The castle of Freÿr with its gardens form one of the most magnificent natural sites in Belgium. It has been classified as one of Wallonia's major heritage sites.
Dating back to the Middle Ages, Freÿr was a keep given in fief by the Count of Namur to Jean de Rochefort Orjol in 1378. His granddaughter Marie married Jacques de Beaufort in 1410. Their descendants have kept the estate until the present. The keep was destroyed in 1554 by the French during the wars against Emperor Charles V. The oldest part of the current castle, the east wing, was built in 1571 and is one of the first examples of the 'Renaissance Mosane' style.
During the 17th century the house was enlarged by the addition of three wings, forming a square with the original wing. Around 1760 the south wing was pulled down and replaced by a wrought iron gate reminiscent of Jean Lamour's masterpiece in Nancy, closing the inner yard to give the castle its current appearance.
The castle is representative of the interior of a nobleman's summer residence of the 18th century. It features many original elements such as the impressive main hall with wall paintings by Frans Snyders and a ceiling covered by Louis XV frescoes, or the chapel with its Regency wooden panelling and its Baroque altar.
The rooms contain the ancient furniture of the Dukes of Beaufort-Spontin as well as traces of history left by royal guests (Louis XIV of France, Archduchess Maria-Christina, eldest child of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, King Stanislas I), and the living memory of 20 generations, among which is a delightful children's coach (18th century) that won the first prize at Paris World Exhibition (1889).
At Freÿr the Coffee Treaty or Treaty of Freÿr (1675) between France and Spain was signed, and the Treaty of the Borders between France and the Prince-Bishopric of Liège (1772) was negotiated. At this time Louis XIV stayed here as the guest of Jeanne d'Harscamp, Dowager Duchess of Beaufort-Spontin.
Designed in the style of André Le Nôtre in 1760 by Canon Guillaume de Beaufort-Spontin and enlarged by his brother Philippe in 1770, the gardens are set on walled terraces on the left bank of the Meuse. They offer views towards the woods to the north and towards the Meuse to the east, and their peace and serenity contrast with the naked rockface on the far bank.
Ponds and fountains babble on the lower level where orange trees spread their delicate perfume. Most of them are 350 years old. The trees came to Freÿr in the first part of the 18th century from Lunéville, the residence of the Duke of Lorraine. They are the oldest trees in cases in Europe. The wooden cases are still built according to the original design. The oldest orangery of the Low Countries (early 18th century) combines elegance and simplicity.
The upper level is covered by hedge mazes (6 km) that unveil their mysteries one by one: a set of patterns inspired by card game figures, a theme also present in the terra cotta statues made by Cyfflé.
At the very top of the gardens, the Rococo pavilion commands the view on the Meuse and seduces by its delicate stucco decoration, based on the theme of fertility with cornucopia and Tritons.
The right bank of the Meuse is dominated by cliffs (more than 100 m high), from which one has an exceptional view of the estate.
The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.
The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.
The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.
The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.
Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.
At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.
In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.