Le Château de Rambouillet

When my dear friend Emily and I recently realised we had a rare, spare day available together, we decided to make the most of it. We met at the Gare de Montparnasse early in the morning and jumped on a TER train headed south-west. We wanted to explore a new town, a new forest and a new château, and chose well with Rambouillet.

Exterior of the Chateau de Rambouillet; a cream stone façade with pastel blue window frames, iron roof and rounded turret, all against a cloudy sky

A rotund 14th-century Medieval castle on the outside, with jewel-toned Early Modern fittings on the inside, the Château de Rambouillet was suitably luxe, calm and grand for our tastes. Unlike showier sites like the Château de Versailles, Rambouillet was quiet, with very few visitors. Also unlike Versailles, it was a little bit shabby, with some sun-drained fabrics and some unfinished experimentations with renovations (I was charmed by the pale blue and green paint swabs on one window frame.) That said, the banquet hall, its floor and walls made entirely from marble, was strikingly opulent.

An entirely marble ballroom, with panels of streaked red and grey marble in opulent patterns and red and cream checkered floor, with louvre windows

But it was when exploring the gardens and neighbouring cottages of the Rambouillet estate that we realised we had stumbled on a serious treasure. Because the Domaine de Rambouillet is weird.

Entrance to the stone dairy house, the Laiterie de la Reine (Queen's dairy), with stone archway and gold decorated door

A short stroll around the lake from the château, la Laiterie de la reine is a Petit Trianon-style stone pavilion dedicated to the cold storage and consumption of dairy. Louis XVI commissioned the structure for Queen Marie-Antoinette in 1783, as a gift after she apparently saw the château and exclaimed “Comment pourrais-je vivre dans cette gothique crapaudière!” (“How could I live in this gothic toadhouse!”) An elaborate artificial stone grotto with babbling fountain was designed to cool the milk and cheeses for chill dairy parties. Emily, being an expert author and tour guide of French cheeses, was in a reverie. (I myself am still quite miffed to have never been invited to a dairy party.)

The stone grotto with a marble sculpture of a woman surrouned by stone

But it was the Chaumière aux coquillages that most piqued my interest, and shocked the two of us. The round structure was built by the Duc de Penthièvre in the late 18th century for his daughter in law, la Princesse de Lamballe, who was widowed early in her youth and bored senseless on her late husband’s domain. With the appearance of a medieval hut from the outside, the Chaumière was designed solely for the Princess’ entertainment. It is not normal.

View of the thatched hut from a few metres away, gardens in the background and a

With a thatched roof and earthen exterior, it looks like an unassuming cottage. But on approaching, you can see cow bones sticking out of the walls (nowhere explained why.)

Close-up of a thigh bone (or similar) poking conspicuously out of the cottage wall

Inside, there is a single, entirely round room bedecked from floor to ceiling with dark green, cream and red shells. Along the walls, oval mosaics of shells are presented like marine portraits. This is where the Princess would hold her parties. It’s hard to imagine the small talk.

View of the Chaumiere walls and ceiling showing intricate shells displayed like mosaics in opulent patterns

Emily and I headed to Rambouillet, having done little research, hoping to find a pretty town, a pretty forest and a pretty château. We got it- along with a Bacchanalian dairy and a bone party house, for good measure.

Close-up of one of the shell "portraits", in the shape of an urn filled with shells and surrounded by oval frames like a cameo

xx la Muséophile

The Musées de Paris museum map of Paris

 Le Château de Rambouillet, 78120 Rambouillet, France, train station: Rambouillet (line N)

Full rate: €9,50, many statuses free (students, disabled, unemployed, etc.)

Opening hours: Every day except Tuesday: 10am-12pm, 1.30pm-5pm

Wheelchair accessible in some areas

2 thoughts on “Le Château de Rambouillet

  1. Ah yes, a new town, a new forest and a new château. Sounds like a typical day for me! 🧐

    Filing this in my chock-full “Bone party house” file, for posterity. Who knew, Lamballe?!



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