Courtly Cas­tles

Walk through some of the most fa­mous cas­tles of France

Where Paris - - Contents - By Pa­tri­cia Val­i­centi

The cas­tles of France have been homes to kings, queens as well as a fa­mous in­ven­tor, pro­vided back­drops for a host of in­trigues and to­day the pub­lic can dis­cover some of this ex­cep­tional her­itage. Ver­sailles would be­come the seat of the French court and the govern­ment of France un­der Louis XIV and is to­day a UNESCO World Her­itage Site with its 2300 rooms, 1944 win­dows cov­er­ing 18,000 square me­tres and stun­ning grounds. The cas­tle also served as a home to among oth­ers, Louis XV who made his own hot choco­late and marzi­pan in his pri­vate kitchen and Marie-An­toinette who en­joyed play­ing her harp, re­vived the glam­orous balls, hosted a host of par­ties and had a back to na­ture re­treat built on the grounds, the Queen’s Ham­let, and in May the Queen’s House in the ham­let in the Tri­anon Gar­dens on the edge of the Grand Lac re-opened to the pub­lic af­ter an ex­ten­sive restora­tion made pos­si­ble through the pa­tron­age of the house of Dior. For the first time in 200 years vis­i­tors can dis­cover dur­ing a guided visit the re­fined dé­cor in­side the home which con­trasts with its pas­toral ex­te­rior. The charm­ing home sits in the heart of the bu­colic ham­let that was built for Marie-An­toinette by Richard Mique be­tween 1783 and 1787 and would be­come a favoured des­ti­na­tion of the queen. Ele­gant evenings are to be had at Ver­sailles as well with a ser­e­nade in the Hall of Mir­rors and a stun­ning sound and light show on the grounds in the glo­ri­ous gar­dens and copses all capped off with fireworks. The spe­cial evenings are on ev­ery Satur­day through to Septem­ber 15th with the Séré­nade Royale be­ing held at 20 minute in­ter­vals from 6:30pm to

7:50pm dur­ing which you can stroll through the royal apart­ments and the Hall of Mir­rors ac­com­pa­nied by mu­si­cians of the Folie Françoises baroque ensem­ble and dancers of the Compagnie de Danse l’Even­tail. The ex­pe­ri­ence is sim­i­lar to the great balls held back in the 17th cen­tury for which the pub­lic was in at­ten­dance as the au­di­ence. The fab­u­lous fête of sound and light kicks off in the gar­dens at 8:30pm topped off with a fireworks dis­play at 10:50pm. Lo­cated in one of the largest forests in the Paris re­gion, is the Do­main of Chan­tilly, home to the pri­vate apart­ments of the Duke and Duchess d’Au­male, the sec­ond largest col­lec­tion of old paint­ings in France, the largest horse stables in Europe, which house the Mu­seum of the Horse, and one of the most pres­ti­gious li­braries in the world whose col­lec­tion in­cludes the cel­e­brated Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, re­garded as the most im­por­tant il­lu­mi­nated French Gothic man­u­script of the 15th cen­tury. A visit to the do­main pro­vides a glimpse into the gra­cious life­style of the 19th cen­tury, but of­fers a look into the 17th and 18th cen­turies as well. The cas­tle’s apart­ments are a re­flec­tion of the French dec­o­ra­tive arts of the 17th to the 19th cen­turies and are lo­cated in the old­est part of the cas­tle, known as the lit­tle cas­tle that was built in the Re­nais­sance by Jean Bul­lant for Anne de Mont­morency, a Con­sta­ble of France in the 16th cen­tury and who had com­mis­sioned the con­struc­tion of the cas­tle. Among the most amus­ing rooms in­side is the Grande Sin­gerie dec­o­rated with whim­si­cal, rich il­lus­tra­tions of, no­tably, mon­keys. The dé­cor re­flects the 18th cen­tury taste for the ex­otic, fash­ion­able dur­ing the Re­gency and at the be­gin­ning of the reign of Louis XV. Cur­rently an ex­hi­bi­tion, on show through to Oc­to­ber 14th, fo­cus­ing in on paint­ings of horse races is be­ing held in the do­main’s Salle du Jeu de Paume ex­hi­bi­tion space. The show en­ti­tled Pein­dre les Cour­ses (Paint­ing the Races) is ar­tic­u­lated around three ma­jor artists, Ge­orge Stubbs, Théodore Géri­cault and Edgar De­gas and brings to­gether some 70 paint­ings, draw­ings, sculp­tures, pho­to­graphs and films. Mean­while, a bevy of cas­tles stud the Loire Val­ley just two hours south of Paris. One of the re­gion’s most cel­e­brated res­i­dents was Leonardo da Vinci who lived in, in­vented in and died in the Château of Clos Lucé in Am­boise. The pri­vately owned his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ment has been opened to the pub­lic by the Saint Bris fam­ily since 1954 and in 2016 it cel­e­brated the com­ple­tion of its ren­o­va­tion and restora­tion work. Among the mar­vels that the vis­i­tors can dis­cover are the work­shops of the great in­ven­tor and de­signer Leonardo, who came to France at the age of 64 upon the in­vi­ta­tion of King Fran­cis I. He so­journed in Clos Lucé from 1516 to 1519 when he died, and the cas­tle has been, and is, cel­e­brat­ing the 500th an­niver­sary of his stay from 2016 through to 2019 with spe­cial events and pro­grammes. This year’s event at the cas­tle is en­ti­tled Dreams of Fly­ing and is de­voted to Leonardo da Vinci and his con­cep­tion of fly­ing as well as his in­flu­ence on hu­man flight.

Just 35 min­utes from the Clos Lucé one finds the royal cas­tle of Blois sit­ting on the Loire River and which has played host to myr­iad il­lus­tri­ous vis­i­tors in­clud­ing seven kings and 10 queens of France, among them Louis XII, Henry IV and Fran­cis I as well as both Cather­ine and Marie de’ Medici, queen con­sorts to re­spec­tively Henry II and Henry IV. The his­toric mon­u­ment is a unique ex­am­ple of French ar­chi­tec­tural styles from the 13th to the 17th cen­turies and its four fa­cades each date from dif­fer­ent eras. The cas­tle is putting on a new sound and light show in its court­yard re­count­ing the thou­sand-year his­tory of the Château of Blois and the show is held ev­ery night (ex­cept July 13th) at 10:30pm. While at the cas­tle you can also take in an es­cape game re­volv­ing around the most cel­e­brated his­toric event that took place there, the as­sas­si­na­tion of the Duke of Guise in De­cem­ber of 1588. The mys­tery-filled game for 10 to 12 play­ers is on from July 7th on Thurs­days, Fri­days, Satur­days and Sun­days. CHATEAU OF BLOIS 6 Place du Château, 41000 Blois, 02 54 90 33 32 CHATEAU OF CLOS LUCE 2 rue du Clos Lucé, 37400 Am­boise, 02 47 57 00 73 CHATEAU AND DO­MAIN OF CHAN­TILLY Rue du Con­nétable, 60500 Chan­tilly, 03 44 27 31 80 CHATEAU OF VER­SAILLES Av­enue Rock­e­feller, Ver­sailles 78000, 01 30 83 78 00

Op­po­site page : The spec­tac­u­lar sound and light show in the gar­dens of Ver­sailles with fireworks (top), and a view onto the gallery and the bil­liard house of the Queen’s House at Ver­sailles This page: An ae­rial view of the Royal Château of Blois (above) and the Sound and Light show at the Royal Château of Blois

Clock­wise from top: An ae­rial view of Chan­tilly and its grounds, an ae­rial view of the cas­tle of Pyre in Bur­gundy, and Leonardo da Vinci’s bed­room at the Clos Lucé

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