In August of 2020 I issued myself a challenge. International borders were still closed, so I decided it was time to explore more of France. And to help guide me, I purchased a subscription to the Passion Monuments card. For one year, I would have unlimited access to the 100+ monuments and historical sites managed by the Centre for National Monuments. I knew I wouldn’t see them all. But I was looking forward to the adventure of seeing how many I could. It was going to be an amazing year of exploring France.
At least, that was the plan. Unfortunately, the pandemic had a different one entirely. Less than two months after this challenge began, cultural sites all over France shut their doors as part of the second COVID lockdown. Or as I like to call it, The Long Winter. For seven months, museums, chateaus, and historical sites were all closed, and as a result, my challenge was put on hold. Which meant that when everything re-opened last May, I was more than ready to start exploring once more. Thankfully, the Centre for National Monuments extended my subscription to account for the closure. And now, 19 months after it began, this challenge has finally come to an end. My grand total? 13 monuments.
I know what you’re probably thinking. 13? That’s it? I know that 13 monuments probably doesn’t sound like a lot. And I will admit that I had definitely hoped for a higher number. However, I quickly discovered that many of the national monuments were difficult to get to without a car. I particularly wanted to visit the Château de Pierrefonds, but have yet to figure out a way to get there by public transit. But to be clear. Everything I did manage to visit was incredible.
In Champs-sur-Marne and Rambouillet, I practically had the castles to myself as I explored their halls. Walking through the Château de Vincennes was like stepping back in time. And I will never forget climbing to the top of the Arc de Triomphe while it was fully wrapped in fabric as part of the final art installation of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. That was truly a once in a lifetime experience.
But my favourite monument by far was the Château d’Angers and the Apocalypse Tapestry found within. This tapestry is the largest and most well preserved tapestry from the Middle Ages, and it is just breathtaking to see up close. I could have spent hours in that room, taking in every detail. And I did. The tapestry was absolutely the highlight of this challenge.
If you’re now wondering what’s next, it will probably come as no surprise to learn that I have already renewed my subscription for another year. 13 monuments was a lot to see. But there is so much more out there to discover. And now that I finally (finally!!!) have my French driver’s licence, I can explore even further. Château de Pierrefonds here I come!
Thank you so much for following along with me on this journey. I hope I have inspired you to explore the Centre for National Monuments and the many historical sites they preserve and maintain. And if you live in France, perhaps you might want to consider subscribing yourself. There’s so many incredible things to see. I promise you it’s worth it.
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.