You’ve heard the phrase “go big or go home”? I’m sure it was the mantra of Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild who built the utterly magnificent Waddesdon Manor in the 1870s. Yesterday we had a little slice of Rome in England, today, a French chateau, easily amongst the best the Loire Valley has to offer.
Rothschild will be a name familiar to most, vintners of extraordinary renown, heirs to an even more extraordinary family fortune. It’s clear that no expense was spared in building the Manor, ostensibly to entertain fashionable guests of the day and to showcase the Baron’s extensive art collection and treasures.
Heartbreakingly, even though it’s early in the week, we are too late to buy tickets to view the house. Tickets are timed – sold out online. It might have something to do with a wedding on site today (we get a quick glimpse of the bride), but the extensive car park is almost full too.
To say the Manor is oppulent would be an understatement. It has all the best 19th century French architecture had to offer: honey toned sandstone, turrets, curved balconies, curlicues. Grand in the extreme, it’s a fairytale castle, sprung into real life. This is my idea of heaven, and I’m gnashing my teeth in frustration of not being able to see the interiors. There’s no doubt it’s on the list for a second visit.
The grounds still have a great deal to offer though – the estate is huge, from the carpark to the Manor is over a mile by shuttle bus. We are able to visit the wine cellars under the house, see a fascinating film about the Rothschild’s wine making process – quite unique in that grapes are still hand harvested, discarding the less than perfect. Each bunch is then individually inspected again prior to de-stemming and crushing. The wine is aged in new oak casks, also quite unusual, which are made in site. Rothschild is the only winemaker with its own cooper on premises. As the wine ages, it’s progressively moved from barrel to barrel before being clarified of sediment with egg whites – 12,000 eggs a year go into this process. Imagine the custard, ice-cream and creme brulee that could be made with all those spare yolks! Rothschild was also the wine maker who started the trend to age wines on site. Prior to this they were sent away for the aging process. Rather like an English boarding school! We also see the storage caves and a rather impressive display of historical vintages and magnums. Wine in these cellars date back to the late 1800s.
Wine cellar toured, we explore the grounds. First stop is the gorgeous avairy with its collection of rare and colourful birds including the Rothschild’s Mynah- we’re lucky to see a fluffy, just fledged chick of one pair.
There’s also a 3D bird sculpture and this rather modern work of a sleigh that captures movement beautifully.
We also visit the formal plantings in the parterre,
the power house
which generated the Manor’s power and watch a film about the detailed and intricate work involved with keeping the Manor’s collections intact for future generations. Apparently in the off season period in which the house is closed, each piece of porcelain, furniture and artwork is cleaned and put away. It’s a mammoth task by any measure. The interiors we see (in the film) are spectacular. Oh yes, most definitely on my list to return for a very thorough tour of the interior.
We also pop by the rose garden. Sigh. So much loveliness.
A final stop in the gift and wine shop rounds out our visit.
Chris can’t resist a bottle of wine from the extensive range on offer. It’s not the first time I’ve longed for an unlimited luggage allowance home – or extra storage in the motorhome. I was rather inspired by that film on wine production. If nothing else, it went a long way to explain Rothschild’s wine pricing!
This estate was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1957 by James de Rothschild. The family is still involved however, as the Manor is run by the Rothschild’s Trust on behalf of the National Trust. It’s an unusual arrangement, but it’s one that’s ensured that the family’s culture has endured. It has quite a different look and feel then other Trust properties.
The rest of the day is spent driving and musing about the stunning Manor. We’re on our way to visit Althorp, ancestral home of the Spencer’s and childhood home of Princess Diana. It’s been on my list since we started traveling – I’m very excited to be seeing it tomorrow.