Weekend Wanderings: Sun King Exhibition At Film Location In Maisons-Laffitte

Since the 1970s, the castle in Maisons-Laffitte (northwest of Paris) has been a popular location for at least a dozen films, including Love and Death by Woody Allen.  

Its architecture influenced the look of the Château de Franconville in Saint-Martin-du-Tertre (France), the Zhang-Laffitte in Beijing (China) and the Plaza Constitución terminal train station in Buenos Aires (Argentina).

Built in the 17th century, this castle is a prime example of French baroque architecture. In 1651, Louis XIV, the King of France visited the Château de Maisons-Laffitte.

On the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the death of le Roi-Soleil (the Sun King), the town of Maisons-Laffitte and the Château de Maisons partnered up for an exhibition of 530 sculptures (40 tons of stone) at the entrance of the castle. Stéphane Vigny’s Totalement désARçonnés — Louis XIV… Oméga III can be visited until October 12. His installation is a homage to art created during the years of King Louis XIV.

Please follow me on Instagram for more photos of the Maisons-Laffitte castle and its surroundings.

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A Glimpse Of Tolkien’s Shire

It doesn’t require a long drive through the picturesque farmland surrounding Matamata to understand why Sir Peter Jackson thought of it as ideal setting for his adaption of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic work: rolling green hills flanked by old trees and the view over the Kaimai Range in the distance. A perfect location to dig out 44 Hobbit holes representing Hobbiton, a village in the Western part of The Shire.

Hobbiton in Matamata

View over Hobbiton village towards The Green Dragon, the local meeting place for all the residents of Hobbiton. Tourist groups get served a free drink in that pub. I loved the Apple Cider!

I must admit I was a bit afraid that visiting the film set of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit would take away some of the movies’ magic. I was worried for nothing.

Hobbiton has been fully integrated into a private sheep farm. Each hill represents one hobbit hole with its own chimney, garden and view over the village. All building materials are permanent since 2011 (no longer polystyrene like for the set of The Lord of the Rings) and have undergone a special treatment to make them look rustic and authentic. The fields surrounding Hobbiton have been kept untouched which greatly supports the natural look of the scenery and left me at no time under the impression I was just visiting another movie set.

[Please click on the photos to see them bigger and in better quality.]

Hobbiton near Matamata

Hobbit holes dug into green rolling hills. What a peaceful place. I can’t imagine that a film crew of 400 people walked right through here. Can you?

Our tour guide did a fantastic job as she led us over various paths and orchards towards Bag End, home of Bilbo Baggins and his orphaned nephew Frodo, while explaining how some visual effects have been achieved in the movie (for example the size difference between Bilbo and Gandalf), and how Peter Jackson is driven by an urge to deliver 110% perfection at any time.

Bag End in Hobbiton

Bag End, the home of Bilbo and Frodo. This is the hobbit hole where most movie scenes in Hobbiton have been shot.

My favourite story was the one about the oak tree that overlooks Bag End: It’s been cut down and transported in from near Matamata. Artificial leaves were brought in from Taiwan and individually wired onto the tree. Once the job of wiring thousands of leaves was done after several days Peter Jackson came along and agreed that the tree looked great, but he didn’t like the green of the leaves. So after wiring all these leaves manually, Jackson’s helpers had to repaint each leaf manually in a different shade of green. We’ve been reassured they received a good compensation for this nerve-wracking job though.

Hobbiton, New Zealand

Another view towards the artificial oak tree on top of Bag End.

If you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy or The Hobbit Trilogy you will definitely enjoy this place and the tales about the making of the set and the movies, the joys and mishaps of some actors and the story of the Alexanders – the family owning this beautyful piece of land.

The Green Dragon, Hobbiton

We’ve been served a sweet and refreshing Sackville™ Cider by that happy waiter at The Green Dragon. Cheers!

The movie set tour will take around 2 hours. If you are looking for something additional to do to perfect your little Shire adventure I can recommend to have a closer look at the Kaimai Range which you can see in the distance while visiting Hobbiton.

The top of the Wairere Falls can be hiked in 60 to 90 minutes (one way) and you will be rewarded with a stunning view over the Waikato plains around Matamata while being just 5 metres away from where the falls drop over the Okauia Fault in two stages.

Wairere Falls near Matamata

The Wairere Falls drop 153 m over the steep escarpment, which is part of the Okauia fault line. The view is stunning, even on a rainy day.

Wairere Falls, New Zealand

The falls drop 153 m over two stages (here as seen from lookout 1).

If you’re not out of breath yet leave the falls lookout behind and explore the Wairere Track further upriver before returning to the car park. Only 1 more kilometre is already enough to give you a taste of the beautiful, dense and very diverse forest of the Kaimai Range.

I can totally imagine hobbits, elves, and dwarves passing through here!

The diverse forest of the Kaimai Range in Waikato, New Zealand.

The diverse forest of the Kaimai Range in Waikato, New Zealand.

Wairere Track, Kaimai Range

Rain forest impression from the Wairere Track.

Wairere Track

This is not off track – it’s fun!!

The Wairere Track winds up a few stairways and is known to be covered in water puddles; make sure to take appropriate clothing (read: no jandals or shoes you can’t afford to get muddy) as well as sandfly protection! I wish someone would have told me, but 19 bites later I’m a bit wiser and happy to share that detail with you.

Wairere Track near Matamata

Puddles on the track can slow you down quite a bit. Plan in 3 hours for the walk.

I recorded that walk with my GPS watch for runners, but I only got a signal when pausing at the first falls lookout. All in all we did a bit more than 8 km in 3 hours (including all the photo breaks). On a map it looks like this in case you’re curious to see where the track will lead you.


Wairere Track from above. The second falls lookout is at the left side path between kilometre 1 and 3.

The falls can be seen from quite a distance. This is how they look like from the car park on Goodwin Road off Te Aroha-Okauia road (south of Te Aroha), where the Wairere Falls Track starts. I took the photo after the walk when the gray clouds finally disappeared and the rain stopped pouring down. Don’t let rain prevent you from doing the hike if you’re eager to see the forest. Since most of the track winds through tall trees and bushes you have quite a good protection. Enjoy!

Wairere Falls, New Zealand

A popular spot in the Kaimai Range: The Wairere Falls.

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