Villarceaux, the hidden treasure of Vexin

Villarceaux © T.Joly
Near Chaussy, in the Val d’Oise department, the Villarceaux domain boasts several castles the architectural styles of which reflect its long history. They are nestled in a beautiful park featuring French gardens and ornamental lakes.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road
65 km from Paris on autoroute A15 till Cergy-Pontoise, on D14 till Magny-en-Vexin, then on D86 and D171 till Villarceaux.
- By public transport
From May 19th to September 29th, every Sunday there is one Baladobus leaving from Cergy-Pontoire (accessible by RER A from Paris) to Villarceaux at 9.45am and returning at 5.22pm. The journey takes about 1 h 30 mn.
Opening dates and hours
- From the first weekend of April to the third weekend of October every day except Monday from 2pm to 6pm.
Free of charge. Guided tours only.
Good to know
The domain is not accessible to people with walking disability
Close to Giverny, but situated in the Ile-de-France region for a few kilometres, the domain of Villarceaux is both a superb historic site and an oasis of tranquillity rich in fauna and flora. Covering 70 ha, it indeed boasts centenary trees and is home to many animals species such as deer, fox squirrel, rabbit, swan, heron, cormorant, sparrow hawk, owl and so on.

Villarceaux © T.Joly
 Medieval remains
Icing on the cake, admission and guided tours are free, yes you read well, free. In spite of this, it is never crowded because it is off the beaten tourist track and not easy to reach by public transport. On some days, there are so few people that you even get the feeling to have the woods, gardens and ornamental lakes of the park all for you. A rare treat at only 65 km from Paris.
The origins of Villarceaux go back to the 11th – 12th centuries when the King of France decided to build castles and fortified houses along the border with Normandy, then in English hands. Nestled in a small valley, it was fiercely fought over during the Hundred Years’ War and there is little left of this first construction. The most impressive remain is the Saint Nicolas tower, a 13th century corner tower, the basement of which contains a spring that ensured a safe water supply to the defenders in case of siege.

Villarceaux © T.Joly
 Renaissance manor
Immediately outside is a stretch of the medieval wall as well as a recently created garden of medicinal and dyeing plants similar to those found in monasteries during the Middle Ages.
But in the 15th century Normandy was brought back into the French fold and Villarceaux lost all its military value. So, the following century it was turned into a large agricultural estate where, among others, dogs of the Royal hunting pack were raised. Large service quarters where then built and the former16th century bakery of the estate is still visible. As to the castle, it was transformed into the style of the Renaissance to become a far more enjoyable place to live nowadays called the Manor of Ninon. Only open to the public a few days a year, in particular for the Heritage Days, it contains beautiful 17th century paneling and mural paintings as well as a 16th century grotesque style ceiling.

 Superb gardens
The building faces superb French gardens, a very rare floating parterre and several ornamental lakes. One of them is circular in shape and nicknamed the Mirror of Ninon because it reflects the second castle of the domain, the Château du Haut that stands on a hill overlooking the valley.
Built during the 18th century in Louis XV style by a renowned architect, Jean-Baptiste Courtonne, it was only inhabited in summer, from June to October. It is linked to the lower part of the domain with a large alley made up of a succession of convex grass slopes lined with 17th century statues brought back from Italy. This ornamental perspective is called vertugadin (farthingale), from the name of the underskirts stiffened with hoops of varying diameters for puffing the women's dress of that time.

 Nearly invisible from the castle, it makes the lake and the gardens of the valley appear much closer.
But, in the past, guests arrived at the Château du Haut in horse-drawn carriages, on the other side, through the court of honor, the entrance gate of which is flanked by a chapel and a guardhouse.

Villarceaux © T.Joly
 18th century castle
Service quarters and an orangery comprising two green houses where exotic fruits were grown also occupy the hill. From this side too, there are nice views of the surrounding countryside because the architect didn’t erect a wall around this part of the property. Instead, he built a haha, a boundary barrier made up of ditch with one sloped side, and one vertical side that does not block the view.
Inside the castle, only the ground floor is open to the public but all rooms boast original 18th century furniture, Brussels tapestries, silks, overdoors painted by Natoire and Boucher as well as a rare naked portrait of Mme de Maintenon – future wife of King Louis XIV - by Marquis of Villarceaux.
Furthermore the domain hosts various cultural events such as concerts, theatre plays, festivals, book and local products fairs,… And most of them are free of charge as well.

August 03, 2013
Thierry Joly