Continuing our journey North-west, our next notable stop-off was Chateau de Pierrefonds. It had been recommended to us and we had just watched the ultra-cheesy BBC series, Merlin, so it came up at just the right time.
As we approached and drove into the small town of Pierrefonds we caught glimpses of the magnificent castle peeking at us from between the quaint houses. We found a nice shady spot for the van just outside the castle walls and followed them round the grounds and eventually inside. The entrance skirted one side of the building, the imposing structure looming over us and hiding the midday sun.
Under an arch, across a small moat and through the portcullis we found our way into the main central courtyard. A long passageway followed the inner edge of one side; at the top of each arch throughout the length were carvings, each displaying a different animal: monkey, owl, crocodile, lion, tiger, bear… oh my! The main steps leading to the entrance had yet more animal-esque carvings, all of which gave the castle a rather ‘Grimm’ fairy-tale feel.
The original chateau was built in 1397 by Duke Louis of Orleans but was dismantled in the 17th century under Louis III’s order, to prevent it becoming a refuge for his enemies. With its towers ripped open, the building had fallen to ruin when it was bought by Napoleon I in 1810. In 1857 Emperor Napoleon III decided to rebuild it, wanting to turn it into an imperial residence. He commissioned esteemed architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc who wanted to create the ‘ideal chateau’, something that would have existed in the Middle Ages. The work was never completed and instead it was opened to the public as a museum in 1867 (although the building work did not stop until 1885.) This history goes a long way in explaining the elaborate and yet pristine nature of Chateau de Pierrefonds.
Once inside, one of the first things we came to was the main staircase that was often used in Merlin, we were in a jovial mood and (because there was nobody around) we spent probably a little too much time shooting each other from behind the pillars with magic (if you have ever watched the show you will know the serious facial expressions and hand motions this entails!) And then we decided to be adults again.
The space was bright and airy, light beamed through the patterned window onto the pale floor below. Apart from the odd exhibition of sculptures or an historic model or two the rooms were empty and we got to enjoy architecture and design without being distracted. Some rooms had red patterned floors with long red velvet curtains to match, others had stone carved widows reaching from floor to ceiling. Between all the different rooms and levels were labyrinthine passageways and stairwells, some narrow and long, others wide and spiralling, and some a mixture of the two.
We entered out onto the balcony of the chapel, the light poured in through the wide windows. The stained glass of certain sections created kaleidoscope patterns of vibrant colour on the pale stonework. The gallery on which we stood was originally built to allow the soldiers to pass over the choir below, now it offers a great view of the space and the detailed stonework around the room.
More stairwells and passageways…
The next few rooms were different, heavily decorated and full of colour. The dark patterned wallpapers adorned every wall. Bold colours were clashed together as the images of animals, plants, insects and people were used to create repetitive motifs that covered almost every inch of space. The rich wood panelling that covered the rest had the same style of animal-like carvings as the stonework outside. We broke out of these darker rooms into a little corridor; the windows overlooked the town which was awash with trees and drenched in sun, our unaccustomed eyes having to adjust to the gleam.
More passageways and stairwells…
At the bottom of a large staircase were the cellars and mercenary rooms, they seem to have become a somewhat macabre final resting place for the statues and busts that were found during modern excavations of the site. As our eyes adjusted to the dark, and with the help of the soft illuminations, we started to get a more full image of the numerous faces looking up, down and across to us as we meandered through the small walkways. We actually wandered around the castle twice before heading outside to spend some time lounging in the grounds. The views of the fairy-tale castle propped up against a soft blue sky were idyllic! And even better, we discovered a shady archway tucked away in the shadows that lead us down yet another stairwell passageway, through the outer wall right to the van, making us wonder how on earth we missed this shortcut in when we arrived!