CHATEAU DE MAISONS …. IN MAISONS-LAFFITTE … OUTSIDE PARIS …

CHATEAU DE MAISONS …. IN MAISONS-LAFITTE … OUTSIDE PARIS …   North-east of Paris – to be exact at a distance of 21.5 kms (13 and a half miles) – is the town of Maisons-Lafitte. And in Maisons-Lafitte is the Château de Maisons. One gets to the town – and the château – on the […]

CHATEAU DE MAISONS …. IN MAISONS-LAFITTE … OUTSIDE PARIS …

Chateau de Maisons (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlijns)

Chateau de Maisons (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlijns)

 

North-east of Paris – to be exact at a distance of 21.5 kms (13 and a half miles) – is the town of Maisons-Lafitte. And in Maisons-Lafitte is the Château de Maisons.

One gets to the town – and the château – on the fast RER A3 train: if you get on at the Châtelet-Les-Halles station you will pass through quite a few stations which will include the stations of Charles-de-Gaulle and La Défense. Expect the train to fill, but the ride will be just short of 30 minutes.

The town’s population comes to 23,000, which means it’s not a large town and it is in the Yvelines Department of France.

Central Maisons-Laffitte (cc Marilyn ZTomlins)

Central Maisons-Laffitte (cc Marilyn ZTomlins)

The name Maisons-Lafitte is rather odd (one does not pronounce the final ‘s’) and once the town was called Maisons-sur-Seine – Houses upon the Seine. In 1882 to honour banker Jacques Laffitte, once owner of the château and the man who had developed the land around the chateau which led to the founding of a town, resulted in that town being duly named Maisons-Lafitte.

The way the chateau was once

The way the chateau was once

The town itself is pleasant with a fair degree of charm – there is a horse-racing track and horsey types are on the wealthy side of money –  so the streets are wide and tree-lined and the houses are enormous and, judging by the advertisements in the windows of the estate agents, buying a house in this town would rob you without doubt of no less than 1.5 million euros.

Another plus is that the château is right in the middle of the town at 2, Avenue Carnot, a short walk from the station. Just take the wide tree-lined avenue leading from the station to Place du Château and then, half-way along the avenue, you will see the château on your right at the end of Avenue Général Leclerc.

Chateau's park (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Chateau’s park (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The château was built in the mid-17th century for the man who owned a large parcel of land in Maisons-sur-Seine. The man was René de Longueil, and his family had claimed ownership of the land since 1450. De Longueil, a magistrate serving on France’s highest royal court, and of course wealthy, was not satisfied with the mansion which stood on the land but wanted a château ‘fit for a king’ and he thus hired the most famous architect of the time, François Mansart, to design him one.  Funny thing is that Mansart was not an architect – not as such. Mansart (1598-1666) was a carpenter and a stonemason and sculptor who had learned the skill of architecture working for the architect Salomon de Brosse. Today though he is credited with having introduced classicism to the Baroque architecture of the time, and I suppose one can say ‘so much for university degrees’.

The construction of the château took from 1640 to 1649, and in 1651, decorated and furnished, de Longueil inaugurated his splendid ‘family home’ with a party attended by Anne of Austria and her 12-year-old son who would become King Louis XIV.

King Louis 14 (The Sun King) aged 14 he attended the chateau's housewarming. (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

King Louis 14 (The Sun King) aged 12 he attended the chateau’s housewarming. (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

After de Longueil’s death in 1677, aged 82, the château’s ownership had passed from one wealthy man to another, one of them even to have become King. This was the Count d’Artois, brother of Louis XVI. The Revolution to break out and Louis XVI to be guillotined, the State would seize the property in 1792 and remove the furniture and furnishings like the count’s vast collection of paintings, destroying some of it, and the count would flee from his chateau to go into exile. He did return to France after the fall of Napoléon when he had briefly become Charles X in 1824 though never crowned, and never to return to his chateau, the State having preferred to sell it.

Therefore, the chateau often changed hands, each owner one or other illustrious and wealthy individual.

One owner was the Napoleonic Marshal Jean Lannes (1769-1809) with the reputation of having been one of Napoleon’s most daring and talented generals – and personal friend of the Emperor who had often visited him in his chateau. Of him Napoleon had said: “I found him a pygmy and left him a giant”. Lannes, hit by a cannonball while having a rest during the Battle of Aspern-Esling, had to have both his legs amputated, a crying Napoleon holding the dying man in his arms. (Napoleon was often reduced to tears at the death of one of his ‘Great Army’ commanders.)

In 1818, Jacques Laffitte banker and indeed Governor of the Bank of France (Banque de France) since 1814 until 1820, bought the chateau and began to urbanise the surrounding land. Very wealthy, having founded his own set of banks, he experienced serious financial difficulties from 1830 when he began to sell off his various properties.  In 1844, having undertaken a sugar importing venture, he fell ill with a lung ailment, probably cancer, and passed away. He was 77 years of age. The wealth of the dead man was estimated at 4 million francs.   Like any family, even a poor one, his death resulted in family disputes, parcels of the Maisons-Lafitte property having been sold off. What remained of the property is what one sees, and can visit, today: The Château and its park.

The château does not look huge when approaching it along Avenue Carnot, but once inside the size and the magnificence of the building are striking.

You will be able to go up its staircase – in France such a staircase is always called a ‘grand escalier’ and this one predates that of the Palace of Versailles, and you will be able to wander through the rooms of the château’s two floors.

The Chateux's main salon (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The Chateux’s main salon (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

I said that Maisons-Lafitte is a horseracing town, and so indeed it is, Jacques Laffitte having introduced horseracing to France, the horses being ridden by men, racing against one another here in the fields bordering the Seine.

Betting on horses, as we know it today – and do it today –  also originated here at Maisons-Lafitte.

That was in 1878. The Spanish-born Joseph Oller (1839-1922), having bought a large section of land, had transformed it into a track where the horses could race – a hippodrome. Oller called the betting system he invited ‘pari mutuel’ – mutual betting – all the punters pooling their bets, the payouts being calculated on the pooled amount which had been placed on a horse. His system is still in use today, and not only for horses but also for other sporting events and in lotteries too.

The Spanish Oller also created Paris’ cabaret ‘Moulin Rouge’.

A bedroom knows as 'The King's Bedroom. (cc marilyn Z. Tomlins)

A bedroom known as ‘The King’s Bedroom. (cc marilyn Z. Tomlins)

 

Marshal Lannes's bedroom (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Marshal Lannes’s bedroom (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Maisons-Laffitte Château can be visited every day but Tuesday. It is open from 10 a.m. to 12.30 p.m., and then again from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

An entrance ticket costs €7.50 for an adult and €6 for those between 18-25. For those younger than 18 there is no entrance charge.

The chateau's kitchen (Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The chateau’s kitchen (Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The sink in the kitchen (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The sink in the kitchen (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

 

Another of the chateau's salons. (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Another of the chateau’s salons. (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

 

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

One Response to “CHATEAU DE MAISONS …. IN MAISONS-LAFFITTE … OUTSIDE PARIS …”

  1. 1
    Rangeeni Says:

    Merci, Marilyn, for this lovely reminder of one of the most beautiful chateaux in the Ile-de-France. Its proportions are perfect and its decorations (grand escalier sculptures de platre, wood mosaic floor room etc.) charming. Absolutely worth a visit. Or two.

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