Located in the department of Yvelines, a 50 minute drive from Paris, you will find the fabulous Chateau Thoiry.
This is one of the most popular sites in the Ile de France (Paris) region and with good reason – a gorgeous chateau, amazing gardens and an animal park, home to Europe’s first drive through safari park.
The Chateau which has been home to the same family since 1609, was commissioned by Raoul Moreau, treasurer to King Henry II (1519-1559). Moreau was also an alchemist and had many esoteric interests and wanted the chateau to be in perfect harmony with nature. The architect he chose, Philibert de L’Orm, arranged the building so that the centre arch of the castle marks the position of the sun during the summer and winter solstices – an incredible and stunningly beautiful sight. Chateau Thoiry is located on top of a hill, and for 20 days during the summer solstice the sun rises in the Château’s central north-east axis, and for 20 days during the winter solstice it sets in the south-west axis.
Inside the chateau you can view wonderful works of art, porcelains, silverware and furniture such as Petzold’s pianoforte, dating from 1826, on which Frédéric Chopin gave piano lessons in Paris to an ancestor of the owners. In the Tapestry Salon there is a magnificent tapestry from the Gobelins manufactory, presented by King Louis XVI. In the Archive Room, some of the Château’s 50,000 documents bear witness to the lives of the ancestors of the family and illustrate 900 years of European History. There is a seal of King Philippe le Bel, dating from 1285 – a unique exhibit – the manuscript for a waltz by Frédéric Chopin and letters from Philippe V, King of Spain, Louis XIV and Louis XV, revealing the intimate lives of absolute monarchs who were then the embodiment of the state.
The magnificent gardens occupy 95 hectares of the estate and were set in the original woodland, made up mainly of beech, oak, hornbeam and chestnut trees.
In 1559, when the Château was being built, the Gardens were designed as a showcase for the estate. In the 18th century, Claude Desgot, nephew and successor to the landscape architect Le Nôtre, adopted the style of the French formal gardens by imposing a strict geometric order on the terraces, central alleys and flowerbeds. However, he retained the axes of the initial design.
In the 19th century, the romantic view of nature was the inspiration for the Anglo-Chinese gardens. Châtelain, and then Varé, renowned landscape architects who were passionate proponents of the Romantic movement, transformed a large part of the Thoiry Gardens by remodelling them in the English style, making them ”more natural than nature”.
As if this is not enough, the Thoiry Château Park offers its visitors an Animal Park, with 800 animals and 105 species, where you can drive through the 60 hectare Animal Reserve.
In what must be one of the most beautiful zoos in the world you will find elephants, giraffes, rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses, zebras, blue wildebeests, waterbucks, Southern lechwes, springboks, East African Oryx, Watussi cattle, Cape elands antelopes, sable antelopes, dromedaries, warthogs, greater kudus, black wildebeests, sitatungas and ostriches.
In the woods and ponds visitors are introduced to a number of different species, including American bisons which live together with a group of around thirty North American black bears. The bears swim in the ponds, climb trees and hollow out their dens just as they would in their native forests.
How to get to Chateau Thoiry
Chateau Thoiry is open daily from early February to mid November, see the website for details of opening times.
By Train: SNCF Paris, Montparnasse to Montfort l’Amaury – Méré then by Taxi (10 km)
By coach : Cityrama-ParisVision
Thoiry Chateau, gardens and wildlifepark, 78770 Thoiry France – www.thoiry.net