In the southwest of Paris, Rambouillet will always be synonymous with its splendid castle.
Until 2009, the estate was the home of kings, emperors and French presidents.
The castle sits on dazzling grounds with canals and manicured formal gardens.
There are also some hidden folly to track down, including dairy products made specifically for Marie Antoinette.
The boundless forest where the kings once hunted is ripe for walking and biking, and is home to red deer and wild boar.
You’ll never be stuck in Rambouillet, as there are animal sanctuaries, sites with royal history, quirky little museums and many more castles in or near town.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Rambouillet:
1. Rambouillet Castle
Although the main palace is being renovated at the time of writing, the courtyard of Rambouillet and its folly are open.
You should still stop to take pictures of this building, which is full of centuries of French royal and imperial history.
You will understand that some of the most powerful people in history have passed through these doors.
King Francis I died in the château in 1547, where Napoleon and Queen Marie-Louise lived until 2009 and was the summer home of every French president.
2. Rambouillet Castle Estate
The grounds are spectacular and remain open while the castle is being restored.
The gardens were first landscaped in 1699, and you might forget all the time in these peaceful and cultured beauty. There are flower beds, avenues of lindens adorned with statues, a whole network of canals, English country gardens and a medieval kitchen garden.
The best location to film the entire scene is on the stairs leading to the Rondeau Ornamental Pond.
The canals here are surrounded by the Tapis vert (green carpet), a lush lawn that stretches to the horizon.
3. Laiterie de la Reine
Marie Antoinette was another key figure in Rambouillet.
She didn’t like the castle very much, so in 1785, Louis XVI ordered the Laiterie de la Reine (the Queen’s dairy shop) to be built on the grounds.
This folly was a country hideaway for her, akin to the Petit Trianon and Hameau de la Reine at Versailles.
The Dairy is a neoclassical temple illuminated by zenith lights from the ceiling, leading to a gallery and finally a grotto with a statue of Amaltea by the sculptor Pierre Julien .
Marie Antoinette will visit the chateau’s dairy products and taste fine Sèvres china.
4. La Chaumière aux Coquillages
Before Louis XVI bought the estate in 1783, it was owned by his cousin, the Duc de Penthièvre.
In the late 1770s, the Duke commissioned an idyll for his daughter Princesse de Lamballe, which was folded into an English country garden.
It was a time when aristocrats fell in love with picturesque countryside and rustic innocence.
But while the outside is humble, with rustic walls and thatched roofs, the interior is luxurious: the walls are decorated with shells and mother-of-pearl, arranged in classical pilasters and niches.
5. Lambouillet Forest
The castle is here first as the king’s hunting lodge in the royal forest, extending all the way to the door.
This is 30,000 hectares of deep oak forest that the king enters via a network of star-shaped horse trails.
Now it is a place to escape nature by bike or walk for hours.
Rambouillet’s tourist office will provide you with inspiration for the circular walk that takes you to waterfalls and secret valleys.
Also roaming the forest are red deer, roe deer and wild boar, while a variety of birds of prey patrol the sky above the tree canopy.
6. Espace Rambouillet
To get an up-close look at the wildlife of the forest, you can visit an animal attraction set up by the National Forest Office in the middle of the woods.
They organized several trails through huge enclosures of deer and wild boars.
There is also a 1.8-kilometer walking trail with furs placed every so often, allowing you to observe red deer and roe deer in the wild.
Meanwhile, the “Forêt des Aigles” is an aviary with 120 birds of prey from 30 species, and the “Odyssée Verte” is a suspended walkway that lifts you 5 meters above the forest floor without the use of seat belts .
7. Country Bergery
This working farm is sure to keep all the families moving for an hour or two.
Kids will go wild with rabbits, goats, pigs, workhorses, ducks, cows and over 600 sheep.
There are also lambs from September to February, while piglets and calves are raised throughout the year.
Adults will be interested in the history of the sheep pen, which was established by Louis XVI in 1786 to keep merino sheep he imported from Spain.
Activities throughout the day allow children to learn about the daily activities of the farm, whether it’s grooming or milking.
There are also seasonal events here, such as sheepdog competitions and shearing festivals.
8. Lamborghini Train
If you’re a miniature lover, you might wonder if you’ve died and gone to heaven at this museum.
It was built in 1984 by two model railroad fanatics in a beautiful Louis XIII-style mansion with a corner and mansard roof.
Within these elegant ranges are over 4,000 model trains from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Winding around the two floors is a network of miniature trains measuring 1:43 and 500 meters long.
There is a 184mm miniature steam train in the garden, which is powered by coal and runs during the Vapeur Vive festival in early October.
9. Étangs de Hollande
In the woodlands north of Rambouillet, history, nature and outdoor recreation come together.
Until the 17th century, it was a swamp, but after training, six quake lakes were formed.
Their purpose was to irrigate the canals, fountains and water gardens of Versailles, a few kilometers to the north.
The site was chosen because its elevation meant that the water could be directed to Versailles through the aqueduct using only gravity.
Your purpose today is to laze on the sand and take a dip in the biggest lake in summer.
There is a full centre for renting pedal boats, canoes and bikes, as well as a café and mini golf.
10. Sauvage Animal Sanctuary
A property near Rambouillet was once a gift from Louis XIV to his daughter Louise de Maisonblanche.
Château de Sauvage is located in a 40-hectare English park, rebuilt during the reign of Napoleon III in the mid-1800s.
In 1973, the estate was acquired by the International Fund for Conservation of Nature (IWPF) and is now an animal sanctuary.
It’s primarily an ornithological attraction, as more than three-quarters of the species are birds, including pelicans, peacocks, and flamingos, all of which can do as they please.
Exotic birds are housed in aviaries, but the rest of the animals, such as emus, wallabies, antelope and shaft deer, roam semi-free.
11. Roman Palace
As you stroll down the Rue du Général-de-Gaulle in the heart of Rambouillet, you’ll see some magnificent gates leading to cobblestone streets.
The buildings here are spectacular, but they are only a hint of the gigantic projects planned on the site in the early 19th century.
It was the residence of Napoleon’s son, whose official title was King of Rome.
The palace and its borough will cover the entire Colline de Chaillot.
But the decline of the empire means that work will never go further than a building that can enter temporary exhibitions.
The exquisite garden is also open to visitors every afternoon.
12. Église Saint-Lubin-et-Saint-Jean-Baptiste
This neo-Gothic church can introduce you to Rambouillet in the 19th century.
The town has a medieval church consecrated in the 1100s, but by the mid-1800s it became too small.
Rambouillet’s population doubled between 1831 and 1901, so in 1860 a competition was held to find architects to build new buildings.
This was won by Anatole de Baudot, a student of the renowned architect and restorer Viollet-le-Duc.
Most of the funds came directly from Napoleon III’s purse, and the building used state-of-the-art materials such as cast iron and concrete.
But there are also many works of art to see, especially the stained glass windows of the glass master Eugène Oudinot.
13. Breteuil Castle
Château de Breteuil is located above the Chevreuse valley and was built in the 16th century during the reign of Henry IV.
The refined interior is decorated with lacquer furniture and Gobelins tapestries.
The masterpiece here is the Table d’Europe, a precious jewel-encrusted table made by German goldsmith Johann Christian Neuber.
There are also 50 wax figures such as Marcel Proust and Louis XVI, as well as fairy tale characters such as Puss in Boots and Sleeping Beauty.
The venue is an official “jardin remarquable”, with geometric lawns dotted with stone vases and a magical world of boxwood creations.
These are cut into mazes, embroidery and dreamy boxwood mosaics.
14. Rambouillet Arena
In a town with royal and imperial heritage, there should be a racecourse.
This trot-tracking venue opened in 1880, and you can experience the “King’s Sports” during the March-October season.
During this time, there have been nine parties at this lovely place on the edge of the forest.
These games are on Sunday at 13:30, so keep that in mind if you’re idle in Rambouillet.
15. Rambouillet’s Market
If you’re in Rambouillet on a Wednesday or Saturday morning, you’re in luck as that’s when the weekly market takes place.
They are an institution you don’t want to miss.
There are as many as 30 stalls on Wednesday mornings, where butchers, fishmongers, fruit and vegetable merchants come to trade, and you can also buy freshly prepared food such as roast chicken.
But the main event is Saturday at Charles de Gaulle and Tahrir Square.
There are about 100 merchants hawking all the usual groceries, as well as sweets, leather goods, flowers and tempting street food.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Rambouillet, France
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