Where and What is the Château of the Count of Monte-Cristo?
The Château de Monte-Cristo is just outside Paris to the west, between St-Germain-en-Laye to the north and Versailles to the south. 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 the 19th-century best sellers’ 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 work space, 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.
Tour the Château
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 artefacts. 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 craftsmen he met during his extensive travels and brought back to work on the building.
Dumas as Lover
Writers, artists, society ladies all fell under the spell of the writer, a larger-than-life character whose father was a French aristocrat and plantation owner, Marquis Antoine Alexandre Davy de la Paillèterie, and whose mother, Marie-Louise Labouret, was the daughter of an inn keeper. The Marquis was in turn the son of a black slave which explains Dumas’ exotic looks. The precocious writer was a great womanizer, producing numbers of children, though only two of them, Alexandre Dumas fils (son) and Marie-Alexandrine, both of whom had different mothers, were legitimate.
The tally of Dumas' lovers runs to about 40, but perhaps the most interesting was Adah Isaacs Menken (1835–1868), an extraordinary American painter, poet and the highest earning actress of her time who had a short and scandalous affair with Dumas (he was twice her age at the time) in 1866. She was most famous for her performance in the melodrama Mazeppa, where the climax featured her apparently nude and riding a horse on stage. Her popularity, according to the sharp-tongued critics, had little to do with artistic talent.
“The worst actress on Broadway” declared The New York Times while The Observer was equally dismissive: "She is delightfully unhampered by the shackles of talent".
Dumas as Writer
Dumas’ literary career was stellar. He produced hundreds of plays and novels, though as it turned out, many of them were ghost-written by assistants. He himself wrote in the separate Le Château d’If in the garden. It’s a little nursery rhyme castle which was sold along with the entire estate in 1848, just four years after he had first bought the land. 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.
The ups and downs of Alexandre Dumas' literary reputation
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.
Dumas is reburied
2002 was the bicentennial of Dumas’ birth. The French President, Jacques Chirac, had his ashes taken from the cemetery at Villers-Cotterêts and reburied in the Panthéon alongside other famous French literary figures like Victor Hugo.
The event was as dramatic as any of Dumas’ novels. The coffin, covered by a blue velvet cloth, made its way through the streets of Paris on a carriage pulled by four mounted guards dressed as the four musketeers. Jacques Chirac in a splendid speech honored the writer:
"With you, we were D'Artagnan, Monte Cristo, or Balsamo, riding along the roads of France, touring battlefields, visiting palaces and castles—with you, we dream”.
Château de Monte-Cristo
78560 Le Port-Marly
Tel. 0033 (0)1 39 16 49 49
Open April 1st to November 1st Tues-Sun 10am-12.30pm & 2-6pm
November 2nd to March 31st Sundays 2pm-5pm
Admission Adult 6 euros, 10-25 years 5 euros, under 10 years free
How to get to the Château de Monte-Cristo
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.
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.