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.
The year is 1984. A French radio journalist and his crew have descended upon the Château de Veauce, in the village of the same name, the tiniest village in the Allier department. They are hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous Lucie, the White Lady who materialises in the medieval tower at midnight, making the château one of the most haunted houses in France.
Classical and elegant, yet bold and brilliant, the city of Bordeaux has something for everyone. If you love wine, it’s among the best in the world. If you love food, there is foie gras and canelés. If you love history, Bordeaux is a potent mix of the medieval, the Renaissance and the modern. In fact, walk around the city and you’ll find almost half of it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. For those of you like me who adore their history, here are the best things to do and see in Bordeaux.
Take yourself back to the markets of Les Halles, Paris, exactly 231 years ago, and join the women who will march on Versailles. These women were wives and mothers and tired of endlessly waiting in line for bread for their families. They took whatever weapon they could get their hands on, found a spare cannon …
There are so many beautiful châteaux in the Loire Valley, it’s difficult to choose which to visit. The Royal Château of Blois is not the prettiest, but it has been the home of no less than seven French kings and ten queens, and its imposing architecture represents four distinct architectural periods. “The châteaux of few country towns can boast so many and so important events, so long a list of illustrious inmates, or so large a collection of historical recollections, as that of Blois”.
There are some places you visit as a tourist which fill you with sadness and despair at the atrocities committed by men. Oradour-sur-Glane is one of these places. Once a peaceful village in the countryside, in 1944 it was changed forever after one of the most barbarous acts by German soldiers in France in World War II – a massacre in which 642 men, women and children were shot or burnt to death in the local church.
For over 200 years the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, or Strasbourg Cathedral, was the tallest structure in the world. When you stand at its doors and glance upwards, the carved Gothic figures tell you a story, they bring to life the medieval world in which they were created. The Strasbourg Cathedral was one of the first in France I visited, and it has left a lasting impression.
Rising majestically from the banks of the river Gardon, the Pont du Gard is the highest Roman aqueduct in the world. It was the most significant section of a 50 kilometre long aqueduct which channeled water from the Eure springs near Uzès to Nîmes, or Nemausus as it was known to the Romans. Built halfway through the …