Chateau de Canisy in Normandy (Part 2)

Chateau de Canisy thrived through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the French Revolution, D-Day and today it opens its doors to the 21st century. Photo:

When Count Denis de Kergorlay inherited the Château de Canisy in Normandy, France in the 1970s, he had little interest in the castle that had continuously remained in his family for nearly a thousand years. After the count’s brother expressed plans to turn the château into a monastery, de Kergorlay reluctantly retained the property, though he was indifferent to any sort of preservation.

During the early days of Denis’ ownership, Château de Canisy became an elaborate gathering place for weekend and holiday festivities for the count’s Parisian friends. Eventually, under the tutelage of de Kergorlay’s elderly Aunt Brigitte, who had spent most of her life at the château and was keenly aware of its history, the count gradually developed an awareness of the unique role his residence had played in the legacy of the region and the country.

Now, in the 21st century, Count de Kergorlay has become President of the French Heritage Society, a prestigious American non-profit association dedicated to the preservation of French architecture and historical sites not only in France, but in the United States as well. 

In the process, the count, with the creative assistance of his wife, Marie-Christine, has redecorated each of the 17 rooms and suites with individual themes from different periods of French history.

Aerial of Canisy (Photo: Canisy)

Today, Canisy can comfortably accommodate 30 to 40 guests, depending upon the make-up of the group, within the château itself.  Several outbuildings within 100 yards of the castle provide additional rooms if more space is needed. 

Each room inside the château is unique. Each has been lovingly appointed to reflect a particular period of French history or to honor an historic aspect of Kergorlay’s ancestry. 

The Empire Room, with its spectacular mirrored, copper bathroom, is a reproduction of a room from the townhouse of Josephine de Beauharnais, Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife and Empress of France. This is perhaps not surprising, since Marie-Christine’s family has ties to the Beauharnais. The antique furniture in this rrom is from the Empire period (1804 - 1814), and the wallpaper and fabrics are typical of those 19th century standards.

Another room on the Renaissance wing of Canisy is the Louis XVI Room. It pays tribute to the second and last change in the family name from Faudoas to Kergorlay. It was common for most young aristocrats in France at the time to be in service to the king, and Louis-Gabriel de Kergorlay was an officer in Louis XVI’s army when he married Justine de Faudoas. 

As a result, the Kergorlay wedding was not only attended by the king himself, but also by Marie Antoinette, along with other notable figures of the day.

By joining together two beds from the Louis XVI era, the room offers a huge single bed fit for the lifestyle and comfort of any king. Period furniture, as well as several portraits of Louis and Marie Antoinette, further enhances the room’s appointments. Among the portraits is a reproduction of a painting of Marie Antoinette by the Polish painter Alexandre Kucharsky. The original remains in the Kergorlay family’s private collection. 

When combined with the 18th century wallpaper themes, the ultra-high ceiling gives the room a feeling of space and nostalgia.

The end of Louis XVI’s reign was a dangerous time for French nobility as the winds of political unrest became increasingly intense. Fearing for the safety of Justine and Louis-Gabriel, the family sent the newlyweds to Italy.

It would be fourteen long years before the Kergorlays could return to their château.

Empire bedroom, Canisy (Photo: Taylor)

During the earliest days of the French Revolution, three family members remained at Canisy.  Among them was Eleonore de Faudoas who regularly corresponded with her close friend Charlotte Corday. Letters between Eleonore and Charlotte, who was living in nearby Caen, reflect Corday’s growing despair over the strife in Paris.

In an act of desperation, Corday traveled to Paris where she assassinated a revolutionary leader, Jean-Paul Marat, with a butter knife as he soaked in a medicinal bath. Corday was captured before she could flee the building and, in a matter of days, met her death beneath the blade of  the dreaded guillotine.

Within a year, the three Faudoas, who were still living at Canisy, were arrested and taken to Paris where they, too, were guillotined due to Eleonore’s unfortunate association with Corday. Canisy was left to survive in the hands of its caretaker. Fortunately, when officials arrived to confiscate the property, the wily custodian understood enough about French law to know the château still legally belonged to the Kergorlays.

Cleverly, the guardian befriended the authorities, got them drunk on calvados and pushed them into their coach to return to St. Lo. Through guile and diplomacy, a loyal employee had  preserved the ownership of the castle for the Kergorlays, and for the past 250 years, Canisy’s bloodlines to the 11th century have remained intact.

Another Kergorlay, named Louis, journeyed to Paris in the 1830s to serve as the best man in the wedding of his cousin, Alexis de Tocqueville. Correspondence between the two indicates frequent sparring among the kinsmen, and it is clear from their letters that Tocqueville relied heavily on Kergorlay’s opinions as he gathered ideas for his famous two volume philosophical discourse entitled “Democracy in America.”

Today, Tocqueville’s works continue to be studied, analyzed and discussed in many major universities as the definitive treatise on the American democratic system.

Perhaps the greatest contemporary link between the past and modern times at Canisy is the influence of Brigitte de Kergorlay. Brigitte was only 20 years old when the Germans seized the castle in 1940 and moved the family to a small living area in the rear of the building.  Toward the end of the war, as preparations were secretly being made to send the family to an internment camp, a German soldier befriended them and helped them escape.

With the invasion of D-Day, the region was liberated. While American forces camped in tents on Canisy’s massive expanse of lawn at the rear of the castle, Brigitte returned to her beloved home. Though structurally intact, the rooms of the château had been damaged due to the rapid and destructive retreat of the German army. Fortunately, most of the family heirlooms and artwork were left undamaged. Though dismayed by what she discovered, Brigitte knew in her heart that, over time, an extensive clean-up campaign would eventually restore her home to its previous splendor.

Shortly after Brigitte’s return, the information officer for the American troops learned that the young French woman would soon be celebrating her birthday. When her special day arrived, the officer appeared at the door to invite Brigitte to a party featuring a huge one square meter birthday cake and a place of honor as the personal guest of General Omar Bradley. It was an event duly noted by famed war correspondent, Ernie Pyle.

“It was the greatest day of my life,” smiled Brigitte with glee each time she recounted the tale.

Aunt Brigitte passed away in the early part of the 21st century. But she taught her history lessons well. Today, her chief pupil, Count Denis de Kergorlay, has embraced her love of the ancient château. By opening his castle to the public, de Kergorlay hopes to breath new life into an historical monument from the past that will play an active role in the present with an eye toward the future.

“I wanted to prove that a castle such as Canisy can make a statement in the 21st century,” says the boyish-looking count with a twinkle in his eyes. “Canisy represents different times, different eras, but it still exists today. It is still alive. It has something to contribute to the modern world.”

The best rooms at Canisy are 450 euros per night with a two night minimum stay. The château can also be reserved exclusively for large groups or business seminars.

Evening dining consists of four-courses served family-style featuring local cuisine prepared by the in-house chef. Meals include pre-dinner cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, plus wine during dinner, followed by coffee and after-dinner drinks in the salon. There are no menus and dinners are priced at 80 euros. Lunches can also be arranged with ample notice to the staff.

The Château of Canisy is indeed a rarity, offering the opportunity to step back in time to experience the aristocratic lifestyle of the past. Denis de Kergorlay has fully realized the value of his priceless inheritance, and he happily shares it with the world. Canisy possesses all the ingredients of a tranquil country domain conducive to relaxation, meditation, and social interaction.

By ingeniously adapting his fascinating landmark into what may just be the world’s largest B & B, Count Denis de Kergorlay’s Château de Canisy retains its unique place in history.  

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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

 His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor at The Washington Times Communities

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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


Contact Bob Taylor


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