There’s so much you can discover with the Paris Museum Pass – and as we discovered in a previous post, top Historical Attractions in Paris, there is plenty to see and do outside the realm of the modern and contemporary. This time, we’re looking at the best Châteaux in Paris as we’re promised we won’t be left wanting.
From the imposing, Gothic-inspired Middle Ages to the elaborateness of the Renaissance, there is plenty to be admired in and around Paris. With sprawling manicured lawns, woodlands and even moats (!) So go back in time with the Paris Museum Pass and take in the grand residences of the rulers of Paris’ past.
This impressive 18th century neo-classical Châteaux on the bank of the River Marne, Châteaux de Champs-sur-Marne is one of Paris’ most famous retreats and has been the backdrop of many films including Dangerous Liaisons and Marie Antoinette. Construction finished in 1706 and subsequently it passed through many hands including the Princess de Conti, dukes, biliophiles and shipowners. It was used in official capacity right up until the 1970s when it opened to the public where now you can explore the Centre of National Monuments where they restore, conserve and manage 100 state-owned monuments. They aren’t just any monuments though; they include the Arc de Triomphe, the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel and Sainte-Chapelle – pretty impressive work.
The Châteaux is stunning in its landscaping, looking onto a 1710 parterre (manicured garden to you and me) that runs all the way down to the Marne with a luscious English 19th century inspired park all around. You must take a tour of the gardens while you’re there, it would be a crime not to!
Châteaux de Vincennes dates all the way back to the 12th century – even before the Louvre Palace – and is considered one of the most important castles in French history. Built in the Middle Ages, the building has evolved over time (and was once even a fortress) and now stands as an amalgamation of buildings constructed over different periods; including the Capetian manor, the Donjon, the Enceint and Towers, the Sainte-Chapelle and Pavilions. Ranging from renovations by Louis VII to Charles V and Louis XIV, the castle is one of the biggest and best preserved in all of Europe. It also claims to house the highest fortified medieval building in Europe too, with its Donjon standing at 50m high.
Famously, the Châteaux de Vincennes was the holding point for many of the religious artefacts such as the Crown of Thorns whilst the Sainte-Chapelle was being constructed. It has also been used as a state prison, holding the Marquis de Sade, Diderot and Jean Henri Latude. Before then it was even used as a porcelain factory! Use the Paris Museum Pass and visit this castle for free. Take in its 6 towers, 3 gates and admire its deep stone moat – a sure sign of its age!
As one of three seats of royal government, Châteaux de Compiègne was built for Louis XV and restored by Napoleon. On the border of the Compiègne Forest, this Châteaux was the preferred summer residence for French monarchs who liked to hunt. Louis XIV loved going there so much it was recorded he visited 75 times! During the French Revolution, however, it was taken over by the Minister for the Interior, who sold all the furniture and sent the works of art to the Museum Central. Thanks to Napoleon, who ordered its refurbishment in the early 1800s so that he could live there, the Châteaux de Compiègne is mainly First French Empire in its style, tailored to suit the tastes of the Emperor himself.
Visitors to the Châteaux can explore three distinct areas within the palace; the apartments, the Museum of the Second Empire and the National Car Museum. It’s a great place to visit as a family and you can roam the gardens and discover what it was like to live in 19th century France, Napoleon-style!
Built at the very end of the 14th century, this medieval castle sits on the original site of a 12th century castle. Although it’s one of the most impressive looking castles in Paris, it was rather abandoned in the past before being besieged by troops in the early days of Louix XIII’s reign. Napoleon I later bought it for a small sum and began work to restore it – keeping the romantic ruins at the front of the building. Later on, as Louis XIII had tried, Napoleon II realised the restoration work was too big and had grown in scale so much that the works were stopped. Both through lack of funds and Napoleon II’s successor’s departure, the decorations were unfinished with a more slap-dash approach to tidying it up.
Most recently, the castle has featured in films such as Joan of Arc, The Man in the Iron Mask and the BBC series Merlin.
Châteaux Fontainbleu is the only castle in France to have been continuously inhabited for seven centuries so it’s a great place to go to discover the secrets of Paris’ past. As one of the three imperial and royal châteaux in Paris it is set over 130 acres of parkland and houses 1500 rooms; all of which have seen the successions of Paris’ most prominent leaders from the Capétiens, Valois, Bourbons, Bonaparte and Orléans. The large, main central tower dates back to the 1100s and there’s evidence of a 13th century medieval monastery hospital, as well. Later, in the Renaissance period Châteaux Fontainbleu underwent a huge extension with commissioned Italian artworks and court visits. Francis I considered it his home away from home and even brought his future son in law James V, King of Scotland, to visit in 1536.
There’s a reason hundreds of dukes, marquis, lords, ladies, kings and queens passed through Châteaux Fontainbleu; resplendent with apartments, chapels, galleries and even a theatre that belonged to Napoleon III, there’s plenty to see and do at this historic monument.
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