Souzy-la-Briche, the secret castle of presidents and prime ministers

The Republic does not skimp when it comes to the rest of its leaders. There are holiday resorts well known to the general public, such as the residence in Brégançon (Var) where the president rests in the summer. Also that of La Lanterne, near Versailles (Yvelines), an ideal destination for relaxing on weekends and playing tennis. But another refuge, much more secret, located 40 km south-west of Paris, seduces as much as it intrigues with its bucolic name: Souzy-la-Briche.

In this village of 400 inhabitants nestled in the heart of Essonne, the departmental 132 makes a sharp bend in front of a gate framed by two turrets. Welcome to the most unknown of the State properties, now reserved for the exclusive use of the Prime Minister. “Enjoy it,” Manuel Valls slipped one day to Edouard Philippe. It will be part of your regrets when you leave Matignon. “

The domain which is located 40 km south-west of Paris covers 280 ha. Gamma / API

From the outside, impossible to see anything. A high surrounding wall, lined with a row of gigantic trees, conceals an immense property. It has a large canal populated by ducks, a mansion with its outbuildings, a quarry for horses, woods and arbors covered with roses, which the socialist Bernard Cazeneuve had planted.

Upon arriving, the place is somewhat surprising. And for good reason ! A small 13th century Gothic chapel adjoins the lake… There, Jean-Jacques Simon and his wife Renée are buried, next to the grave of their dog Poppy. This couple, whose husband made a fortune in the bank, bequeathed this 280 hectare estate to the State in 1972. However, with one condition: that the estate be reserved “for the highest authority of the executive”. To ensure that the rule is not forgotten, the will is engraved on the graves. And a postulate that has been transmitted from all the occupants: to live happily, let’s live in hiding.

The domain open only once to the public

“I know that there are visitors on site when I see the gendarmes parked in front of the residence, but never before,” said Mayor Christian Gourin. Here, confidentiality is more important than ever. The estate was only opened once, for Heritage Days in 1995. And the inhabitants of the town were allowed to walk, but only in the gardens. Since then, the operation has never been repeated.

What is called the “Château de Souzy-la-Briche” looks more like a mansion, a slightly old-fashioned manor house. On the ground floor, there is a living room with piano and a library with a fireplace. The shelves are filled with books from the Pléiade annotated by François Mitterrand, of which the large black leather armchair aged by the years is still preserved.

At the start of the 1980s, François Mitterrand chose Souzy-la-Briche to house his second family, including Mazarine.  DR
At the start of the 1980s, François Mitterrand chose Souzy-la-Briche to house his second family, including Mazarine. DR

Spirit are you there? “When we say to ourselves that he sat there, Chirac too, then all the Prime Ministers since… it still gives the shivers”, testifies a visitor. The first floor is occupied by several rooms, including that of the Prime Minister. The attic has also been fitted out to receive guests. Family and friendly atmosphere.

The charm of the place is not new. At the beginning of the 1980s, François Mitterrand set his sights on this green setting. The socialist shelters his second family there. On a bench, he reads a book in the park, watching Mazarine go horseback riding. The merry-go-round he had built for his daughter is now overgrown with weeds. Intimate moments … where he also enjoys “long lazy mornings”, as he will write.

Everything changes under Nicolas Sarkozy

With Jacques Chirac, the domain is less frequented. He uses it in eclipses, either to accommodate his mother-in-law, or to welcome foreign personalities. Then everything changes under Nicolas Sarkozy. The new president seizes the Lantern, which until then had been reserved for the hosts of Matignon. By way of compensation, Souzy-la-Briche is awarded to the Prime Ministers. A kind of barter. However, François Fillon, who already has a manor in the Sarthe, is not interested. “I’ve never been there,” he confides to the Parisian. “He did not see the point, it did not tempt him”, recalls a former collaborator.

The last host to date, he does not sulk his pleasure. Since being appointed to Matignon last July, Jean Castex has been going green regularly in Souzy-la-Briche. “The Prime Minister appreciates the place, because it is calm and green, comments soberly his entourage, without wanting to say much more. It can get out of the everyday, sometimes heavy and heavy with power. »In Paris, the former mayor of Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales) lives in the official apartments of Matignon. So, on certain Saturdays, the whole family likes to meet in this hilly corner, in the south of Ile-de-France. From the capital, allow 45 minutes in a convoy escorted by bikers.

In addition to a huge park, the estate has a small 13th century Gothic chapel and a lake. / ABACA / JDD / Gilles Bassignac
In addition to a huge park, the estate has a small 13th century Gothic chapel and a lake. / ABACA / JDD / Gilles Bassignac

Edouard Philippe’s punching bag

It is because the distractions are varied. The park is so big that you don’t have to go outside to jog. You can get some fresh air without crossing a paparazzi. A fan of running but also boxing, Edouard Philippe had a punching bag installed in a shed in 2017. Sometimes he plays soccer with his sons, while his wife Edith organizes barbecues. Their daughter, she takes advantage of these moments to ride a pony.

“Edouard often came to Souzy when he could not go to Le Havre, reports one of his friends. It could happen to him to immerse himself for hours in the office, with a good book. He felt like he was in a bubble, even though he always carried a file or two with him. “

In this den, Philippe invites his group of friends: ministers Gérald Darmanin and Sébastien Lecornu, parliamentarians Gilles Boyer and Thierry Solère, adviser Charles Hufnagel. His chief of staff, Benoît Ribadeau-Dumas, sometimes spends lunch on Saturdays. It is the cook of Matignon who prepares the dishes, brought from Paris. As for the bodyguards, the doctor and the “transmitter” (army radio operator), they live in an outbuilding. There is also a steward who lives on site.

From the departmental road, you cannot see anything of what is hidden behind the thick surrounding wall of the domain.  LP / Lola Breton
From the departmental road, you cannot see anything of what is hidden behind the thick surrounding wall of the domain. LP / Lola Breton

Sometimes the weekend is studious. “I went to Souzy for the first time in June 2014,” says Manuel Valls. I organized a seminar there with members of my cabinet. In the evening, in front of the television, the advisers breathe while watching the matches of the World Cup of football in Brazil. It is an understatement to say that the elected representative of Essonne fell in love with this place, which Jean-Marc Ayrault had told him about during the handover.

Holland came to drink one last time

Manuel Valls takes the opportunity to meet up with his children, who live in Evry. He spent his New Year’s Eve there three times: December 31 of 2014, 2015 and even 2016, even though he left Matignon to embark on the primary race. Never mind: his successor Bernard Cazeneuve invites him.

Around the table is another important guest: François Hollande! As the end of the five-year term looms, the Head of State has come to drink one last time. He knows that a political page is turning. For him as for his comrades.

A few minutes earlier, he said his wishes to the French, live on television. Then, the president gets in the car, direction Essonne. A destination that is not unknown to him. The previous year, he had already come to celebrate there. On January 1, 2016, in beige pants, he played football with Manuel Valls and his children on the large lawns near the chapel. Happy time. The worries of politics are forgotten. Rivalries, buried. Souzy-la-Briche softens manners.

Original article by : www.leparisien.fr

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