The mesmerizing Hall of Mirrors and magnificent gardens of the Palace of Versailles make this château one of the most well-known in the world. It’s also the second most visited place in the région parisienne after the Louvre and before the Eiffel Tower! Who wouldn’t want to see how Marie Antoinette lived? But what if I told you that there are many more châteaux worth visiting just outside of Paris, that aren’t as touristy?
Built in the 12th century, Fontainebleau has been a favorite palace of the Kings of France for centuries. During the Renaissance, François Ier influenced the castle’s style and built the Galerie François Ier. This gallery resembles Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors and is adorned with Italian style frescoes that reference Greek mythology and represent the King’s virtues. In addition to the unique paintings, you can also admire the fabulous interior design and see how royalty lived throughout the ages. After exploring the castle and gardens you can even visit the forest of Fontainebleau for taste of nature.
Just North of Paris you can visit the Domaine de Chantilly and marvel at the architecture, paintings and stables. This palace was originally built for Duke Anne de Montmorency and eventually it was passed on to Louis II de Bourbon, Prince of Condé. Inside the Château is the Musée Condé, where you can see one of the most important collections of paintings in France that includes works from artists like Raphael. In addition to a garden, Chantilly is also home to L’Hippodrome et les Grands Écuries (racecourse and grand stables). There is also the Living Museum of the Horse in the stables where you can learn all about horses and even observe different breeds that live there hence the term “living.” Finally, you can’t leave without trying the famous crème Chantilly (that is unless you are lactose intolerant). This famous dessert is richer than your typical whipped cream and has a meringue like texture.
Châteaux de Vincennes
To get to this Château just East of Paris, you can simply take the Metro line 1! Now a beautiful castle next to the park of Bois de Vincennes, the Château de Vincennes was once a medieval fortress. It’s towering donjon (keep) was added in the 14th century and is actually the the tallest medieval fortified structure in Europe at 52 meters/170 feet high! Walking around the fortification and starting down at the moat below can definitely make you feel transported in time.
Although this next Château was never the home of any kings or queens and is a lot smaller and less well known than the first three, it is still worth the visit! Château Champs-sur-Marne is a neoclassical style palace East of Paris with Rococo influence. My favorite part of this château is the garden that you could spend hours wandering around in.
I visited this last château on the list last year during my Master’s program in Paris for my history class. Built in the 16th century, this castle is now home to the National Museum of the Renaissance. In the musée you can find paintings, tapestries, and stained glass. One thing I learned during my trip here is that during the Renaissance, figures in biblical and historical scenes were depicted in “modern” clothes. So even if an event took place centuries ago the people were “dressed” in Renaissance style clothes. I don’t remember the exact reason why they did that, but I think it has something to do with making the stories more relatable to the observers. If Renaissance architecture and art interest you, Écouen should be on your bucket list!
Want to know more about French châteaux? Check out these other articles linked below!
Thanks so much for reading and let me know which château on this list you’d want to visit most!
À la prochaine,
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