Like Sleeping Beauty waking up after a long sleep, Paris Region châteaux are slowly opening their doors. And they have so many stories to tell that we could not resist the pleasure of telling you more about them. Intrigues, anecdotes, legends… they tell us their secrets. The jealousy of Louis XIV, the love nest of Napoleon and Josephine, the dungeon of Denis Diderot, the deathbed of François I, from Vaux-le-Vicomte to Rambouillet, passing through Versailles, imagine French history before it is brought to life on your next visit.
South of Paris, the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte and its attractive French gardens created by the 17th century’s leading artists – architect Louis Le Veau, interior decorator Charles Le Brun and landscape architect André Le Nôtre – was the inspiration for the Château de Versailles. On 1661, Nicolas Fouquet gave a sumptuous reception in honour of Louis XIV. In a fit of jealousy at a show of such splendour, the king had him imprisoned for life.
The true home of kings
Staying south of Paris, the Château de Fontainebleau is a marvel of French art and architecture. Built in the 12th century, it witnessed some extraordinary chapters in French history, from de Middle Ages to the Renaissance. A royal residence for nearly eight centuries, it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In 1981, Napoleon I said it all when he referred to it as “The true home of kings, the house of ages”.
Imperial love nest
To the west of Paris, the château of Malmaison is an elegant residence decorated in the Empire style which was the private home of Napoleon and Joséphine from 1799. After their divorce in 1809, Joséphine withdrew to the house, where she died in 1814. Her passion for botany is well known and the rose garden is a precious witness. A fascinating insight into the private life of the imperial couple.
Life in a château
Set in the Forest of Rambouillet, west of Paris, this former royal residence set the stage for great names in French history – Francis I, Louis XVI and Napoleon I – and several presidents of the French Republic. It is in the château de Rambouillet that King Francis I died on 31 March 1547, in the tower that bears his name today. In the park, don’t miss Queen Marie-Antoinette’s dairy, where she liked to play the farmer’s wife.
In the footsteps of Alexandre Dumas
A tad megalomaniac, Alexandre Dumas, at the height of his fame, wanted somewhere he could escape the pressures of Parisian life. To the west of the city, close to Saint-Germain-en-Laye, he had this heaven, the château de Monte-Cristo, built in 1844 and named it after the character in his own novel. Here, he likes to isolate himself in his study which he nicknamed the castle of ‘If’, where fishes, monkeys, parrots and even a vulture keep him company! Have fun finding characters from his novels engraved in the stone walls.
Built in an oasis of greenery to the east of Paris, on a bend in the River Marne, the château des Champs-sur-Marne is a gem of Classical architecture which gives a glimpse of the 18th-century art of living. A ride all in charm and elegance, as at the time when the Marquise de Pompadour, loved by King Louis XV but jealous by courtiers, came to take refuge there.
The absolute masterpiece
The epitome of Louis XIV’s sumptuous reign, the château de Versailles is the château of superlatives. From a simple hunting lodge in the 17th century, it became France’s centre of power under the Sun King and has been a museum since the 19th century. Symbol of the disproportion of the emblematic monarch, its construction required 36 000 workers and lasted 53 years, over the 72 years of his reign. Even its park and its magnificent French gardens, which extend over 800 hectares, are absolutely royal!
When architectural beauty encounters beautiful prose
Near the Bois de Vincennes, the château de Vincennes is the largest royal castle still existing in France and keeps one of the highest dojon in Europe at 52 metres. Neglected by Louis XIV in favour of Versailles, he served as a prison from the 16th century. It is here that, censored, Denis Diderot was incarcerated for a few months in 1749 and that his friend Jean-Jacques Rousseau visited him.
A fairytale castle
Located between Versailles and Rambouillet, the château de Breteuil and its history are closely intertwined with the history of France, brought to life by wax figures dotted around its rooms. Paintings also set the scene for the tales of Perrault (Puss in Boots and Donkey Skin), a friend of the family, just like Marcel Proust, another frequent visitor.
A Renaissance gem
Located to the north of Paris, deep in a forest, the château d’Ecouen is a jewel of French Renaissance architecture. It is now the only French museum entirely devoted to this period, its history and artistic movements, from painting to tapestry. Its personage was one of the most influential of the period, Anne de Montmorency, constable and great friend of Francis I, who had it built.