A Very Longtime Coming -
Updated: Dec 18, 2022
One of the things that I love are new historical discoveries, which seem to pop up almost around every corner, especially in Europe. I have been blessed to spend a great deal of time in France and each trip opens my eyes to more little gems. These discoveries I want to share because if they surprise me, perhaps you will want to look around the corner with me.
I have taken the train and passed the station for Saint Germain-en-Laye many, many times, it is on route to the lovely town of Versailles. But it is worth the stop. You are very close to Paris, and you can easily view the skyline. In spite of its proximity to Paris, Saint-Germain-en-Laye is typical small-town France, a delightful historic town with its narrow streets, cafes, squares, a castle, shops, markets, and especially, its surrounding forests. Green space is not to be trifled with in France, not even a smidgeon, three quarters of Saint Germain-en-Laye is truly Green.
Here you will find that Saint-Germain was the birthplace of the great French composer Claude Debussy, and the house in which he was born and spent his childhood is now a museum. Here you will also find one of France's great imposing Renaissance châteaux, the old château is built round an irregular-shaped central courtyard. It has been extensively restored and is now home to the French National Museum of Archaeology. But its great park and gardens are the work of Louis XIV's famed landscape architect André Le Notre. Immediately to the north of the château is an area of formal French gardens, à la française. Beyond these is a large informal area of flower gardens. But the most popular feature of the gardens is however the two-kilometer-long esplanade that runs along the top of the escarpment overlooking the Seine. Beyond the gardens stretch the former royal forests of Saint Germain, now crisscrossed by many hiking trails.
The Pavillon Henri IV is built on the Saint-Germain Terrace's high bluff, on the very site of the strategic first royal castle. The new château, as it was called is perched at the top of the steep hillside that sloped down to the Seine below. The new château and its grounds eventually occupied the whole slope down to the river, in a series of terraces. Philibert Delorme began working on "Château Neuf" in 1556 under the reign of Henri II. And further work to enlarge and embellish the Château Neuf was begun in 1589 under King Henri IV and directed by multiple architects. When the buildings were completed, the court moved in around 1603. The Château Neuf became the favorite royal residence under Henri IV and remained so under Louis XIII. It is here we add another layer to the story.
Anne of Austria was born in Valladolid, Spain and never set foot in Austria; but her mother was born in Graz, Austria and was Queen to King Phillip III of Spain. Young Anne was betrothed to King Louis Xlll of France at age eleven, as was common to cement political and military alliances between countries. Her father gave her a dowry of 500,000 crowns and many beautiful jewels, for which she retained a lifelong love of magnificent jewels. For fear that Louis XIII would die early, the Spanish court stipulated in a pre-nup of the time, that she would return to Spain with her dowry, jewels, and wardrobe if he did die.
Yet at the tender age of 14 the two were wed in person… and rumor had it that they were both too timid to consummate the union and it would be four years before Anne became pregnant. But unfortunately, she suffered several stillbirths. It was actually to be 23 long, long years after the wedding for her to produce an heir. Again, court gossip said it was due to single stormy night that prevented Louis from travelling to Saint-Maur and obliged him to spend the night with his queen. So, nine months later on the night of September 4 to 5, Anne of Austria felt the pains of childbirth and gave birth to Louis Dieudonné, the future Louis XIV, the Sun King, on September 5, 1638. This must have so pleased the King that they produced their second son Philippe, two years later. Both of these births were at Saint Germain-en-Laye. Unfortunately, the King did die two years later, but Anne of Austria did not take her bobbles and go home to Spain; she ruled as Regent until Louis XIV became of age at 13. He married too, at 14 to his mother's niece, Maria Theresa of Spain.
With the arrival of Louis XIV, Saint Germain entered into the richest phase of its history. The castle was the King's preferred residence from 1666 until 1682, when Saint Germain was abandoned in favor of Versailles. In 1777 the Château Neuf became the property of the Count of Artois, Louis XVI's brother and the future Charles X. In 1688, Louis loaned the château to his first cousin the then deposed King James II of England, who lived there until his death in 1701. Most of the new chateau was demolished after the French Revolution in 1789, leaving only one wing standing, a building now known as the Pavillon Henri IV, a lovely hotel.
The hotel, which opened in 1850, has the feeling of an old but airy manor house, it has 42 ensuite rooms, a restaurant and reception rooms, one of which is the Salon where the Sun King was born. The Salon is a magnificent oval room with the cupola domed painted ceiling, which I hope Anne was able to fixate on as she was giving birth. The Pavillon Henri IV is of course, classified a historical monument. Not only has the hotel been in operation 172 years, but it has been lovingly maintained with those awesome terraces view looking towards the Paris skyline.
The restaurant was given a rousing start when opening with Chef Jean-Louis Collinet at the helm. As head chef at the Henri IV Hotel, he was widely credited as the creator of Béarnaise sauce for the restaurant. Collinet reportedly developed the recipe by using the traditional recipe for Hollandaise sauce, but he replaced lemon juice with white wine vinegar, and added shallots, chervil, and tarragon. Naming the sauce in honor of Béarn, the region of France from which his restaurant's namesake Henry IV came from. Bearnaise and steak is a match made in heaven, ask anyone.
And to top that, Collinet is also claimed to have inadvertently created pommes soufflés, a deep-fat fried potato, which was a predecessor to French fries. Though the origin of the story is circumstantial. It is suggested that Collinet was preparing a meal for Queen Marie-Amélie, whose train was delayed causing his fried sliced potatoes to become cold. The chef is said to have returned the potatoes to the hot oil to reheat them, at which point they became puffed and crispy. Again, 172 years later both are still served at the restaurant where I had the pleasure of dining very well recently. As I said, Saint Germain-en-Laye is worth the stop.
- 8 potatoes - Salt - Frying oil
1. Start by peeling the potatoes. Carve them to give them an oval shape.
2. Cut the potatoes with a mandolin, with a thickness of about 4 mm.
3. Immerse a few slices in an oil bath at 175 °.
4. Once softened, soak them in a second oil bath at 190 °.
5. Before serving, immerse them in the bath at 190 ° for 1 to 2 minutes.
6. Salt your puffs and blot them a little on paper towels.