In a country with thousands of beautiful châteaux, it’s easy to imagine that any could simply be lost to history. War, weather, revolutions and natural disasters have all taken their toll on the built landscape. But lost royal châteaux? Today we can still visit many of the many palaces and châteaux which have harboured the French kings and queens over the past thousand years. Others have been razed to the ground, and only in our imagination can we glimpse the pomp and glamour of royal life.
In the grounds of the Petit Trianon, the beloved neoclassical villa of Marie Antoinette, sits one of her follies – le Temple de l’Amour, or Temple of Love. Each morning, as she rose from her luxurious bed and glanced out the window, the sight of its elegant Greek-style cupola filled her heart with joy. Marie Antoinette may have loved jewels and fabulous new dresses, and knew how to party, but she also craved the peace and solitude which was completely lacking in the ornate and formal world of the Palace of Versailles. This, she found in the gardens of her Petit Trianon, in her Temple dedicated to Love.
In November 1975, an important world event took place – the first ‘Group of Six’, or G6 summit was held. French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing invited the other five largest and richest industrialised nations – UK, USA, West Germany, Italy and Japan – to a three day summit in a beautiful château surrounded by an ancient forest. There were informal chats, serious meetings about the world economy, and presidential dinners in a sumptuous salle à manger. Versailles? No. Chambord? No. Only 48 kilometres from Paris, the setting for this momentous event was…
In the lush, green hills of the Normandy countryside, in the north of France, lies the tiny village of Camembert. Home to around 200 people and a cheese museum, legend tells us that it was here, in 1791, a priest by the name of Abbot Charles-Jean Bonvoust sought refuge whilst on his way to England, …
The supposed heroes of the French Revolution are names embedded in history – the evil Robespierre, the brave Lafayette, the tragic Jean-Paul Marat. But what of the women of France? They were not idly sitting at home with their embroidery waiting for an end to the chaos: they picked up their pikes and stormed the …
Feeling the winter blues? Take a ride on the exclusive Train Bleu, all the way to the sun-drenched coast of the French Riviera. You’ll be in good company – the Blue Train to Nice saw the likes of The Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson, Coco Chanel, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and all manner of celebrities.
Should you go looking for the prison cell in which Marie-Antoinette spent her last few months, it no longer exists. Imprisoned in the former medieval fortress of the Conciergerie on the Quai d’Horloge in the centre of Paris before her ‘trial’ and death, the dank and dark cell in which she rested, alone, unable even to kiss her children goodbye, was later turned into a memorial. The death of Marie-Antoinette by the sharp blade of the guillotine may have been quick, but her death sentence began well before.
At a ball in 1781, Marie-Antoinette was dressed in a blue gown all sprinkled with sapphires and diamonds; beautiful, young, adored by all, having just given a Dauphin to France, not dreaming of the possibility of a backward step in her brilliant career, she was already on the edge of the abyss. What happened to the Queen, and why was she so unpopular in France?
When Marie-Antoinette arrived in France she was initially adored for her youth, her beauty, her vitality, her generous nature. The old king Louis XV was especially enamoured with his grandson’s new bride. But the palace of Versailles, steeped in courtly rituals and traditions, was not for the faint-hearted. Would she be strong enough to survive life at the palace?
On 2 November 1755, a tiny but healthy baby girl entered the world. Not an ordinary world, hers was the sprawling royal Hofburg complex in Vienna where kings and queens had been born since the 13th century. Nor was she an ordinary baby girl; she was Marie-Antoinette, Archduchess of Austria, who would be crowned Queen of France whilst still a teenager. She was born into privilege and wealth but would end her days in a dank prison on the Seine river; her life would be horrendously cut short by a revolutionary government thirsting for revenge. Here is the first of a series of articles on the life of Marie-Antoinette – daughter, wife, queen, mother, a fashion icon and a hated symbol of a repressive regime.