When people think of castles in Paris, they typically think of Versailles. The former home of Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette is famous the world over, but it is far from the only castle in Paris. In fact, Paris is surrounded by them, both big and small. I recently paid a visit to a lesser known castle just to the east of the city, and it was extraordinary. Lesser known apparently means less visited, and there were moments when I felt like I had the castle to myself. The next time you find yourself east of Paris, be sure to visit the Château de Champs-sur-Marne. It will be a magical couple of hours.
The Château de Champs-sur-Marne was originally built between 1703 and 1707 for financier Paul Poisson de Bourvalais. Unfortunately, he was thrown in jail soon after on embezzlement charges by the king. This meant that the chateau became the property of the Crown. Several royal, aristocratic, and wealthy owners went on to lay claim to the chateau, and it welcomed countless famous figures over the centuries. It was finally gifted to the French state in 1935, and for several decades it was used to entertain visiting heads of state. The chateau and surrounding park were officially open to the public in 1974, and it has been classified as a National Monument ever since.
Perhaps the most famous owner of the chateau was Louis César de La Baume Le Blanc, a nobleman who was a descendant of one of Louis XIV’s official mistresses. Louis César inherited the chateau in 1739 when he became the duc de La Vallière. At the time, he was famous for being a ferocious bibliophile, often buying entire libraries at a time. The greatest writers of the day were later hosted at the chateau, including Voltaire and Diderot, and literary salons were the order of the day. I’m not green with envy, I promise.
Louis César also became a trusted confidant of Louis XV, and was named Captain of the Hunt and the Grand Falconer of France. He later became close to Madame de Pompadour, the famous mistress of the king, and from 1757 to 1759, he rented her the chateau. Madame de Pompadour would later go down in history as arguably the most famous mistress of the French kings. She was certainly the most famous resident to inhabit the Château de Champs-sur-Marne.
In addition to being a visitor’s site, the chateau today is often used as a filming location. It is very difficult to shut down other famous sites for any length of time, and therefore smaller chateaus often substitute for them on screen. Indeed, as I walked through the gardens, I couldn’t help but feel like the landscape was familiar. Beautiful, certainly, but something that I had seen before. Maybe it was the films. Or maybe it was just me projecting myself into Louis César, wishing I could buy entire libraries at a time. A woman can dream, right?
Whatever the case, it was a magical way to spend a couple of hours. As I said, I had nearly the entire estate to myself, so it was easy to imagine that I was a guest at one of Louis César’s literary salons, talking animatedly with the greatest writers of the day. Sounds like heaven to me. But even if you’re not quite as obsessed with books as I am, the Château de Champs-sur-Marne is still a wonderful day trip from Paris. The building is beautifully restored and the gardens are stunning. Best of all, the lack of crowds means it’s easy to imagine that you’ve gone back in time. I certainly felt like I had spent the afternoon in the 18th century, and it was a glorious.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.