Château de Rambouillet
The Yvelines has a rich heritage of historic abbeys and Châteaux, some forty museums as well as the homes of famous composers, writers and artists. Most famous of the Châteaux, Versailles with its opulence and grandeur, was a perfect stage for the monarchy of France over the years. Once the hunting lodge of Louis XIII, the Sun King, Louis XIV, based his court and government in the splendid palace he created. At his behest, Le Notre created the world famous model of French formal landscaped gardens. With myriad statues, ornamental pools with fountains and a canal, the grounds are enchanting. Further embellished in the 18th century under Louis XV and Louis XVI, it acquired further apartments, the Hall of Mirrors and the King’s Opera House. In the Great Stables, the Musée des Carrosses has everything from Royal Sledges to the funeral carriage of Louis XVIII. The Osmothèque preserves the heritage of over 1,200 perfumes of the past and present, including Napoleon’s Eau de Cologne used during his exile on Saint Helena.
Château de Rambouillet
Another royal residence, the Château de Rambouillet, has retained its 14th century walls, bastions and keep. Set in a 20,000 Hectare forest, the hunting ground of kings for many years, with lakes, canals and ponds, it was here that François I died, that Charles X abdicated and that Louis XVI and Napoleon lived. Now a presidential residence, two remarkable and unexpected buildings remain from the past. The ‘Pavillon des Coquillages’ or shell cottage, built in 1775 by the Duc de Penthièvre is the stuff of childrens’ fairytales with its shell encrusted salon. Even more unusual is the Queen’s Dairy, created by Louis XVI to indulge Marie Antoinette who is said to have gone there only once. This exotic sandstone and marble domed room with seven tiers of rose windows even has a grotto featuring a beautiful sculpture of a woman and cow by Pierre Julien, winner of the Grand Prix de Rome . By any standards this is an extraordinary milking parlour. Here, too, is the Bergerie Nationale, once a hunting lodge of Louis XVI and now the Musée du Mouton demonstrating the everyday life and workings of a real farm.
Château de Mauvières
At the elegant Chateau de Mauvières at Saint Forgt which dates from the time of Louis XV, Cyrano de Bergerac was the most famous child to grow up in the estate farmhouse. The richly decorated Château de Breteuil contains forty waxwork effigies from Louis XVI to Puss in Boots whilst at the Château de Thoiry, besides the collection of objets d’art and furniture, famous historical characters assisted by audio visual technology, tell their story from their portraits, In the grounds there is an African game reserve and the formal gardens include a maze with 5,300 yews. The Château des Maisons on the Seine faces the forest of Saint-Germain-en Laye, Louis XIV’s hunting ground. The elegant late 17th century Château de Dampierre designed by Hardouin-Mansart is set in grounds by le Notre whilst the Château de Neuville built in 1560 at the request of the King’s Grand Provost and restored in 1750 by Agnès de Révolm is set in 100 hectares of parkland and is a masterpiece of harmony and elegance. The Renaissance style Château de Monte-Cristo with its unusual Moorish salon was the home of Alexandre Dumas and is at Port-Marly.
Amongst the variety of museums, at Rambouillet over 4,000 items and 400 metres of track illustrate the history of the railways at the Musée Rambolitrain, a delight to young and old alike, and the Musée du Jeu de l’Oie has 2,500 examples of such games as snakes and ladders. At Poissy,with its Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in the shadow of the 12/13th century Collegiate church where Louis IX was born, the Musée du Jouet has a collection of toys and games from the 19th and early 20th centuries as well as the famous Villa Savoy of Le Corbusier. Ravel composed the Boléro and other famous pieces in ‘Le Belvédère, at Montfort-l’Amaury where he lived from 1921 until his death in 1937, and which now is the fascinating Maison-Musée Maurice Ravel. At Saint-Germain-en-Laye as well as the Musée des Antiquités Nationales housed in the Renaissance Château built by Francois I, there is the Musée Claude Debussy in the listed 18th century house where the composer was born. Also in Yvelines are the homes of André Derain, Emile Zola, Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet, Léon Blum, Jean Monnet and Ivan Tourgueniev.