To mark one year to the day that I first ventured to France, I thought I’d share some photos and history from the town where I lived: Maisons-Laffitte. It sits about 20km to the north-west of Paris, and is a great little town! I have already posted a few photos from walking out and about in the park, but I’ve not really said much about it… Until now!
Maisons-Laffitte is famous for its racecourse and general pro-horse vibes, so much so that its nickname is the ‘Cité du Cheval‘, and it’s twinned with Newmarket, another fairly equestrian town here in the UK. Another of the town’s main attractions though is the château which, if you haven’t already guessed from the title, is the crux of this post.
The château was built as a bit of a warm up for Versailles by the architect François Mansart, and is his best surviving work. Louis XIV, my all-time favourite of the French monarchs, was present for the inauguration of the castle in 1651. So taken was Louis with the château that he brought the sculptors and decorators to Versailles to work on his infamous palace.
After it was built, Charles Perrault, the French author, wrote:
“The château of Maisons, of which Mansart had made all the buildings and all the gardens, is of such a singular beauty that there is not a curious foreigner who does not go there to see it, as one of the finest things that we have in France.”
Inside, although it is mostly unfurnished, you can still glimpse the grandiosity of it. The beginning of the visit takes you through to a blue billiard room complete with huge billiard table. Billiards was apparently one of the favourite games of Louis XIV, but I don’t see the appeal personally…
Connie and I visited near to the end of the day, and as such the place was pretty much empty. Fantastic news for Connie as she could take full advantage of the few furnishings there were for a late afternoon lie-down.
The ballroom, or Salle des Fêtes, on the first floor was one of my favourite rooms. Up above the huge mirror at the end of the room is the hidey-hole for the musicians who would play the night away whilst the French nobles got their groove on below. It is actually part of the ‘King’s Apartment’ named as such despite no kings ever permanently living there. At the opposite end to the mirror and the tribune for the musicians, is the ‘Hercules Room‘, separated from the main ballroom by a large archway and two smaller doors.
The Château de Maisons-Laffitte has changed owners several times throughout the years. It began in the hands of the Longueil family. René de Longueil was a member of the Parlement de Paris, and Surintendant des Finances in 1651. He built the castle as a venue to welcome King Louis XIV on his way to hunt in the forests surrounding Saint-Germain-en-Laye, as well as other prestigious guests.
The architecture is caught in a time where baroque and classical seem to coexist, with one being more predominant than the other in places. The original main entrance to the castle leads into the vestibule d’honneur, pictured below. It is one of the first châteaux to have a central, and very ‘open’ space. It pushed the staircase to one side of the building which in themselves were quite a masterpiece.
As with any pre-1789 castles in France, it found itself confiscated by the Revolutionaries, and its furnishings auctioned off. It was sold to various different people in a short space of time, but eventually landed in the hands of Jacques Laffitte, a French banker, in 1818.
From 1834 onwards, Laffitte developed the castle and the surrounding areas (now the town and park). He was a bit of a pioneer when it came to suburban real estate, and divided the grounds into lots, which wealthy Parisians bought to develop their own smaller retreats. Such an impact he had on the town of Maisons-sur-Seine, as it was then, that in 1882, it was renamed Maisons-Laffitte in honour of Jacques.
In summation, if you have spare afternoon, take a trip down to the Château de Maisons-Laffitte. It’s not super huge, and it won’t take a lot of your time, but it is very interesting! I didn’t realise how important it was before visiting, choosing rather to go and see the more well-known castles and palaces in the area. It was definitely a surprise!