There are many day trips you can take from Paris, but one of the best for any fan of literature or architecture must visit the Château de Monte Cristo just outside Paris. It’s a delightful château that the author Alexander Dumas (1802-1870) had built for him in 1844 after his two novels, The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers shot him to the top of 19th-century bestsellers lists.
To escape the pressure of his fame, Dumas moved from Paris to Saint Germain-en-Laye then found a plot of land on a hill just by Le Port-Marly for his new project which was to be his ’miniature paradise on earth’.
His rather romantic vision was for a Renaissance château with the smaller red-brick Le Château d’If as his workspace, an English-style park and plenty of grottoes, rockeries, and small waterfalls. Money was no object and he employed the fashionable architect Hippolyte Durand, who went on to design the Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception at Lourdes in 1872.
Surrounded by rolling parkland, the Renaissance-style château is quite small. Its honey-colored facade, just three stories high and topped with round domes, is covered with stone carvings of floral motifs, angels, musical instruments and great writers and philosophers including the likes of Dante, Homer, and Shakespeare. Dumas himself is center stage above the main entrance.
How to Tour
The château is delightful, a rather homely castle you could imagine living in. It takes you through the story of this extraordinary writer.
You wander through a small set of rooms decorated with furniture, art, sculptures, and artifacts. The Moorish room on the first floor comes as a surprise among the European-style decor, but it's as authentic as you could want. The intimate room—perfect for seduction—was decorated by a Tunisian craftsman he met during his extensive travels and brought back to work on the building.
A generous host and bon viveur, he lived surrounded by his mistresses and friends, hangers-on and his dogs, cats, parrots, and monkeys. Despite the vast amounts of money he earned, he was forced to sell the château though he remained there until 1851. After that Dumas lived a peripatetic existence in Belgium, Russia, and Italy.
Dumas died in 1870 at Puys, near Dieppe, in the house of his son Alexandre Dumas the Younger, best known for The Lady of the Camellias. The château passed from hand to hand, suffered from neglect and became dilapidated. It was rescued from destruction in 1969 by the local authorities and the Friends of Monte-Cristo.
Dumas’ reputation as a literary giant suffered a roller coaster as fashions changed and it wasn’t until the late 20th century that his reputation was re-established. Today films and TV series ensure that his classics which include The Man in the Iron Mask and The Count of Monte Cristo (set on the Ile d'If just off Marseille) are familiar to a whole new generation.
Practical Information to Get There
- Address: Château de Monte-Cristo, 78560 Le Port-Marly
- Open: April 1st to November 1st, Tues-Sun 10am-12:30pm & 2-6pm
November 2nd to March 31st, Sundays 2pm-5pm
- By train and bus: From Paris, take the train from Gare Saint Lazare to Marley-le-Roi SNCF station or the RER line A to Saint Germain-en-Laye. Take Bus 10 from the station, signed to Saint Nom la Bretèche. Get out at Les Lampes. Walk down the avenue Kennedy then take the first right on the Chemin des Montferrand.
- By car: Take the autoroute A13. Exit at Saint-Germain-en-Laye on to N186. Follow signs to Saint-Germain-en-Laye. At the 6th traffic lights, take the left road to Marly le Roi. Take the Chemin du Haut des Ormes to the Clinique de l’Europe. There is an automatic gate giving access to the château’s car park. Ring the bell for access.