Day trip: Château de Voltaire

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This weekend I had to go to Ferney-Voltaire, a sleepy little French town just across the border from Geneva, to send a package. I had, of course, heard of Ferney-Voltaire before; being only half an hour by bus from Geneva’s Gare Cornavin, it’s a popular place to live for UN employees and folks who are starting young families. However, it wasn’t until this week, while looking up transit directions for this trip, that I found out that the name Ferney-Voltaire isn’t just a coincidence; the village is, in fact, named after that Voltaire. As in, the writer Voltaire who lived here for twenty years and built a sweet chateau for himself while he was at it. Oops.

To get to Ferney-Voltaire, I had to take the F bus to cross into France. I was surprised to learn that the same bus stops at Palais des Nations, aka the UN’s headquarters in Geneva (UNOG). I had never seen UNOG in person before, but from the bus it looked smaller than expected.

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I got into Ferney just as its Saturday street market was closing up shop. The village was noticeably more diverse than Geneva. There seemed to be a large African population, and several of the street vendors were selling hijabs and other headscarves.

After sending the package, I decided to walk to the chateau, which is only 12 minutes away from town center.

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Voltaire lived here for twenty years, up until his death in 1778. With its generous size and lavish decor, the chateau became a sort of country club for his intellectual pals. Funnily enough, the day I visited, there was a little party in the courtyard hosted by an electric car company (???).

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I got in for free even though I am above the age cutoff for most discounts in Europe (26) and told the information desk as such. Not sure whether they have a different policy.

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I mean seriously. Good for you, dude.

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One of many sitting rooms.

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I liked how the chairs for security/staff totally fit with the vibe.

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And then this room was just eye-popping. Definitely up there with Versailles.

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This was not actually Voltaire’s bedroom, but they set up a restored version (or replica – the signage wasn’t super clear) of his bed in this downstairs room.

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And then this was a more casual room for playing cards and chess and such.

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There was also a beautifully painted piano.

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This was the bedroom of Voltaire’s niece and also love interest (?????), Madame Denis. The signage had a little spiel about how she ran the chateau like clockwork and made sure everything looked perfect.

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There was also a room with a 12-minute video of actors just reciting Voltaire’s most famous words to each other. This had the potential to be extremely cheesy, but I have to say, they were really good and actually sold it. The Asian guy on the far right communicated his lines in sign language, which was pretty cool.

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The last stop in the house was the basement, which just had a bunch of random assortments of paintings, sketches, and papers.

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The grounds outside the chateau were also a delight. I particularly liked this tunnel of trees and could easily imagine Voltaire taking a walk down this path every day for inspiration. The picture really doesn’t capture how warm and whimsical it felt.

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Afterwards I stopped at a nearby Carrefour to buy some red wine to help with my sleep issues. I picked out this random bottle of Bordeaux wine for about 12.50 EUR and also got a bottle of petillant de pomme, or sparkling apple cider. (The taste was exactly the same as Martinelli’s!)

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