French author Alexandre Dumas, writer of The Three Musketeers (Les Trois Mousquetaires), and many other swashbuckling novels, was a lucky man. Residing among the most impressionist of landscapes near the Seine river, where the light, the flowers, the hanging ferns and weeping willows, and the calming serenity of his surroundings must have been a constant source of inspiration and soul-lifting in his daily domestic life.
One of his other famous books was written here, and gave its name to the castle: The Count of Monte Cristo. Located in the town of Port-Marly, directly west of Paris, just under 12 miles away from the capital, the Château de Monte-Cristo property now hosts musical and theatrical events, and draws tourists and painting aficionados to its masterful British-style (jardins à l'anglaise) gardens, caves, grottos, serpentine water ribbons and various ponds. A popular artist of his time, the housewarming reception held by Dumas on July 25, 1847, drew a crowd of 600 guests -- not all close friends.
In contrast with the Renaissance style of the castle, one of the rooms inside is surprisingly of Moorish architecture and decoration, brought back from Tunisia, with finely chiseled lace stucco details, arches and panels, completed by colorful church-like stained glass bejeweled window panes. The façade of the castle lines up stone portraits of classic authors, such as Dante, Homer, Virgil and Shakespeare.
Next to the main tall castle is a smaller, neo-gothic pink edifice that Dumas himself called his Chateau D'If, in reference to the name he gave to the fortified prison-castle on an island in the Comte de Monte-Cristo story, located near Marseille in the south of France. This was Dumas' studio, away from the main house where he wrote and reflected on his very prolific daily work.
Dumas was the son of a general, himself the descendant of a white French aristocratic plantation owner of Santo Domingo (now Haiti), and one of his black slaves, making Dumas a quarter black, exposing him to racial prejudice his entire life. Married twice, two of his children were considered legitimate: Alexandre and Marie-Alexandrine -- several others were supposedly born of his numerous liaisons.
The unfinished masterpiece cookbook dreamed by Dumas contained recipes for unusual and exotic dishes created by his cuisinier, such as omelette aux huîtres (oysters omelet), potage de cailles en profiteroles (quail soup in puffs), pieds d'éléphant farçis (hopefully not real - stuffed elephant's feet), and filets de kangourou (fillets of kangaroo). His final project was completed after his death by another famous French writer, Anatole France.
Dumas died in 1870 at the age of 68, and was finally entered with honors in 2002 in the famed Panthéon monument of Paris, the secular mausoleum reserved for the greatest citizens in French culture. A most charming man, Alexandre Dumas' motto, engraved above the entrance to the castle, and part of his family crest was: "J'aime qui m'aime", I love who loves me.
Info: the castle is open daily April 1-November 1:10 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. and 2-6 p.m. Yes, they do close for lunch, this is France after all! Closed on Mondays. And then open Sundays only from November 2- March 31. www.chateau-monte-cristo.com