It’s always very exciting to enter a newly restored house and Château de Rambouillet, managed by Centre des Monuments Nationaux, is particularly interesting for it glittered under three different regimes. First, King Louis XVI who used to hunt there often (it is close to Versailles) and he asked Hubert Robert to conceive laiterie (milk farm) for Marie Antoinette who did not like to go. Then under the Empire, when Napoléon and Joséphine decided to spend time there and during the Republic, when French presidents used the castle as a shooting lodge for their “Chasses Présidentielles”, of which Giscard d’Estaing was a great adept. Since 2018, and because Emmanuel Macron does not shoot, it is open to the public with 150 has of gardens to visit. In the “Grand Parc”, a large forest full of deer and boars, hunts are managed by Domaine national de Chambord.
Rambouillet was always an intimate house used by French rulers and at the moment (until April 21), an exhibition of Vincent Auriol‘s decors is eye opening. Twenty years before the Pompidou, who are famous for having introduced contemporary designers at l’Elysée, President Auriol chose very daring furniture designers in the immediate post war period. The furniture was restored and lent by Mobilier National. Isabelle de Gourcuff, the administrator since 2021, has been overseeing the works with the eye of an expert. And she speaks about this place with great enthusiasm. After Chambord, Pierrefonds, Fontainebleau it is the fourth castle that she manages.
Born in 1884 in a baker’s family, Auriol was elected a member of Chambre des Députés at 28. He became Minister of Finance of Léon Blum in 1936 and then Minister of Justice. He spent the war in the Resistance and joined de Gaulle in London in 1943. But voted for Mitterrand in the 1965 elections. His wife, Michelle, was the daughter of a glass manufacturer Michel Aucouturier, and she was probably instrumental in the decoration of their houses. During his presidency, for 1947 to 1954, they revamped l’Elysée.
While it is fun to run around the second floor and visit the guest rooms (Madame Coty died in one of them), with their beds in parchment and 1950’s desks, the Napoléon apartments and bathroom are obviously the main point of interest. Restored by architect Christophe Batard with a 2,5 million € budget, it is modest with white paneled rooms and furniture, and wooden floors painted in yellow.
In the bathroom, a chef d’oeuvre à l’antique located in Marie Antoinette’s former boudoir, fourteen medallions are devoted to members of the Bonaparte family. It was realized between 1807 ad 1811. The decoration is very successful and the lighting is soft with candle lightbulbs.
The Auriol rooms are furnished with works by Raymond Subes, cabinet maker André Arbus, Suzanne Guiguichon, Jeanne-Blanche Klotz- Gilles, Pierre Lucas, Jean Pascaud and Genès Babut, who were all young designers at the time. They had a profound desire to modernise every decor. You can visit them with a guide on week days at 10.15 am and 2 pm. Or freely with a ticket reservation for the exhibition.
The castle is beautiful and fun to visit but you can also wander through the park to the laiterie (10 mns away) and to the grotto designed by Hubert Robert for Marie Antoinette and curated by Gabriel Wick, an American expert of the painter’s gardens. The exhibition of Vincent Auriol’s furniture is on until April 21 in the superb 18 th century wood paneled rooms.
Rambouillet is exactly one hour from Paris by car and you can access it by train in 34 mns from Gare Montparnasse plus a 15 min walk. Open every day except Tuesdays and closed from 12 pm to 1.30 pm. It is better to book your timed visit because the bedrooms are small and can only accommodate a few people at a time.
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