If you were to close your eyes and imagine the tower in which Rapunzel was held... I would bet that it would be very similar to this stunning Medieval tower. One would be forgiven for thinking the tower of Bonvouloir was the inspiration behind the story, if it were not for the fact that this historical gem is to be found in Normandy and not Southern Germany. The Tower of Bonvouloir is nestled within the Andaine Forest, a popular hunting ground for many of the French Kings of old. It stands at an impressive 26 meters tall, and almost defies belief. It is actually one of the last remaining vestiges of the ancient castle of Bonvouloir. Dating back to the 15th century, this iconic tower is an architectural marvel, boasting a dual-tower structure that has stood as a silent sentinel for centuries. The rest of the castle was destroyed during the revolution.
A Glimpse into History
Constructed in 1485 by Guyon Essirard, the steward of the Duke of Alençon, the Bonvouloir Tower comprises two interconnected towers. The first tower, of circular design, features an ornate pepper pot-shaped crown, harmoniously joined by a slender second turret soaring to the remarkable height of 26 meters. Crowned with a bell-shaped roof upheld by a corbelled cornice, the tower was once accessible via a stone staircase that led to its watchful summit. From this vantage point, a breathtaking panorama unfolds, encompassing the Andaines Forest, the meandering rivers of Orne and Mayenne, and extending up to thirty kilometres around.
Guiding Light and Guardian
Dubbed the "lighthouse of the Andaines Forest," the Bonvouloir Tower served a vital role as both a guiding beacon by day and an illuminating sentinel by night, aiding wayward soldiers in the surrounding area, which would have been vast expanses of dense forest. Surrounding the tower are remnants of a defensive wall turned dovecote, an ancient chapel, a well, and barns. In close proximity, an idyllic pond and orchard enhance the distinctive charm of this location, creating an atmosphere conducive to relaxation and escapism.
Touring the Past at Bonvouloir
Embarking on the "Tour et détours à Bonvouloir" interpretive trail offers an immersive journey spanning an hour and a half, covering a 1.6 km walking loop. This captivating pathway encompasses nine key points, each marked by informative panels. An audio guide enhances the exploration, offering firsthand accounts that breathe life into the site's storied history. There is also an open day in the month of September, and I would advise consulting the local tourism board for further information.
The Ethnobotanical Treasures of Bonvouloir
Adjacent to the conservatory orchard teeming with pear trees, majestic oaks aged over 300 years stand as silent witnesses to centuries past. Spring of 2020 saw the addition of an ethnobotanical garden, "les jardins secrets de Bonvouloir," showcasing plants both wild and cultivated since the Renaissance. In the garden, you will find many examples of medicinal plants which would have been used from ancient times, which could cure a plethora of ills.
Legends of Bonvouloir
Legend intertwines with history, transporting us to the medieval era when Sir Guyon Essirard weds a lady named Anne, a woman much younger than himself. Despite their union, the couple faces years of infertility, burdened by sorrow. To remedy this situation, Guyon retreated to the rejuvenating waters of the Andaines Forest fountain. Submerging himself for twenty-one days, drinking from the fountain, and sleeping in the forest, Guyon emerges revitalized. Upon reuniting with his spouse, his vigour is restored. Months later, Anne gives birth to their long-awaited heir. In celebration of this triumph, Sir Guyon commissions the construction of the Bonvouloir Castle tower, a structure imbued with an unmistakable symbolism, one could even say phallic.
A Timeless Emblem
The Bonvouloir Tower, with its rich history and tales of legend, stands as an everlasting emblem of a bygone era. As visitors traverse its grounds, exploring its architectural grandeur and mystical narratives, they become part of a lineage that spans centuries – a testament to the enduring allure of the past. Whether wandering through the conservatory orchard, marvelling at ancient structures, or embarking on a journey through the "Tour et détours à Bonvouloir" trail, each step unveils a fragment of history, an echo of legends, and a connection to the enchanting legacy of Bonvouloir. Much remains unknown about this quaint tower and historical site, which I think only adds to the intrigue - it is 100% worth seeing with your own eyes and exploring if one happens to be in the area. I can only imagine the marvellous views from the top!