Gems of Bordeaux : Tour of Hotel Fruges & Basilique St. Seurin : Thursday 8th October

hotel-fruges-2We are privileged to have access to this private house (ex hotel) which was beautifully refurbished in 1920’s in classic Art Nouveau style.  Members may recall our visit earlier this year to le Corbusier’s fururistic development in Pessac,  Cité Fruges.  Hotel Fruges was the private home of wealthy businessman Henri Fruges, who engaged le Corbusier. For more information click here

Nearly 20 of us met outside the Basilique St. Seurin. We were split into two groups, as despite its name the ‘Hotel’ is a private house with space for 10 visitors only. Group A set off with Norma and a BBC bouquet which she presented to the owner of Hotel Frugés (also our guide) Catherine Bocquet!  Group B spent a fascinating 40 minutes exploring the Basilica.

The history of this dramatic and beautiful church which is not only the oldest in Bordeaux, but below it lies evidence of the first habitation in the city, during the Gallo-Roman period. The earliest church existed in 6th Century, with the main internal structure, and lovely carvings appearing in 14th Century. Much of the exterior appeared in 18th and 19th Century during a major enlargement. Of major interest was the Crypt containing carved marble sepulchres from 6th Century. The internal stonework of the church, including supporting pillars, impressive vaulting and beautiful carvings, was dramatic and in remarkably good condition. It also provided great acoustics and a lovely sense of calm, the stained glass windows enhanced this effect. Those members who joined Alain Mounalou on his pilgrims’ tour through Bordeaux last year will recall that this church was the starting point.

It was then time for Group B to visit Hotel Frugés, aided by Michele Loret who acted as interpreter. The history of the building since it was ‘modernised’ in Art Nouveau style by Henri Frugés in 1920s has been somewhat sad, as owing to the Recession, and the falling market for cane sugar (on which he had built his wealth) he had to sell it. Prior to the current owner it was the Surgery for a Radiologist who adapted it to the practice needs by painting over and boarding in the Art Nouveau masterpieces!

Since acquiring it Catherine and others have undertaken a huge restoration project, returning much of the interior to its Art Nouveau and Art Deco state, preserving it as a masterpiece of this era. From the front there is little to differentiate it from the adjacent terraced properties, except the top corner, a loggia with dramatic inclined and richly decorated circular roof. Internally one is confronted by the 5 story hall with sinuous welded bannisters, inspired by seaweed, and topped by a dramatic welded roof light. The pictures hopefully serve better than a description, some scanned copies from a book must suffice.

Catherine provided an excellent introduction, aided by Michele. As well as his business interests M. Fruges had major interest in current art and architecture, witness commissioning le Corbusier for his famous City Fruges development in Pessac. He commissioned nearly 30 leading French designers, artists, sculptors, blacksmiths and decorators under the direction of architect Pierre Ferret to make his personal house a museum of the arts and techniques of the early 20th century.

After our introduction in the hall Catherine led us to the ‘working’ kitchen, which has modern appliances, but rich Art Deco features on the wall, alas the original ornate ceiling has been covered. The dining room is most exotic and after extensive renovation reproduces the classic Art Nouveau decoration and furniture. We were then shown the terrace and garden, with impressive Art Deco mosaic fountain and large seat. The garden, surrounded by adjacent properties was surprisingly calm and well stocked. It has not always been so calm, not many years ago a hurricane destroyed much of the high level roof terrace, but the unusual gymnasium which occupies the top floor survived. Alas our tour did not include seeing the dramatic Art deco mosaic bathroom.

Our tour groups reunited and a short walk led us to the ‘English Country Kitchen’ which we ‘took over’ and enjoyed scones, with clotted cream and jam, and a large range of teas from traditional teapots with friendly service in a very English (even West country) environment.

A great trip with thanks to all involved, especially our organiser Norma C. We learnt a lot about this fascinating decorative style of the 20’s and are clearly indebted to Henry Frugés, and the present owners for letting us share this ‘Gem of Bordeaux’

Report and photos by Phil C