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Vanessa & Matthew Williamson  

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Vanessa Williamson

B.A University of  Sydney Archaeologist & Medieval History 

              Bonjour, I am Vanessa born in Sydney Australia, your host and co-owner of L'Hotel de Hercé with my husband Matthew.   I am an Archaeologist and Heritage Conservation specialist.  At Sydney University I took a degree in Archaeology, studying Greek, Roman, Middle Eastern and Australian Pre-History archaeology.  With a co-major in Medieval Studies, and courses in Ancient History, Classics, History, and Heritage Conservation. After being offered a place in the Honours Program, I undertook a research thesis, and specialist training at the Australian Museum.  My research explored Coastal Occupation in Australia and Shell Middens analysis learnt at the Australian Museum. I Contributed to a ongoing research project in Arnhem Land in Australia's Northern Territory. My research was presented at Conferences and the annual Scientific Research Presentation, at the  Australian Museum.   I worked for two years as a volunteer researcher on the Australian Museum Balmoral Beach Rock Shelter site project. As a Consultant Archaeologist on  excavation and post excavation research projects across Sydney. I contributed to the National Trust in Sydney as a volunteer researcher and for two years sat as a member of the Sydney National Trust Industrial Heritage Committee. 

     My return to France has been a long-held dream after backpacking around France in the 1980s. I always yearned to live immersed in European history and now live in such an extraordinary house and town, my very own archaeology and history research project. As lifetime sewer, with interest in the history of Clothing & Historical Textiles, I am seeing work only ever previously available online or in books. A recent discovery in our attic, of a box of hand sewn antique textiles was an extraordinary rare find.

           I love living in  beautiful Mayenne at junction of three stunning regions, Pays de Loire, Brittany & Normandy. We chose to establish our B&B away from the big tourism destinations, a visit and stay in Mayenne will be an experience of authentic French life. I hope to welcome you to stay very soon. Vanessa 

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De Hercé

Family

Origional owners of the L'Hotel

           The earliest history of the de Hercé family goes back to 1191. When a Philippe-Auguste announced the call out for men to accompany him, in joining the king of  England on the Third Crusade to the Holy Land.  He is recorded as calling the men of Maine, "who came running in crowds".  Listed among them was is the first known Hercé, Guillaume of Hercé, knight Baron.  There are breaks in the family history records, but we do know eight generations later L'Hotel de Hercé was built  or purchased by Jean de Hercé Lord of Rigardon, Plessis Colombiers and Coudray and his wife Françoise  Tanquerel, daughter of René Tanquerel: Attorney General to the  Duke of Mayenne. We believe the acquisition happened around 1719 at the time of their marriage in the Basilic of Mayenne. Three generations of de Hercé lived in the house known as l'Hotel de Hercé, until the family was expelled, by the Revolutionary Government around c.1789. Although the youngest member of the family did return to live in ville de Mayenne after the terror had passed, the family never was able to return to the house. So last summer when an elegant lady and gentleman arrived in our courtyard, you can imagine our delight to discover and welcome Madame and Monsieur de Hercé.  M. de Hercé is a direct descendant of the family who once lived here, and it was a first visit to the ancestral home. It was our great honour to have them as our guests to dinner and share the fascinating story of their family.     

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Matthew Williamson

Ex Aust Army Royal Engineers           B.A History Aust Nat University

            Hi, I hail from the country town Glenn Innes NSW Australia, where I grew up on a dairy and cattle farm. I began my career in the Australian Army in the Royal Australian Engineers, trained as a feild engineer and surveyor. I was posted to Asia and seconded to the Australian War Graves Commission in Malaysia and Thailand, working on the Thai-Burma Railway memorial at Hell Fire Pass . After an parachute accident,  I left the army and worked in road, rail and telecommunication construction, doing a part time Degree in History at Australian National University, Canberra.  I contribute Military History articles to magazines; Wargames Illustrated, to my own blog "Storm and Conquest Blog Spot" & "WW2 Kampfgruppewillow Blog Spot", and work as a group Administrator and coordinator  on many on-line military history Forums. I worked as a Guide at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, and in Sydney at the Military Installation Battery Point in the Rocks. Military History is my lifelong interest with French Medieval, Renaissance, Napoleonic, and WW2 history of special interest. I also have had a long involvement in Napoleonic and Medieval Historical Re Enactment groups in Australia. Wargaming has been a part of my life since childhood, I have run re-enactor and wargaming conventions and events, president of various wargaming clubs, owned a miniature business and worked as a miniature wargaming figure painter on commission for decades.

                   With the New Year of 2020, my focus is restoring our first floor 18thc salon to  our dedicated Wargames room. In the evenings you will find me at my wargame painting table creating new, armies, specific to individual French Battles, with miniature figures representing actual men who participated, with their authentic heraldry, which I have painstakingly researched. My current project is the Battle of La Brossinière. I am recreating authentic French landscapes, towns for the new Wargame table in the salon.  I continue ongoing research into the details of the fascinating French History of our region. Investigating Chateaux, Knights, Heraldry, and reading online primary source documents, archaeological reports, most only available in French. I work consistently to ensure we have the best Western France Military History Guided Tours on offer for history enthusiasts and Wargamers.

Hope to see you very soon, Matt

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L'Hotel de Hercé

18th Hôtel Particulier c.1720

            Mayenne’s finest mansions are located on Place de Cheverus, forming part of the most beautiful quarter of Mayenne.  The townhouses are an example of urban architecture reflecting the lifestyle of well-to-do families of the 17th and 18th centuries. Featuring many "L’Hotel Particuliers"; a French luxurious house built within a city, inhabited by only one family and staff.  Typically, an aristocratic residence demonstrating the prestige of the owner, featuring interior courtyard and rear façade overlooking a garden.  The homes were a statement of the wealth of a family, the significant funds for construction included; purchase of land in urban areas, architect, stone & oak building materials, maintenance, and staff (maids, cooks, grooms, cook).

            Other features to the homes included a porch with ornate carriage door  to the street,  paved courtyard,  sometimes framed by outbuildings housing stables , kitchens, laundry room, servants' rooms.  The interiors featured a vestibule entry to the ground floor or the noble floor in the most luxurious hotels, large reception apartments divided into “parade rooms” and “company rooms” for friends. The apartments rooms in a row overlooking the street or courtyard, are clearly distinguished from private apartments. Traditionally, the private apartments were located upstairs  with beautiful views of the garden and  better heating in winter, with lower ceilings and exposure to the sun.

        L’Hôtel de Hercé was built in the first quarter of the 18th century. The facade is an imposing three levels, divided by bands of impressive cornices, 5 sets of windows across the street facade, and graduating window dimensions on each level.  The centre of the roof is marked by a cupola, with viewing platform, and one of the highest points in Mayenne. The simple and elegant early neoclassical façade gives no indication of the beautiful woodwork and sculptured panelling within the house. The contrast between facade and interiors was also a feature of the houses.

MEDIA

L'Hotel de Hercé has  attracted the attention of the media,  since opening in Mayenne in 2018.

We thought you would enjoy a reading the news ..... 

LivingFrance

magazine

Living France Dec 2019-by Catherine Cooper

Vanessa Williamson, 58, and her husband Matthew, 50, arrived in Mayenne from Australia in March 2018 and own and run chambre d'hote L'Hotel de Hercé. They were keen to embrance the French traditions for their first Christmas in France. 

"We weren't really sure how the first Christmas away from home would be - while we had made both French and expat friends, most had plans with their families for Christmas.

But as it was, we invited Canadian, American, friends from our French class and close family and friends from Australia, ending up with 17 around the table- aged from 16 to 80!

We were determined to have a French - style Christmas as we were now in France, so I had a chat with my French neighbours about what was typlical and went from there. The table was laid with a linen tablecloth and napkins bought from the local Emmaus and the huge Limoges dinner service came with the house. 

We started with canapés made with foie gras, a gift from a French neighbour, followed by a starter from our Canadian friends of an enomous pot of Breton moules (mussels) cooked in cream and white wine sauce.

For the main course we had goose cooked by Matthew, my 26 year old son Jackson and Australian friend Tom- I had never eaten roast goose before! 

It was a free-range goose sourced from a friend of a friend who had a farm and cooked to a Nigela Lawson reciepe with apples and potatoes - it was delicious.

We then had two platters of local cheese - before desert of course! 

It was wrench for me to give up my usual Christmas Pudding because I love it, but I was determined everything would be French. I bought two Bouches de Noel-one from the local supermarket ad one from the smart patissier which was twice the price- they both tasted fabulous! 

We drank Samur Cremant sparking wine along with a mixed dozen Cote de Rhone and French white wines. 

Lingering around the table eating chocolates, a gift from our American guests, it was a dinner of over six hours. 

It was a really special day, bringing together people of different ages, nationalities and even religions. I'm looking forward to our second French Chrsitmas and this year we will be welcoming paying guests too. 

If your away from home during the festive season then Christmas can feel lonely. We'd like people to feel welcome into our family and enjoy a very French Christmas experience when they are staying here with us".

 

OUEST-FRANCE Newspaper 

Ouest-France - 16 Nov 2019

 By Justine GUITTON-BOUSSION.
Imagine going on vacation, a few days or a week ... and go back in time. This is proposed by Vanessa and Matthew Williamson, an Australian couple who arrived in Mayenne in March 2018. To open l'Hotel de Hercé as a Bed and Breakfast.  A grand maison steeped in history  built around the 1720s. Vanessa and Matthew brought from Sydney only two sofas and a coffee table. "We furnished the rest of the house little by little, going to second-hand stores" , says Vanessa. The couple took care to decorate the place with objects dating or recalling the XVIII th century.
A la carte GuidedTours
                      For seven months now, the guest rooms have been open to the public. Three rooms are available, but Vanessa and Matthew only accept one Touring group of clients at a time. "Our goal is for people to feel like they are visiting friends". Thus, Vanessa and Matthew share their entire home with clients and are at their available at their disposal. Whether to chat, share a glass of wine or run clients to a special restaurant or Train station transfers.

                       If they wish, clients can discover Western France historic destinations. Theme Guided Touring is offered to introduce clients  to the history of the area, says Matthew. "We can show them the Normandy landing beaches, the castles of the Loire, medieval towns ... It's a la carte"" , adds Vanessa. Which cities are most appealing to visitors? Angers, Saumur and Vitré.

clients can "Relive the great moments of history" Matthew, a trained historian and former soldier, has a passion for French Military History. "Clients can visit battlefields in the morning and play the Wargame in the afternoon" , he explains enthusiastically. A Wargame is a large table top game where the different participants replay historical battles, using figurines and dice. It's a real passion to relive the great moments of history, smiles Matthew. We can play across all periods of French history! I have collected over 5,000 figurines since I was the age of ten.

                        "Our French clients are just as interested in what we propose as foreigners", says Vanessa. Since April 2019, L'Hotel de Hercé  has attracted local and travelling French clients, and international clients mostly from Australia, Canada and England. In August, we were booked 24 days in a row said Vanessa and Matthew laughing. After a very busy summer we closed for a week to rest!

                       And they do not intend to stop there. L'Hotel de Hercé Bed and Breakfast will be open during the Christmas holidays and throughout the winter.

OUEST-FRANCE Newspaper 

Ouest-France - 22 Nov 2019

 By Justine GUITTON-BOUSSION.
Vanessa and Matthew Williamson, a recently married couple of 50, chose to leave Sydney, Australia, to make a fresh start. They manage together guest rooms, in a large historic house in the 1720s, Mayenne.
It is in a large 18th century house, in Place Cheverus Mayenne, that Vanessa and Matthew Williamson decided to put their bags in March 2018.

This 50-year-old couple has traveled a large part of the globe: they are from Sydney, Australia. "I always wanted to live elsewhere," said Vanessa immediately. Sitting in her big salon of the 1720s, she easily tells her love story with Matthew, worthy of a romantic film.
"We have gathered our dreams"

The two lovers had each been married before meeting each other. Three years ago, they chose to make a fresh start and say yes. "We went on our honeymoon in Germany," says Vanessa. Before coming back to Australia, I told him, "Come and settle in Europe with me. Our children are grown up now, we can leave. Let's start a new chapter in our story. "He said yes. "

Everything went quickly for the young couple. Vanessa and Matthew chose France as a home. "I have a real passion for this country," explains Vanessa. And there are more opportunities in France for the activity project we had. "

The couple signed in Australia the purchase of the property in March 2018. Three days later, they flew to France to start their new life in Mayenne

The couple wanted to build a project for two. Matthew a geometric graduate and former military, wanted to organize thematic tours, particularly on Military history. Vanessa, a manager and has studied archeology, wanted to create a calm cocoon for guests.

"He had his dream and I had mine: we brought them together," said Vanessa. The couple has chosen to open guest rooms, in a large historic house, and offer customers different private guided tours.

"We were looking for a quiet French city"

And it is on the city of Mayenne that they set their sights. Several reasons motivated this choice: "It's near Laval, where there is TGV," says Matthew. It was important for us to be near Paris because this is where the foreigners arrive "

"We were looking for a quiet French town, where everything is within walking distance: shops, restaurants, cinema," continues Vanessa. And the department is beautiful. "

A warm welcome
Vanessa and Matthew immediately fell in love with the L’Hotel de Hercé when visiting it in October 2017. The couple bought the empty house in March 2018, and gradually furnished it by browsing different second-hand stores. After some redecorating, L’Hotel de Hercé opened to the public in April 2019.

Vanessa and Matthew radiate happiness. Their guest rooms are a great success, and most importantly, they feel good in their new city: "We have support from neighbors, traders”, says a smiling Vanessa. That's what we love, this human side, this community. "

LE COURIER

de la Mayenne 

Mayenne Courier 15th Sept 2018

"Australians offer wargame weekends in Mayenne"

Last March 2018, the Hotel de Hercé in Mayenne changed owners. An Australian couple have here to create a Bed and Breakfast and offer strategy Wargames.

Williamson painted more than 5,000 lead soldiers. The process was long and stressful, but Matthew and Vanessa Williamson managed to achieve their goal. This Australian couple, passionate about history, left everything to come and live in Mayenne. "Everyone asks us: but why Mayenne? , smiles Vanessa. We chose this city in relation to its history and geographical location. This region has experienced many conflicts or is close to many battlefields.

"History buffs"

Having  fallen in love with the Hôtel de Hercé, on Place de Cheverus, the couple did not long  hesitate to pack their bags, with only one idea in mind: to offer an original concept to tourists from all over the world, in a beautiful French mansion. Not content with just offering traditional Bed & Breakfast in an 18th century house, they will organize Wargame weekends. This strategy game allows two, four or six teams to piece together historic battles, using metal soldiers. "Players choose a battle from their chosen era and revisit the course of history. They can choose the composition of their army: horsemen, soldiers, archers, catapults... There are different rules for playing games, they can be day long games or fast skirmish games. »

The Hotel de Hercé is expected to open in 2019.

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