The Astonishing Gift Louis XVI Had Made for Marie-Antoinette at the Château de Rambouillet 



The Astonishing Gift Louis XVI Had Made for Marie-Antoinette at the Château de Rambouillet 

The king was desperate to attract Marie Antoinette to his castle in Rambouillet. He custom-built an unusual addition in the park and you’ll never guess what it is.  

In this new series, in partnership with the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, we unveil the hidden secrets of some of France’s finest historical sites. This month, the elegant Château de Rambouillet, on the outskirts of Paris. 

The lavish interiors have been beautifully restored © Benjamin Gavaudo / Centre des Monuments Nationaux

A place of rest and relaxation for princes, emperors and presidents

Located in the Yvelines, just outside Paris, and on the edge of one of the prettiest forests in Île-de-France, the Château de Rambouillet has long been occupied by those in power as a place to enjoy some down time, far from the courts and ministries in Paris. The castle is spacious but not overly huge, and comfortable. Its vast park and gardens allow for leisurely strolls and the forests are a favourite hunting ground for many kings. 

François Ier loved to hunt in the Rambouillet forest – he actually died in the castle following an accident. Louis XIV bought the castle in 1704 for his legitimate son, the Count of Toulouse, who made the castle his permanent home and enjoyed a peaceful family life. His son, the Duke of Penthièvre, continued to love the château and ordered the installation of an English garden in which the ornamental Chaumière aux Coquillage (the ‘shelfish thatched cottage’) was built and remains today. 

Louis XVI turned his gaze towards the château and purchased it for a whopping 16 million French pounds. He wanted an escape from the pressures of the court in Paris and enjoyed hunting but his wife, Marie-Antoinette hated Rambouillet – more on this later.  

The Chaumière aux Coquillages © Colombe Clier / Centre des Monuments Nationaux

Napoléon I took possession of the castle in 1804 though it was severely damaged by the Revolution. Still, he restored it and remodelled it, blasting one wing away with dynamite, reshaping the façade and planting thousands of trees. He came regularly to the castle to relax and his apartments have just recently been reopened to the public following extensive renovations. After a period of neglect, Napoleon III saved the castle by restoring it and giving it to his cousin. 

Following in the footsteps of the French monarchs, President Felix Faure decided to make Rambouillet the summer home of French presidents and he took over the castle in 1895. The property also played host to diplomatic receptions and summits and has seen many a head of state strolling the grounds, from David D. Eisenhower to John F. Kennedy, to the Queen Elisabeth II. In 1975, president Giscards d’Estaing hosted the first G6 summit at Rambouillet. 

In fact, the castle was still occupied by French heads of State until recently. It entered the casre of the Centre des Monuments Nationaux in 2009 and its halls, corridors, stately rooms and gardens have gradually been opened to the public ever since. 

Inside the Chaumière aux Coquillages © Colombe Clier / Centre des Monuments Nationaux

Convincing Marie-Antoinette to come to Rambouillet

Back to Louis XVI and his desperation to bring Marie-Antoinette to the castle he loved so much. Along with an experimental farm, which he populated with merino sheep imported from Spain, and a nursery garden, in which he had exotic species planted following botanic exploration trips abroad, he wooed Marie-Antoinette with a rather astonishing gift. 

He ordered the construction of an ornamental creamery, which was designed for the sole purpose of tasting and enjoying dairy products, a fashionable hobby at the end of the 18th century. The king commissioned the best artists of the time: painter Hubert Robert and sculptor Pierre Julien, who crafted the building to resemble a Greek temple. A small zoo was also built just outside the creamery. The project was completed by 1787 and the king planned a spectacular unveiling for the queen who, despite the monumental grotto, finely sculpted detailing, mahogany furniture and finest porcelain set…still preferred Versailles’ Trianon palace! 

The impressive grotto with, at the back, a sculpture of Amalthée by Pierre Julien © Céline Clanet / Centre des Monuments Nationaux

Recently, a new mediation space has opened its doors near the Laiterie de la Reine. Set in one of the entrance pavilions (the Pavillon du Roi), it offers visitors the keys to understanding the fabulous history of Rambouillet in the 18th century. The space is equipped with tactile objects, reproductions of decorations and digital terminals to offer an immersive and multi-sensory visiting and learning experience, suitable for adults and children aged 7 and over.  

The entrance to the Laiterie de la Reine © Colombe Clier / Centre des Monuments Nationaux

Up close and personal with the presidents

A temporary exhibition currently on show plunges visitors behind the scenes of the presidential residence at Rambouillet back in the 1950s. The exhibition, held until September 2024, was curated in partnership with the Mobilier National, to present the unique atmosphere created by President Vincent Auriol and his wife, in the wake of World War II.  

Visitors can discover exceptional rooms and furniture, inspired by the transatlantic liners and gaze at the works of designers such as Jean-Charles Moreux and Jacques Adnet. 

For more information on the exhibition, visit the castle’s website.

The apartment reserved for the foreign heads of state at Rambouillet © Benjamin Gavaudo / Centre des Monuments Nationaux

How to visit? 

The castle, the Laiterie de la Reine and the Chaumière aux Coquillages are open as follows: 

From April 1 to September 30: 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. – 6 p.m. 

From October 1 to March 31: 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. – 5 p.m. 

The castle is free to access every first Sunday of the month from November to March. For other slots, make sure to book tickets in advance. 

The park is free to access: 

From April 1 to September 30: 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. 

From October 1 to March 31: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. 

For more information, visit

Lead photo credit : The Château de Rambouillet was a favourite residence of kings, princes and presidents © Laurent Gueneau / Centre des Monuments Nationaux

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Sophie is Digital Editor for France Today. Raised in Burgundy to British parents, she grew up bilingual in a small village where summers were about forest walks and lazy swims in the river. A Franco-British citizen, she studied literature, then journalism in Paris and Cardiff before quickly dipping her toes (and quill) into travel writing. She’s been specialised and writing about France since 2016 and now works from her home office in north-east France.

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