a listed, 12th century manor house with its walled garden
Avranches, a historic town in the French department of Manche, is closely linked to Mont-Saint-Michel which faces it (a 30-minute journey by road). The seaside resort of Granville is also 30 minutes away. Saint-Malo and Rennes can be reached in less than an hour. In the town centre of Avranches, just a stone’s throw from Saint-Gervais Basilica and the Botanical Gardens which give a panoramic view over Mont-Saint-Michel Bay. Although this manor house stands peacefully in a district on the heights of the town, it is also very near to urban life with all its facilities (shops, schools, etc.).
The manor house
This manor house, spanning approx. 500 m² of living space, measures more than 28 m long by some 14 m wide and is over 20 m in height. Externally speaking, its appearance has not changed since the 12th century, its ground surface area and its initial size remaining the same. Both gable walls have jagged outlines created by narrow stone stepping on the edges of the steep slate roof. The stairway which begins in the cellars used to be extended along the full length of the north wall by a very narrow wall-walk. From the top of its remains, there is an unobstructed view over the surrounding countryside and, notably over the Sée estuary. The north facade, approx. 2.26 m thick, with its granite stone blocks laid opus incertum and its five flat, barely protruding buttresses, has not been modified, whilst the south facade, looking out over the garden, was reconstructed in the 18th century, its thickness probably being reduced by half at this time so that it is now only 75 cm thick. The new facade now features seven openings on each of its two levels, making it easy to imagine the interior layout of the rooms typical of the Age of Reason.
The cellars can be accessed from the inside via a stairway and from the outside via wide carriage doors on the north facade. This Romanesque cross-rib vaulted servants’ hall is of an unusual size, measuring approx. 22.65 m long by 9.40 m wide, under 4.20 m high vaults. It is divided into two rooms. Three square masonry pillars support the cross-springers. A thick, heavily protruding lower springer, shaped in a quarter round, tops each of these pillars. An essential feature for everyday life is its pool of drinking water, fed by a natural spring. In the east gable, an opening in the tower where a stone stairway provides access to the start of the old wall-walk, on a level with the roof. Featuring a Saint-Gilles spiral, a technique used up until the 13th century, this stairway makes it possible to confirm the construction date of the building as the 12th century. These cellars were historically used as storerooms for preserving food. Initially, a showcase for the wealth of its lords, the cellars were then used by the deans to store their payments in kind, produce of the surrounding lands, notably including wine. This area currently houses an oil-fired boiler.
The entrance door on the south facade opens into a wide vestibule, housing an oak wood stairway. On one side, a corridor leads to the cellar door and that of the kitchen, where a large, 16th century granite fireplace faces a window, looking out over Mont-Saint-Michel. The kitchen precedes a small dining room and a veranda. On the other side, double moulded doors, topped with a carved wooden panel featuring putti, provides access to a vestibule in use as a study. This vestibule leads to a dining room, a library and a large lounge. Opposite the fireplace in the dining room is a moulded, wooden dresser. This room communicates, on one side, with a back kitchen and, on the other, with the library. The latter is a large, long room, decorated with 1930’s wallpaper, featuring a floral pattern dotted with blue birds. The library is followed by a room in use as a dressing room and a bedroom. The large lounge, with oak wood parquet flooring, is illuminated via a window and a French window, opening on to the garden. A grey marble fireplace, with white veining. A door leads to the so-called “dean’s bedroom”. This room still has its 18th century panelling and its alcove, with bevelled moulding topped with a Rocaille style carved shell. A door provides access to a shower room and toilet.
The oak wood stairway, with its wrought iron railings, leads up to a first landing (half level). A door opens into a corridor, set in the thickness of the gable wall, leading to a bedroom, with a bathroom and toilet. A door, on the upper landing, leads to a dressing room, the walls of which are lined with two rows of large cupboards with moulded doors. This storage space is also used as a hall area leading to the various bedrooms: a first door provides access to a bedroom, with a shower room and a balcony looking out over the Sée Valley, a second to a second bedroom, with a fireplace, a third door opens on to the attic stairway, a fourth leads to a corridor. The latter provides access, on one side, to a large bedroom, with a bathroom and toilet, and on the other, to a bathroom and two smaller bedrooms, illuminated via windows set in the top of the old gothic windows in the north facade.
The attic space takes the form of one, large attic, topping the entire floor surface area of the manor house. The roofing framework dates from the 16th century. It is divided by 7 trusses, 8 m high.
Spanning a surface area of approx. 1,200 m², the garden is divided into four separate areas. The first, reached when entering the property, is a gravel courtyard shaded by lime and sycamore trees. A covered area is able to take two parked cars. A low stone wall delimits this courtyard. Two stone pillars mark the entrance to a first garden; two symmetrical parterres are laid to lawn on either side of climbing roses, all facing the large lounge. A second garden area, on a higher level, was once the site of the old, 12th century stately home, no longer in existence. And lastly, along the gable wall, on the site of the little deanery destroyed in the 18th century, a third walled garden; a flight of steps provide access to a gate opening on to the street below.
A little building, standing by the side of the entrance gates, has independent access to the street. Also part of the property, it comprises five rooms in use as offices.
Seen from a distance, the location of Avranches is somewhat surprising; the town is perched on the top of a steep hill. Visitors who discover “Le grand doyenne”, one of the last examples of the town’s medieval past, rising above the neighbouring constructions, are pleasantly astonished by the contrast between the ever-present 12th century features and those of a mansion house dating from the Age of Reason. Taking the time to sit under the vaults in the cellars or leaning against the beams of the roofing framework, it would be very difficult to choose between these two places, a “refuge” from the hustle and bustle of today’s way of life. With its servants’ hall as majestic as its roofing framework is impressive, this building is a wonderful illustration of its nine centuries of history from top to bottom.
|Land registry surface area||1700 m2|
|Number of bedrooms||8|
|Main building surface area||500 m2|
Lucie Riaux +33 1 42 84 80 85
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.