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Condé en Brie

Conde-en-Brie is located only an hour from Paris, and is nestled in the middle of the vineyards of the Marne Valley's Champagne Tourist Route. The town itself is very small and sleepy, but nearby the chateau of Conde can be visited. It's a privately owned residence listed on France's historical places registry, and does allow public tours. And it's worth going through.

The chateau houses an excellent collection of décor: paintings by 17th and 18th century grand masters like Bouchet, Oudry, Lancret, and Watteau. Oudry's scenes in particular are harmonious in this chateau; they are hunting scenes, and fit splendidly into the atmosphere of this venerable home. You can tour the chateau and explore its interaction with such remarkable figures as Cardinal Richelieu, Cardinal Mazarin, Jean de La Fontaine the storyteller, and the several Princes de Conde. The ceremonial drawing room will take your breath away by itself; it's lavishly and completely decorated with trompe l'oeil paintings. There is also a famous set of matched mirrors that must be seen to be understood.

Its history

The Chateau resides on ground that has been settled by people before recorded history. The Senones are the first recorded people, and they fought a battle against the Condruses in around 500 BC. Later, the Chateau was probably a Gallo-Roman land estate, and you can still see ancient Roman pavement peeping through some of the present pavement of the Chateau.

During the Middle Ages, the castle was linked closely to the family de Coucy. The first lord of Conde was Jean de Montmirail, who was the father in law of Enguerrand de Coucy. De Coucy built the first keep in the 12th century, with six foot thick walls and high chimneys. The Chateau was passed through marriage to the House of Luxembourg and eventually into the family of Bourbon, who contributed the greatest, and last, kings of France. Louis de Bourbon was the first Bourbon to own the Chateau, and also the first Prince of Conde.

In the 16th century, the Cardinal de Bourbon rebuilt the castle in a modern style for his time, and the two gatehouses that still exist are testimony to this. The Prince de Conde used it as a stronghold during the French religious wars of the 17th century. Later it passed into the hands of the family Savoie-Carignan, the Italian royal family. It was damaged in the 18th century yet again during the Franco-Austrian war, and then confiscated by the King, who sold it to his private secretary the Marquis de la Faye.

It was the Marquis who gave the Chateau its current style. He brought in an architect who'd worked on king's palaces in Rome, and had him even out the appearance of the castle, and bring light and warmth into the hallways and rooms. For interior decorations, he brought in the aforementioned artists Lemoine, Boucher, Watteau, Lancret, and Oudry. Interestingly, it passed into the family of the Marquis de Sade later due to some marital alliances. And there it has remained through the remainder of the 19th century, and through two world wars. The present owners are devoted to maintaining it.

Much of the funding for the castle comes from receptions and other gatherings that rent it out, and it is a lovely place to have a wedding or other large celebration. But it is a living monument to many of the things that made France glorious.

If you choose to visit Conde-en-Brie, call ahead, and count on it being a day trip. Beyond the chateau and some very nice walks, there's little to see or do here.