Normandy's Chateau of La Roche-Guyon
The Chateau of La Roche-Guyon was one of the unexpected gems of our travels to France this summer, a short detour on our way from Normandy to Paris. To many it was a last-minute addition of opportunity, but someone had been planning this stop for more than 30 years. When we got out of the car, my dad pulled out a steno pad with notes on the chateau that he took in 1987. 1987! That’s one of the things that I love most about my dad. His enthusiasm for learning, his constant seeking, and his organization. I love to picture him as a young dad and Army officer taking those notes, and more so I love that I was able to see the real deal chateau with him.
So, what drew us to Chateau of La Roche-Guyon? It served as German General Rommel’s headquarters in 1944, during the D-Day Invasion. Previously, it had belonged to the La Rochefoucauld family. Louis-Alexandre, duke of d'Enville and La Rochefoucauld, was a defender of the American Revolution and friend of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Ultimately, he was an aristocratic victim of the French Revolution.
On site, we went on to learn that a castle has stood in this spot since the ninth century. In the 1185, the king awarded the lords of La Roche the right to tax all merchants passing on the river Seine between Paris and Rouen. So, a keep was built on top of the cliff to protect this right and watch for potential enemies.
Over time, additions have been made, and like any good castle, it just kind of rambles about. The medieval drawbridge here, the dovecote there. World War II casemates and troglodyte areas are carved into the mountainside. More modern rooms, to include a grand library, built in the 17th and 18th centuries are livable and lovable. And across the street is a restored orchard that provides the perfect setting to stretch your legs.
After visiting Versailles and Monet’s Giverny, it was refreshing to be one of two families touring the Chateau. We had the run of the place and were free to explore and inspect and imagine. It is possible to really enjoy the architecture and history without being overrun and rushed from room to room.
The town of La Roche-Guyon has an artists’ haven vibe, with studios carved into the rock. Very abstract art exhibits are also on display through various portions of the castle. While not to our traveling party’s taste, the installations did provoke a lot of thought and the kids are still asking questions. So, if the point of art is to inspire questions and dialogue, the artists succeeded.
All in all, we were in-and-out of the town in less than two hours. More time could have been spent wandering through the orchard and town. But with few tourists and no traffic, it is an easy stop requiring very little time or planning. I highly encourage all travelers combining Paris with points beyond in Normandy to consider a stretch break in this idyllic town.