As the summer is drawing to a close here in France and la rentrée – the annual return of France’s workers and students – looms on the horizon, I thought it would be a good moment to recap some of the copperware sights we’ve seen this year. Over the course of a summer, we tend to do quite a bit of traveling through France, hunting for antiques on the weekly brocantes, which start in spring and last until the early days of fall, but also visiting old castles and mansions where some of these products can still be found in their original setting.
Unfortunately, in many cases, the kitchen is one of the first places to fall to pieces when things are not going so well anymore with the lord of the manor, so finding a good one is always a treat. Below are pictures and some background to two of our favorite spots of the season.
First, the somewhat extravagantly named Musée Nissim de Camondo in Paris. This is one of the loveliest museums in the capital, and fortunately also one of the quieter ones, especially recommended if you’ve just braved the crowds at the Musée d’Orsay or the Orangerie. It consists of the extremely well furnished palatial house built by Count Moise de Camondo in 1912, whose family had made its fortune in banking. The Count built the house specifically as a future residence for his son Nissim de Camondo, but alas this is where the family’s good fortunes ended.
Nissim, one of the early aviators, died in aerial combat during the First World War in 1917. The father never quite recovered from this blow, but continued his collection of furniture and decorative artifacts. At the time of his death in 1935 he decided to bequeath the house and all its contents to the state. In his will he stipulated that not a piece of furniture or even a single photograph may be moved from its location at the time of his death, to give future visitors the most authentic view of life in the household possible. As a result, the kitchen has come down to us a century later, exactly as it was equipped back in the day. Here are some pictures we took.
Musée Nissim de Camondo is located in Paris’ 8th arronddissement adjacent to Parc Monceau. It forms part of the Decorative Arts Museums of Paris. More information on opening hours and tickets can be found at www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr.
Our second favorite spot takes us a little outside of Paris, to the Val de Loire, the traditional playground of France’s rich and famous, which boasts one of the most impressive, and frankly, over the top, collections of castles this side of Bavaria. You can easily spend a few weeks touring all the different châteaux of the region, with most of them not more than a stone’s throw away from each other. Ironically, many of the grandest castles, such as the gargantuan Chambord, which started life as a modest hunting lodge, and ended up with over 300 rooms, was rarely lived in, as the king deemed it too drafty once the works had been completed.
The château we’d like to talk about, though, is the fairytale-like Château de Chenonceau, with its elegant span of arches crossing the river Cher in a display of utter whimsy. Offered as a gift by the then king of France, Henry II, to his mistress Diane de Poitiers, it saw many works during her tenure including the construction of the aforementioned arches, as well as the planting of extensive vegetable and flower gardens. As soon as the king kicked the bucket, however, his widow, the formidable Catherine de Medici, forced the now master-less mistress to exchange the delightful renaissance structure for the medieval hulk of Château de Chaumont, which in the annals of revenge isn’t all that bad a deal.
Chenonceau itself received plenty of attention and funds through the remainder of the centuries and right now is one of the most popular sites in the Val de Loire, with one of the best preserved kitchens that exists in France. It’s quite the upgrade from today’s four-burner open kitchens, with a pantry, breadoven, dining room for the château staff, butchery section and the main kitchen itself.
Château de Chenonceau is located some twenty minutes to the south of Amboise in the Loire Valley. Practical information and opening hours can be found here: www.chenonceau.com.