This regal structure once belonged to Louis XIV's second wife, Françoise Scarron—better known as Madame de Maintenon—whom he married morganatically in a secret ceremony in 1684 (as a social inferior, she could not claim a royal title). She had acquired the château as a young widow 10 years earlier, but, despite her love of the place, she lived here only at brief intervals. A round brick tower (16th century) and square 12th-century keep give the ensemble a muscular
dignity. Mirrored in a canal that contains the waters of the Eure, this is one of the most picturesque châteaux in France. Inside, lush salons are done up in the Louis XIII style (or rather, in the Second Empire, 19th-century version of it), an homage to royal roots created by the Ducs de Noailles, one of France's most aristocratic families, which has maintained Maintenon as one of its family homes for centuries.