Nestled in a northwestern suburb of Paris just 20 minutes from the city center, find the Château de Maisons-Laffitte (Maisons-Laffitte Castle). During this short trip, the dense neighborhoods of the capital fade into unspoiled pastures. Located just outside of the commercial district, the castle blends perfectly into its surroundings. However, that’s not to say that it doesn’t inspire awe and fascination. On the contrary, the more you explore this castle, the more you’ll want to know. Not only does it have intriguing history, but it also represents an important architectural achievement, and its interior is ornate enough to rival more famous French castles.
Delve into the castle’s history
The castle exists thanks to the de Longueil family who was associated with the Parlement of Paris (Paris Parliament), an appellate court in France’s Old Regime. This family possessed part of the land in this area starting in 1450. They gained full possession in 1602. Rene de Longueil started construction on the castle in the 1640s, funding the work partially with his deceased father’s fortune, but mainly with his wife’s wealth. Being an astute politician, de Longueil realized the potential power the castle could engender thanks to its proximity to the royal capital and to the Saint Germain-en-Laye Castle, King Louis XIII’s favorite hunting domain. He constructed his castle with the intention of welcoming the king after hunting trips. Construction on the main part of the castle finished around 1650, but stables, exterior buildings, and gardens took an additional twenty years to complete.
At de Longueil’s death in 1677, the castle was handed down to his heirs until 1732. For the following 40 years it passed hands twice between two families of marquises. In 1777, it became property of Louis XVI’s brother the Comte d’Artois (Count of Artois). He made interior changes, but these were not completed due to lack of funds. The castle was confiscated as national goods during the revolution and was then sold four times between 1798 and 1850, most notably to a Parisian banker Jacques Laffitte. Beginning in 1834, Laffitte developed the land into lots for people to build houses on. The French government bought it in 1905 to protect it from demolition. It has been listed as a historic monument since 1914.
Discover an architectural gem of the 17th century
The castle marks an important architectural transition between the late renaissance and classicism. It was designed by François Mansart who is considered to be one of the first classical architects. He is known for his work on both castles and churches. Maisons-Laffitte is heralded as a masterpiece because of its symmetry and the balance between various elements in the main building. Elements of the castle inspired more well-known castles such as Vaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles. In more modern times, it influenced Buenos Aires’ Plaza Constitución terminal train station as well as a hotel and seminar center in the suburbs of Beijing.
See how the nobles lived
The decorations in the castle are nothing but sumptuous. Upon entering the first floor of the castle, you will encounter Rene de Longeuil’s office, the antechamber (complete with a perfectly conserved pool table), various dining rooms, and de Longeuil’s bedroom. Each room seems more ornate than the last. Various decorative elements such as carved fireplaces, intricate chandeliers, and gold-framed paintings can be seen throughout the castle. On the second floor, find the ladies’ apartments, the grand hall used for receptions and banquets, and the king’s apartment (which was only used during royal visits).
Prepare your visit
To reach Maisons-Laffitte, take the RER A line 3 or 5 and get off at stop Maisons-Laffitte. The castle is a short walk from the train station and is well-indicated by signs in town. The castle is open every day except Tuesday from 10.00 AM to 12.00 PM and from 2.00 PM to 5.00 PM (until 6.00 PM during summer). Tickets cost 7.50 EUR (8.30 USD) for adults and 6.00 EUR (6.60 USD) for young people aged 18 to 25. Entrance is free for European citizens under 26 and for children under 18. Plan about one hour for your visit.
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