If you’re Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild and you want somewhere to host lavish weekend house parties, there’s only one obvious answer – build your own Loire style chateau in the Buckinghamshire countryside. Et voila! Up popped Waddesdon Manor in 1883, with a little help from French architect, Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, who indulged his Gallic Renaissance fairy tale dreams and created the ultimate turreted party pad.
Waddesdon’s towers, spires, steep roofs and spiral staircases are classic Chateau-core. Its entry into the National Trust collection in the 1950s ruffled a few feathers, with some uncomplimentary comments on the bold architectural style. But I love the pure drama of it. And if you’re not getting your Loire fix this year, I reckon that crunching up the long gravel path in some ankle skimming skirt (perhaps with a mini bottle of Bordeaux snuck into the picnic) on a sunny Bucks day comes a close second.
Inside there’s just as much pizzazz – and the Dining Room (only used for parties on summer weekends, darling!) is set for 24 diners, as it would have been for one of the Baron’s shindigs.
The mirrors and marble throughout Waddesdon are oh-so-Versailles and the house even has a desk that was made for Queen Marie-Antoinette and a carpet from the chapel in the Palace of Versailles. So if you’re missing out on your sojourn to potter round French royal residences, here’s your fix.
The Brexit/Covid combo has been a real party pooper for booze cruisers, so it’s good to know that there’s a slice of Bordeaux here in Bucks. Baron James de Rothschild bought the Château Lafite Rothschild vineyard in 1868 (what party animal wouldn’t?), and the connection with Waddesdon is still strong. From the Lafite sculptures made of wine bottles on the approach to the Manor, to the cellars that store 15,000 bottles, you can (normally) learn, browse, taste and buy wine at Waddesdon.
Until the cellars reopen, you can explore and buy Rothschild wine at the fabulous wine and gift shop at the Manor or the online shop, plus there’s a virtual wine tasting happening this summer after the success of a sell-out event in the spring. It will be led by Andrew Bloomer, who spent three years running the wine department at Fortnum & Mason before joining Waddesdon. The next event is July 2 and the ticket includes a case of five bottles as well as tasting notes, all delivered to your home, so that’s the designated driver debate sorted, n’est pas?
Baguette, bicycle and beret at the ready? You may not be pottering around a charming Dordogne market square sampling local cheese this summer, but this is a gastro alternative closer to home. The artisan food markets at Waddesdon (July 10, Aug 14, Sept 11 and Oct 9), showcase goodies from local producers and neighbouring counties with plenty of eat now and take home goodies. Umming about an entry free? Relaxez-vous, lady. The markets are free events and don’t require tickets to Waddesdon grounds to enter.
For green-fingered Francophiles, the gardens of Normandy are the highlight of a hop across the channel. But if that’s not an option this summer there are perfectly-coiffed beds galore at Waddesdon. The grounds are famous for the parterre gardens, a veritable botanical tapestry that is re-planted every spring and summer. This year, the planting is being linked to the Manor’s ongoing Nick Knight exhibition that’s being shown in the Coach House gallery. Expect herbaceous plants, roses and a riot of colour. Oh la la!
In the Rococo-style Aviary, with its Versailles-inspired trelliswork, the theme of the planting this year is ‘birds of paradise’. This will see bold, vibrant displays to compliment the colour palette of the Aviary’s exotic inhabitants. Perhaps not one to replicate at home, but some serious wow for the Insta.
For more info about what’s on at Waddesdon this summer, from outdoor theatre and garden tours to summer suppers, click here.
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