What can one say about the Château de Champs-sur-Marne (www.chateau-champs-sur-marne.fr/en), which was built in a loop in the River Marne and constructed on request from a financier of Louis XIV between 1703 and 1708 by architects Pierre Bullet and Jean-Baptiste Bullet de Chamblain. Sumptuous is one word that springs to mind.
It is a symbol of elegance and a country retreat and home to some illustrious tenants guests who held court here - including the Marquise de Pompadour in the 18th century, and writers including Diderot, Proust and Voltaire.
This is given that the château contains rococo and Chinoiserie décor, which is very much in vogue in the 18th century and expressed a taste for ornamental Far-Eastern artwork, painted is in the style of the mid-18th century by Christophe Huet.
Following six years of closure during it was renovated the chateau opened to the public in summer 2013. Managed under the auspices of the Centre des Monuments Nationaux (www.monuments-nationaux.fr/en/), which saw around 8.6 million visitors to all its sites across France during 2015, it oozes the 18th century.
The château accepts the Paris Museum Pass and charges a full admission price €8.00 with under 26 year-olds free. Opening to the public in 1974 for the first time it ceased in its official capacity before undergoing an extensive makeover in recent years with a re-designed route.
On show inside are some exceptional pieces of furniture and interior decoration reflecting its rich past that at the turn of the century included the first proprietor’s bankruptcy and another’s embezzlement who ended up in the Bastille. Fodder for the movies.
The grounds, awarded the ‘Remarkable gardens of France’ label, are in a leafy setting of 85 hectares of parkland (originally it spanned 600 hectares), where the French-style garden ornaments cohabit harmoniously with the meadows and mature trees of an English-style park.
This remarkable setting located just 18km to the east of Paris in Seine-et-Marne region (Department 77). Each room is decorated with furniture, oil paintings and precious objects.
For example, the Chinese Salon (room 4) on the ground floor is a major reception room - the woodwork painted with Chinoiserie décor created in about 1748. A set of Louis XV chairs covered with tapestries were introduced into the room to illustrate the La Fontaine fables.
In total there are more than nine hundred articles and items of furniture made by some of the greatest names in cabinetmaking, make it one of the most magnificently furnished châteaux in the Ile-de-France.
Champs & The Cinema
Château de Champs-sur-Marne has furthermore been the inspiration for film directors over many years and provided the set for more than eighty feature films, playing host to some famous French and international actors, such as John Malkovich and Glenn Close in ‘Liaisons Dangereuses’ by Stephen Frears (1986), Kirsten Dunst in Sofia Coppola’s ‘Marie-Antoinette’ (2006), Gérard Depardieu in Roland Joffé’s ‘Vatel’ (1999) and Jeremy Irons in Volker Schlöndorff’s ‘Swann In Love’ (2004) amongst others.
If you have seen the amazing recent re-digitalized version of Stanley Kubrick’s 1974 film adaption of Thackeray’s ‘Barry Lyndon’, then you could be forgiven for thinking that some of the scenes were shot here. It would have been absolutely perfect for the Lady Lyndon scene with actress Marisa Berenson.
Banker Louis Cahen d'Anvers, who was born in Antwerp and connected with the founding of Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP Paribas) purchased the estate in 1895 and undertook significant restoration work. This restoration he entrusted to the architect Walter Destailleur and was completed by the addition of high-quality collections and furniture.
Fast forward to 1935 and Louis’ son Charles Cahen d’Anvers gave the château to the State, when it became an official residence of the President of the Republic. From 1959 until 1974, it hosted foreign Heads of State, on the invitation of General de Gaulle. And, you can see the very room where those foreign dignitaries stayed.
There are 22 rooms to visit on the ground and first floors. I found the grand salon (marked Room No. 2) on the ground floor overlooking the garden through three large arched windows and Trumeau mirrors complementing the decor among the highlights - and there were many.
Add to that the library and billiard room (No. 7), which was decorated in the same style as the smoking room. The French oak billiard from 1906 is on display with its accessories. The children’s dining room (No. 11) was used as a dining room in the 18th century – the faux marble stucco created by Louis Mansieux is the only surviving type of décor from the 18th century.
On the first floor after you have walked up the main staircase - decorated with the initials ‘LC’ (Louis Cahen) - the music room (No.13) offers an exceptional view of the landscape gardens. There is also the grand bedchamber (No.15) reserved back in the day for distinguished guests, with 18th panelling featuring sculpted birds, Louis Cahen’s office in the corner salon (No.16).
The château looks onto a grand parterre, a formal garden constructed on a level substrate that comprises plant beds typically in symmetrical patterns. French parterres, which originated in the gardens of the French Renaissance of the 15th century, reached their greatest development at the Palace of Versailles and inspired many similar parterres throughout Europe.
At there are two basins and an extended central axis that sweeps down all the way to the Marne, laid out in around 1710 by Claude Desgotz (1658-1732), the nephew and pupil of Andre Le Notre, who was the designer of the gardens at Versailles that set the pattern for grand gardening in France up to the Revolution.
It was Louis Cahen d’Anvers who bought statues - both originals and copies - and had them installed around the gardens. The central axis of the garden consists of a near 900-metres long perspective that takes in two pools.
The first of these is the Scylla Pool, a circular water mirror in perspective and copied by a designed by Le Brun. The lead sculpture is supposed to represent the nymph Scylla being transformed into a monster.
The average duration of a visit to the chateau is 1 hr 15 minutes, and allow perhaps 1-2 hrs for the gardens where you can see an organgery, boxtree embroidery, the Horses of Apollo (a larger reproduction of a Versailles original measuring 9m in height), and the Popes’ well, a 16th century baptismal font.
Hotels & Transport
For the purposes of this visit I stayed at the Vienna House’s luxury 4-star Dream Castle (www.viennahouse.com/en/dream-castle-paris/), which is located a just 10 minutes journey from Disney Parks and Disney Village by free shuttle bus for several days during a visit to Seine-et-Marne region.
It also runs to the train/RER station, with Paris city centre, Charles de Gaulle airport and the Champagne region all half an hour away. Reims, the champagne capital is 1 hour 15 minutes away.
Handily the hotel venue located for a visit to another outstanding historical monument, Château de Ferrières (www.ferrieres-paris.com/en/) in le goût Rothschild located 26km east of Paris.
The imposing building, which is a quarter of an hour by road (12.5 km) via the A4 from Château de Champs-sur-Marne, is inspired on Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire. It was initiated on the instructions of Baron de James Rothschild in the 1850s and built by British architect Joseph Paxton, who was responsible for the Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Plus you might want to partake in a brie binge by paying a visit to the town of Meaux (www.cheese-france.com/cheese/brie.htm), for its quaint museum and where brie is a designated AOC product since 1980.
But it was back in 1814 at the Congress of Vienna that Brie de Meaux was awarded the first prize in a competition and declared the ‘Le Roi des Fromages’ (The King of Cheeses). For lunch one could try Le Maison Meldoise in the heart of Meaux near the museum and church for some authentic regional cuisine (www.la-maison-meldoise.com/).
In 1975, Guy de Rothschild and his wife donated the château to the chancellery of the University of Paris. More recently and since late 2015, the property has been used as a school called ‘École Ferrières’, which focuses on gastronomy and the hospitality industry. It has also used to shoot scenes in Roman Polanski’s film ‘The Ninth Gate’ (2000).
Dining there at ‘Le Baron’ restaurant was an exceptional gourmet experience where we were treated to a main course of sea bass on a base of vegetables followed by dessert consisting of chocolates and lemon sorbet. One could also check a second very nearby restaurant - or bistro - on the former kitchen called ‘Le Chai’. It recently underwent a major building renovation project to bring it to life and can be accessed across the shingle drive or a tunnel running at basement level from the chateau itself.
Inspired by the splendour of historic European castles, one can relax on the terrace of the Dream Castle (www.viennahouse.com/en/dream-castle-paris/Tel: +33 1 64 17 90 00) in summer or stroll in the French gardens and take in the view of the nearby lake. The Austrian hotel chain also runs thirty other hotels across Europe and the Magic Circus (www.viennahouse.com/en/magic-circus-paris/), located about 300 metres distance from the Dream Castle.
Marking the 25th anniversary of Disneyland in Paris, Vienna House is offering a Celebration package at their hotels until 31 December 2017, from €165 that includes accommodation and two day tickets for the two Disney Parks/per person.
Château de Champs-sur-Marne can be reached train in around 20 minutes from central Paris by RER A (Noisiel), bus 220 direction Bry-sur-Marne, or by road from Paris via the A4, exit 10.
Roger, who also contributes to Forbes, travelled from London (St Pancras) to Paris (Gare de Nord) on Eurostar Standard premier class. Séverine Camblong, PR & Media Relations at Seine-et-Marne Tourisme (www.visit.pariswhatelse.fr) provided translation services at the chateaux.