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 Beckov castle stands on a steep 50 m tall rock in the village Beckov. The dominance of the rock and impression of invincibility it gaves, challenged our ancestors to make use of these assets. The result is a remarkable harmony between the natural setting and architecture.
The castle first mentioned in 1200 was originally owned by the King and later, at the end of the 13th century it fell in hands of Matúš Èák. Its owners alternated - at the end of the 14th century the family of Stibor of Stiborice bought it.
The next owners, the Bánffys who adapted the Gothic castle to the Renaissance residence, improved its fortifications preventing the Turks from conquering it at the end of the 16th century. When Bánffys died out, the castle was owned by several noble families. It fell in decay after fire in 1729.
The history of the castle is the subject of different legends. One of them narrates the origin of the name of castle derived from that of jester Becko for whom the Duke Stibor had the castle built.
Another legend has it that the lord of the castle had his servant thrown down from the rock because he protected his child from the lords favourite dog. Before his death, the servant pronounced a curse saying that they would meet in a year and days time, and indeed precisely after that time the lord was bitten by a snake and fell down to the same abyss.
The well-conserved ruins of the castle, now the National Cultural Monument, are frequently visited by tourists, above all in July when the castle festival takes place. The former Ambro curia situated below the castle now shelters the exhibition of the local history.