What prompted the famous French “prince gardener” to leave Paris and his castle in the Loire Valley to settle in Portugal? A dream that involves Comporta and the purchase of the “paradise” of the Espírito Santo family
Text by Inês Rapazote
Once upon a time there was a prince who decided to become a gardener and settle in Portugal…
If you have looked here, dear reader, you are about to embark on a wonderfully moving story from the distant mountains of the Indian mainland to the serene rice fields of Comporta, passing through Paris, Normandy, and the Loire Valley in France. A recital that includes the world of high finance, castles with gardens where hundreds of tomato species grow, a devastating fire and even a murder. Through these pages princes and princesses, ministers and scientists will pass, a Nobel Prize, a seer, a blonde who changes a destiny and a brunette who becomes the companion of a life. In all the scenes, a common character – Louis-Albert de Broglie.
This French prince, born in Paris on March 15, 1963, the youngest son of the Duke de Broglie, minister of De Gaulle, discovered Comporta … and wants to buy it. The sale is being managed by the Luxembourg Court, as the owner of more than 50% of the real estate fund that manages the estate is Rio Forte, a company in the Espírito Santo group that went bankrupt. The transaction, which could be around 400 million euros, aims to recover credits owed to the creditors of Espírito Santo, the largest being Caixa Geral de Depósitos. Last year, the sale of Comporta was already taken for granted; the buyer would be the Portuguese businessman Pedro Almeida, 72, based in Switzerland, who made a fortune with oil and wanted to build a luxury resort there. Luxembourg had already given the guarantee, but in November the Portuguese Public Prosecutor prevented the business, not lifting the arrest of the assets.
It is in this window of opportunity that Louis-Albert enters, now in the stage of contacts with Luxembourg to carry out a proposal of purchase. The prince met Comporta, who he considered a “cross between Europe, Asia, with its rice fields, and Africa, full of birds and a telluric relation to the land” in 1995, at the wedding of a friend. More than 15 years later, he receives a phone call: “Do you know that house that you like? It is for sale. “He got on the plane, bought it, recovered it and moved without hesitation, with his wife, Françoise, leaving behind the Paris office (which was once the atelier of Delacroix and Monet) , the castle in the Loire and the Deyrolle (a cultural and educational project, based in Paris), which has made the delights of his days.
The property in Comporta, a set of houses of traditional architecture and recovered and decorated to your liking, is your home; the one who, he says, if everything disappears, would miss him more. It is from there that it leaves every day of the year to dive in the Atlantic, on the other side of the dune, and from where it returns with what it finds in the sand and serves as raw material for its sculptures. Ali installed the wooden houses of the eighteenth century, which he bought in Timor, and it is there that he retires after the trips that still take him to China, Brazil or his native France, with projects for a more sustainable future.
It also has a house in Lisbon, where it offers dinners to lawyers, architects, journalists. He is well integrated in Portuguese society and has already had a “Person Prize” at his desk. He received it as everyone receives: barefoot. Elegant but unpretentious, with an ever-open smile, Louis-Albert de Broglie has already gone mad – or eccentric. He laughed. He is considered a man of strong convictions and with a lot of intuition.
The weight of history
Third of three sons, he was born into a family that commands respect. Broglie, a name from Italian Piedmont, entered the French lexicon in the seventeenth century, pronouncing differently according to whether he wanted to refer to the family (phonetically “”) or the locality of Normandy (“.gli”). installed, naming the earth.
Fourteen years younger than his son, Louis-Albert spent his childhood and youth in the 16ème arrondissement in Paris and, at weekends, in the house of Broglie – a medieval castle rebuilt several times, in which he hides the largest private French library and the laboratory of a former Nobel laureate. The collection of books there remains, inherited from Madame de Staël, the wife of an ancestor of his, as well as the place of work of Louis de Broglie (Nobel of Physics in 1929 for his work on the undulating nature of electrons) and his brother , also he physical, Maurice.
In this castle, whose doors took hours to open and close, such was their number, always woke up early. Louis-Albert ran into the street, where he joined those who worked the land, cut timber, milked the cows, treated the vegetable garden. In spite of being prince (title received from Francisco I of Austria, in century XVIII, by the military services provided by the Broglie to France and Austria, in the war against Prusia) and to be brother of a duke (title this granted, in century XVII , by King Louis XV and used by the head of the family), Louis-Albert enjoyed playing with the children of the village, sharing with them fruit, vegetables and harvested wood. Even today her eyes light up as she told how she loved waking up to hear the lawn being cut by the gardener (a World War II parachutist, where she lost an arm). He says that his “virtuous” relationship with nature, the notion of balance and responsibility in relation to the earth, comes from that time.
But his life was not just joys and facilities. One Consoada night, he was 13 years old, the accountant’s father left when he was surprised by two shots at the back of his neck and another at the chest. Mr de Gaulle, a deputy minister on several occasions, is remembered by his youngest son as a “brilliant man, interested in ideas, out of comfort” who, despite having a driver, preferred to reach the Council of Ministers in his 2CV, with his shoes full of dirt, after strolling around the property. Even today, 40 years later, the motives for the murder of Broglie’s father are yet to be unveiled.
Between two worlds
At age 18, Louis-Albert decides to go on holiday to India. “I was going for three weeks and I stayed three months”, walking the mountains. He came back more zen and optimistic, aware that “when you go on the mountain, you go from one point to another, regardless of the difficulties. There is no bad news, there are teachings. ”
Then he returned to earth. He had studied for 15 years in the Jesuits, attended Franklin (college of French elites). He took the Management course and wanted to leave for Brazil. He arranged for a meeting with a senior BNP Paribas board to advise him on his future, but he tricked himself into the hours and arrived 60 minutes earlier than expected. On the way to the waiting room, one can see a statue of Tara (the kind Hindu goddess, the savior who takes the shipwomen of the world to the “other shore”). He enters the cabinet to admire the piece and is soon surprised by the occupant of the room. They talk about Tara, about India, about their trip to Brazil … and leave with an offer of employment. It would change azimuth, Brazil could wait. I would go to India.
He spent seven years with BNP Paribas, most of the time working on the valuation of hotel units and converting debt into equity. He began in India, where, fascinated by “those who were at the service of others,” he created, with an Indian priest, an association of support for leprous children with a school and a medical center on the outskirts of New Delhi to Nayee Asha. means New Hope. Two years later, the bank puts him on a run around the world and the prince becomes a yuppie. “I remember how fun it was to catch a plane to go from one party to another,” he tells us. Except that life did not fill him. “We had no purpose. At the end of the day, there was nothing left, “he told Vanity Fair magazine in 2008.
He was in Canada when the middle brother, Philippe-Maurice, called him. Although they already had three castles, he would propose to buy one more, now in Montlouis-sur-Loire, in Central France. He was going to visit some close friends (owners of the Clos Lucé, where Leonardo Da Vinci spent the last years of his life) and so he had a look at the property. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the castle, on top of a hill, seemed to him out of a fairy tale. He bought it. It was the year 1991, Louis-Albert was 29 years old and had been working for seven years at BNP Paribas. A year later, the mother and an uncle had a stroke and the young prince decides to change his life. Give up the bank and invest what you have in your new castle, La Bourdaisière.
A step towards the future
He dedicated himself to the reconstruction, the discovery of space, the return to earth. It was in search of the seeds and grains that Mr. Coquerelle, the gardener of his childhood, showed and distributed to him by the family estate of Normandy. He brought others from India and other places. It established contact with guardians of ancient seeds and began to plant.
Today, there are more than 650 species of tomato – red, orange, yellow, green, purple, white, small, rugged, huge with names that do not resemble the devil: Hawaiian Pineapple, Celebrity, Chapman, Chello, Cherokee Green, Poon Branc, Peron, Pen Pong, Pole Branc, Peron, Ping Pong, Poin Branc, Poseon Coeur of the Andes, Cotelee de Valence, Creole, Dad’s Sunset, Dr. Lyle, Erka d’Australie, Eros, Glamor, Glasnost, Hank, Rayon de Soleil, Teton Taxi from Venus and so on. The project took such a scale that in 1998, La Bourdaisière was declared National Tomato Conservatory.
Beside the garden, in the middle of the 55-hectare park, the castle is now a hotel of charm. Louis-Albert still managed to create an ecological miniquinta, with which he intends to promote a new type of agriculture, inspired by permaculture (a system that is based on agricultural and social principles that replicate the reality observed in natural ecosystems). To the prince, this is just a model project. His idea, materialized in the Fermes d’Avenir (Quintas de Futuro), is to show how this way of cultivating and living is not only healthier and sustainable but also cheaper. He does not seem willing to rest before spreading it around the world. It is his way of practicing the maxim “Think globally, act locally”, spread in the twentieth century.
A midas of modern times?
Louis-Albert de Broglie embraced the cause and has used it in all the projects he has been involved in since he left the bench. Along with the bet in the gardens, the vegetable garden and the small farm, also launched, with equal success, the brand Prince Jardinier (Prince Gardener), nickname for which his friends treat him since he started to live full time the ecological cause. He went to Normandy to get Mr. Coquerelle’s utensils and reproduced them. It has also created a line of accessories and work clothes (overalls, vests, gloves, aprons, hats) that has been sold in stores in Paris. Louis-Albert, who walks preferentially barefoot, looks like King Midas: what he touches turns into gold, into success.
Always with an eye on the future, the prince does not let forget the past. “Pour l’avenir” (“For the future”) is the motto of Broglie’s family. It was then placed in the small farm, but also in Deyrolle, a house born in 1831, with the purpose of preserving species and disseminating pedagogical products, and which made the delights of artists such as Dubuffet, Salvador Dalí and André Breton. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris … Today is a kind of museum, a curiosity shop (with skeletons, stuffed animals and stuffed, insect-filled pictures) set up right in the center of Paris.
Deyrolle is facing the future, but it has not always been so. On December 31, 1999, Louis-Albert was in the house of some friends, waiting for the passage of the year, when a guest, seer, insistently asks five minutes. He did not rest until he told her that in the year he was about to begin, a blonde would change her life. And in fact, that year a blonde friend calls her, saying that Deyrolle was on the verge of bankruptcy and that the family was planning to sell her to a French luxury brand. The Prince takes advantage and, at the beginning of 2001, buys it to give him new breath.
But again, things do not go as planned. On February 1, 2008, at six o’clock in the morning, a fire devastated the house. Three hours later, he had a plan to raise it. The publisher Gallimard published a book (with texts of Pierre Assouline and photographs of Bettina Rheims) on the history of Deyrolle, whose funds reverted for its reconstruction. Hermès created a limited number of a silk scarf for the same purpose. At the end of this year, Broglie’s younger brother would also receive the value of the sales of works on the fragility of nature, signed by three dozen artists (such as Miquel Barceló, Sophie Calle, Nan Goldin or Jan Fabre) sold at an auction organized by Christie’s.
From Paris to Comporta
After recovering La Bourdaisière and transforming it into a charming hotel, creating the National Tomato Conservatory and the Farm to the Future, to breathe new life into Deyrolle, the “Prince Gardener” turned to other places. He has given lectures on sustainability, ecology, biodiversity, education and art, on the need to create resilient territories and to put the economy at the service of man and the territory, not its opposite.
In short, it has been trying to globalize the idea that we need to think about the territory, never losing sight of the triptych that guides Deyrolle: Nature – Art – Education.
He recently took two important steps in expanding his philosophy. At the end of March, the Mayor of Versailles announced the winner of the public competition to create the 9th district of Versailles: Louis-Albert de Broglie and Deyrolle. “Lands of Versailles” (this is the name of the project) will give shape to this triptych. Two months earlier, in the presence of Emmanuel Macron and two French ministers, Foreign Affairs and Economics, he signed an agreement with the Chinese authorities to create a cultural and ecological park in the Sichuan region, next to the Park of the Pandas.
And if Versailles is under way and Sichuan well launched, in what Louis-Albert thinks, since he moved here, it is in the project that he would like to create, in Comporta, causing the Alentejo and Portugal to position themselves as “defenders of order , an inspiration of what should be the territory of the 21st century. Now dream of erecting that piece of land facing the sea, surrounded by three natural reserves, a territory that follows its triptych. You have already thought of everything: it would substantially reduce the construction index, create more green areas, more agricultural areas, boost the local economy, not forgetting to integrate art and education into it.
His idea would be to create seven centers: one of agroecology, inspired by permaculture (to give training in this way of working the land and managing the forest); a low tech and high tech innovation center that would boost local agricultural production; an alternative school (inspired by the Montessori philosophy and Bali green schools) that invested in autonomy and innovation; an art center (a museum of Natural Art and Contemporary Art), as a Noah’s ark; a middle-medicine and wellness center and a recycling and processing center; and finally a conference center where scientists, managers and civil society would regularly meet to discuss and disseminate themes such as oceans and food health.
It always follows the same motto: Nature (preserving the ecosystem and cultivating biodiversity), Art (returning identity to territories), Education (using innovation, adapting economies, fostering balance). He called this project “Comporta Utopia”. “Utopia ?!” we asked. Ri. “No. We are not utopians. We are realistic, pragmatic. ” Utopia, he says, quoting Victor Hugo, “is the future of tomorrow.”
The conversation goes on long. Finally, the prince remembers the phrase of Maximilien de Robespierre, that always had hung in the wall of his room and that he adopted like its motto of life: “The discours sans l’action, c’est du vent” without the action is wind “).
Who is this prince?
Article published in Visão on June 13, 2018