How to get in: cross the wonderful Paris suburbs. Drive across the depressing flat land of Beauce. Wander through the quaint village of Bonnelles until you spot the castle. Enter through the door
Architects Froelicher and Parent built the Bonnelles Castle in 1849 for the Duke of Uzès. It was abandoned in 1990 after being used as a summer camp for 40 years.
The history of the castle of Bonnelles is intertwined with the awesome destiny of Marie Adrienne Anne Clémentine de Mortemart de Rochechouart (1847-1933), Countess of Uzès and granddaughter of the widow of Cliquot (owner of the most famous champagne in France). She summered in the castle from 1906 until her death in 1933 where 48 maidservants, 28 gardeners and a bench of coachmen and grooms served her on. The Countess of Uzès was a liberated woman. In 1897 she became the first woman in France to get a driver license …and the first person to get fined for speeding: in the Parisian park, Bois de Boulogne, she drove at 15 km/h exceeding the 12 km/h speed limit. An avid hunter she was part of the Bonnelles annual hunting party. This large party in the Rambouillet Forest hunted more than 2,000 deer.
A proud and loyal Orléaniste supporter, the Countess was a life long financial contributor to General Boulanger’s campaign to return Philippe d’Orléans to the throne. Was it to forget the advent of the Brown Plague instead of the return of monarchy that she decided to learn to fly? She got her pilot license at 80 years old and ended her life as she has started it, with a free and open mind. For her time she was a rare women.
Today, the castle feels empty compared to it’s lively past. It is in poor shape. The ceiling has collapsed in a few places obstructing the access to a number of rooms. The majestic central balcony can only be reached after feeling intense chills in the rickety staircase. Finally, the calm that reigns allows you to concentrate on taking pictures. But just for a moment, at times you have to descend from the clouds…