Vaux-le-Vicomte | 55 km from Paris
Rehearsal of Versailles
Rising up the career ladder at the Ministry of Finance under the ‘Sun King’, Nicolas Fouquet never forgot his mansion. The manor was designed by Louis Le Vau, the interior – by Charles Le Brun, and the park by André Le Nôtre. Fouquet never came to enjoy the fruits of their labor, though. During the housewarming ceremony in 1661, the Treasurer generously gave a horse to each invitee. Then the patience of Louis XIV ran out, and he ordered that the trusted musketeer d’Artagnan arrest the arrogant nobleman. The Gascon became the hero of novels, while the team of designers (Le Vau, Le Brun and Le Nôtre) were lured into the construction of Versailles. Vaux-le-Vicomte changed owners until 1847, when its master, the Count of Choiseul-Praslin, stabbed the mother of his eight children out of his passion for a governess. After that tragedy the castle was left empty until the sugar tycoon, Alfred Sommier, purchased it. Today, summer dinner parties for the cream of Parisian society are organized here. Don’t miss the kitchen (the legendary chef François Vatel worked here) and the stables where the Museum of Carriages is located.
Malmaison | 15 km from Paris
Home to Napoleon and Josephine
In the cozy castle in the middle of the forest, Napoleon spent weekends in the company of his beloved one. The women’s quarters are decorated with golden wallpaper and faience, and have a music salon; the men’s include a library with a globe, a billiard room and a conference room, where ministers came to intrude upon the privacy of the consul (and subsequently the emperor) with urgent affairs of state. Here, Josephine passionately engaged in gardening: she ordered rose bulbs from Martinique, designed greenhouses for pineapples, and equipped expeditions for black swans and emus. At least 200 species of plants appeared in Europe thanks to her passion for botany. After the divorce, Malmaison remained in Josephine’s possession. She quietly passed away here from a cold that she caught during a stroll with the Russian Emperor Alexander I in 1814. The abandoned mansion was transformed into the museum by the philanthropist Daniel Iffla, who bought the palace and garden in 1896.
Chantilly | 50 km from Paris
Prince Louis II of Conde, the most famous owner of this castle, dreamed of becoming a horse in his next incarnation. Aga Khan IV, the current owner of the castle stables, designed them so that the reincarnated prince would be comfortable: the steeds live in polished wood and leather, and show the miracles of equestrian art to the visitors. In 1671, a famous reception was held in Chantilly at which Conde hoped to win back the favor of Louis XIV. The organiser of the celebration was the chef François Vatel: Delighted with a lavish feast, the King forgave Conde for his opposition. However, on the last day of the celebrations, Vatel committed suicide out of fear that the fish would not be served in due time.
St-Jean-de-Beauregard | 28 km from Paris
Temple of Agriculture
The current owners of the castle are the descendants of the Duke of Caraman, who bought this property in 1879. They live here year-round, carefully preserving the interior designs from the 17th century, and sometimes do the digging work in the garden themselves. After all, it was the view from the windows over the garden а la française, which gave the palace its name Beauregard, meaning ‘Beautiful View’. The owners’ passion for agriculture attracts a lot of specialists and amateurs to Beauregard. There is an old pigeon house with a spiral staircase on the territory. It used to be the source of tender meat, eggs and bird dropping fertilizer. A small part of the park is designed in English style that gave the gardeners an opportunity to experiment with Canadian cedars and Indian chestnuts that appeared in Europe during the colonial era.
Thoiry | 40 km from Paris
Zoo in the Sundial
Raoul Moreau, the Intendent of Finances of Henry II, was busy searching for the philosopher’s stone in his spare time from accounting. An amateur alchemist, he arranged the manor based on a model of a sundial: the park alleys were the division of the dial, and the shadow from the mansion was the arrow. In 1968, the new owner of Thoiry, Paul de la Panouse, decided to open a zoo where wild animals would wander freely and visitors would look at them from a caged car. Tourists visiting the safari park often fail to explore the castle. And it’s a shame, as it is one of the few mansions of the 16th century that survived the revolution. Today, the owners represent the 13th generation of the Panouses who live here and preserve family archives containing letters from many prominent people, Marquise de Pompadour, Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Rousseau among them.
Rambouillet | 50 km from Paris
Rococo and sheep for the beloved
Francis I’s hunting castle was the summer residence of the French presidents for more than a century, and only since 2009 has it been open to ordinary mortals. There are many sad moments in its history: Francis himself died here of sepsis, Napoleon I waited inside these walls to be exiled to St. Helena, the last representative of the Bourbon dynasty, Charles X, abdicated the throne here. But above all, Rambouillet embodies the history of the touching attachment of Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette. To charm the young Austrian who hated hunting and found Rambouillet too gloomy and ‘gothic’, Louis ordered to decorate for her the entire side wing in the airy rococo style, planted an English park, and arranged a decorative bucolic cowshed with neatly trimmed lambs and a pseudo-rural dairy farm. Today, it serves as a mini-museum for Sèvres porcelain. The Queen never really fell in love with Rambouillet, though: she consistently referred to it as a ‘toad swamp’.
La Roche-Guyon | 70 km from Paris
La Roche-Guyon is the only commune of Ile de France that is on the list of the most beautiful villages in France. It gained this title thanks to the white limestone rocks that overhang the Seine. The Gauls were first to use the pliable stone for building houses. The cave church appeared here in the Middle Ages, and modern garages were housed in niches cut through to store ammunition at the end of World War II. The tunnel with steep staircases, driven in the cretaceous rock connects the ruins of the watchtower with the castle of the 18th century. The fascist field marshals chose La Roche-Guyon as their headquarters during the occupation and thoroughly emptied its interior, that is why works of modern artists have been exhibited here in place of the furniture from the Regency era.
Text: Daria Knyazeva
Published on: May 20, 2018