Champs-sur-Marne and Rentilly castles: two views of the French heritage – Meanderings through France
Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Although they were both built during the Ancient Regime and are only a few miles one from the other these two castles have had very different fates. Champs-sur-Marne castle went through time keeping all its charm and splendour and we are lucky enough to enjoy its preserved authenticity. On the other hand the Rentilly castle has suffered many vicissitudes!
Originally built during the 16th century the Rentilly castle has known many owners and several transformations but was neglected shortly before the French Revolution. It came back to life when the Menier Family bought it in 1890. They were famous and wealthy chocolate makers and turned the castle into a family residence luxuriously decorated and furnished. During World War II it was requisitioned and turned into a casern. On August the 21st, 1944 it was blown up with dynamite by the German army and only a few sections of wall remained standing! After the end of the war the Menier family decided to rebuild it in a more sober style with a beautiful ancient Greek style pediment and decorated with stylish panelling and mural paintings. In 1988 it was on sale again and bought by the town where it is located. It was then turned into an arts centre for contemporary art and open to the public. But its misfortune hadn’t come to an end yet! In 2012 the local authorities decided to “rehabilitate” the castle. It’s been striped of all its decorations and ornaments and the remaining empty shell has been covered by a monumental stainless steel structure. It is meant to reflect the hundreds-year-old trees of the park but we may wonder how many birds will crash on this out of place surface! Inside modern art artefacts are shown in big rooms lined with blank walls.
Fortunately the Champs-sur-Marne castle escaped such a sad fate. Built in the beginnings of the 18th century as a countryside residence by an aristocrat of the court of Louis XIV, it still houses wonderful decorations and furniture from the Age of Enlightenment. Thanks to Louis Cahen d’Anvers a banker who bought it in 1895 the castle has exceptional period furniture made by the very best French cabinet-makers as well as the modern conveniences of the 1930’s. The 210 acres park was also restored with a formal garden, a landscape garden and vast meadows. It has been rewarded with the “Jardin Remarquable” label.
The castle is only 18 km east of Paris and is easily reached by car or by public transportation. So it’s no big deal to visit it if you are staying in Paris for a few days. Closed for 6 years for restorations it was reopened to the public in June 2013 and looks at its best! Several movies were made in Champs-sur-Marne castle such as “ Dangerous Liaisons” by Stephen Frears with Glenn Close and John Malkovitch or “Marie Antoinette” by Sofia Coppola with Kirsten Dunst, so you might already have seen its beautiful décor. Contrary to many castles turned into museum this one still looks like a family house. And you can easily imagine the Cahen d’Anvers children running through the rooms. From the “Grand Salon”, the lounge, overlooking the park you will get to the Chinese Lounge with its exceptional Asian style wall paintings from the 18th century. The smoking room, the billiard room, the red lounge, the dining rooms, the bedrooms and even the bathrooms will get you in the world of an upper middle class family of the 1930’s where Marcel Proust, Isadora Duncan, Alphonse XIII king of Spain and many others from the happy few used to stay.
For Christmas Charles Dickens will be the main guest of the castle: there will be guided tours of the castle made by guides dressed in period costume and a show inspired by his tale “A Christmas Carol” published in 1843.
Champs-sur-Marne castle probably is one of the most beautiful French castle open to the public and really deserves a visit. If curious about modern architecture it will take you a few minutes by car to get from there to the Rentilly castle and make your own opinion about this unusual transformation of a classical castle into a block of steel.
To know more:
About Rentilly castle: www.marneetgondoire.fr
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny