guides, and open-air theatrical productions. The château’s outreach program employs young adults who take pride in their work helping to clear the forests and maintain the canals on the estate.
She continues, “it is a place where beautiful workmanship is on display, highlighting artisans’ skills, a place of beauty which carries with it the responsibility to restore and maintain it.” But as Madame Sebert stresses, the chateau is above all a human adventure. “The château is a lesson in humility, and our great good fortune. We are only a very brief part of its existance throughout its long history.” Above all it is a place that holds great emotional links, especially with respect to her parents.
She first became involved in the château’s restoration out of respect and admiration for her parents and their labor of love. “It is also enriching to be in contact with historians, horticulturists, and others ranging from a Canadian specialist in the ferns found at la Roche Courbon to a specialist in a particular type of bats found in our grottos. It is a window on a larger world, that of culture, craftsmanship, history, refinement, and a way of living where these qualities are elevated to an art.”
French Heritage Society
14 E 60th Street, #605
New York, NY 10022-7131
Tel: +1 (212) 759-6846
Fax: +1 (212) 759-9632
French Heritage Society
7 rue Lincoln
75008 Paris, France
Tel: +33 (0) 1 40 70 07 57
Fax: +33 (0) 1 40 70 07 86