The Château d’Hardelot, surrounded by pine tree forests and the beautiful countryside that laps the Opal Coast of northern France, lies in the village of Condette, next to the seaside resort of Neufchatel Hardelot and a few miles south of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
The first castle to be built here was created by the Counts of Boulogne in the 13th Century and part of those old walls remain.
Over the ensuing centuries, the castle and surrounding lands were fought over by the French, the English – King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stayed at the Chateau when they met with Francois 1 of France – and the Burgundians. Eventually though it suffered the indignity in the 17th Century of being dismantled on the orders of Cardinal Richelieu who was concerned about the powerful Lords of Boulogne. Left abandoned in its stricken state and after several changes of hands which did nothing to improve its looks or functionality it eventually became the property of an Englishman in the early 19th Century.
Sir John Hare, from Bristol, was a magistrate, his family had made a fortune in floor cloth and linoleum and in 1848 he became the proud owner of Hardelot Castle. He set about rebuilding the chateau in the English style – in a Neo-Tudor style in fact. He liked to hold parties and grand receptions and his friend, the writer Charles Dickens who adored Boulogne, often visited there.
The Chateau was bought by Englishman Henri Guy in 1867 and it was here that the music to the famous song “Because” (a huge hit for Perry Como in 1948) was written by Guy d’Hardelot – which was in fact the pen name of Helen Guy, daughter of Henri.
In 1897 the Château d’Hardelot and surrounding lands were purchased by yet another Englishman – John Whitley, a man who was very prominent in the area in the early 20th Century. Eight years later he and his French friends bought almost 1000 acres of land and created the Hardelot Company. He was famous as one of the promoters of neighbouring chic resort Le Touquet-Paris-Plage and wanted to develop Hardelot as a fashionable resort and world centre of sports. He invited famous and wealthy friends including future king Edward VII to stay and enjoy fabulous parties; the surrounding land was perfect for the hunting of all manner of animals from deer and wild boar to partridge and pheasant. It was also the perfect place for a golf course, which of course he had built, and he and his friends would tee off from the turret of the chateau.
The golf course remains popular and highly respected, Prince Edward of the British Royal Family is known to be a fan and he often tees off on the green! The royal connection extended to a recent exhibition of photographs of the British Royal family attracted record numbers of visitors and the fabulous photographs now hang in the turret of the tea room for all to admire.
Whitley had his friend the architect Louis-Marie Cordonnier build villas – vast, unique and still stunning buildings which attracted the rich and famous. Aviator Louis Blériot had a villa built here and the area became known for the land yachting races that took place attracting fans to enjoy the beach, to use the tennis courts on the sea front, hunt and hike in the countryside and enjoy the famous dunes.
The fortunes of the chateau though were to change again and in 1934 the castle passed into the hands of a priest, a famous local water diviner and eventually he left it to the village of Condette.
The Chateau d’Hardelot was costly to maintain and renovation was out of the question and the villagers eventually applied to the General Council of the Pas-de-Calais for help.
In honour of the shared history between the English and the French they decided that it would be fitting to create the only French Institution to promote British culture by offering a large programme of live performing arts (music, visual arts, cinema, literature, heritage) and exhibitions all year round. The Cultural Center of the Entente Cordiale opened in the Hardelot Castle in June 2009 and the Chateau has undergone an extensive restoration programme since then – returning its façade and interior to the grandeur that it once displayed in the 19th Century.
The programme at the Chateau is popular with both French and British visitors, from photographic exhibitions of Queen Elizabeth II to open air cinema, concerts in the courtyard and the current exhibition of film costumes – worn by Jude Law, Orlando Bloom and many other famous actors and actresses in films such as The Duchess, Pride and Prejudice, Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, Tess, Sherlock Holmes, The Murder on the Orient Express and Les Misérables. You can see the exhibition ‘De la plume à la bobine’ featuring film costumes, from 29th June to 1st September 2013
The musical programme this year will feature a diverse range of performers including a free concert: Jane Birkin sings Serge Gainsbourg on 30th July in the castle grounds.
Entente Cordial, a charming chateau, wonderful surrounding walks and while you’re there – check out the fabulous new tea room at the entrance to the chateau with its beautiful antique décor, gleaming grand piano (for free recitals) and delightful cream tea!
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm.
Website for the Chateau d’Hardelot