One of my favourite things to do on road trips or any other type of trip when traveling around Europe is to check out the castles. One magical destination to go castle spotting is France. I am not talking about that fancy one at EuroDisney which lies on the outskirts of Paris, that is just fake. I am talking about the castles built many moons ago with stunning architecture which used to defend the local area and are now just either homes to the wealthy or tourist attractions. Here are some of my favourite castles near or in the French Capital and can be done as day trips by car or train.
Château de Coucy – Hautes de France region
The castle ruins of Coucy is located on a hilltop in the commune of Coucy-le-Château-Auffrique, west of Laon. Built in the 13th century, the castle was in very good condition until the Germans in the First World War bloody blew up the four towers and the keep so that French army couldn’t use the castle as a lookout post. This happened at the end of the First World War after the Germans were told to piss off or be shot (this after three years of occupying the region).
Whilst walking around, noticeably most of the outside walls still remain (to which goats climbing all over the blocks and using the old windows as beds) and the bottom of the towers still remain. There are some great views of the Ailette Valley from here also. I prefer castles which are still in tact but this is one of my favourite ruined ones.
Château de Pierrefonds – Hautes de France region
I love this castle to bits. This is a truly magical fairytale castle and has been used in films and television drama series such as Great Britain’s BBC hit ‘Merlin’. Built in the 13th century and located in the town of Pierrefonds, the castle overlooks a huge forest from a hilltop. Most of the castle was rebuilt in the 19th century after somehow got ruined but soon got rebuilt by the orders of that famous small man with the big nose, Napoleon. It is now a wonderful castle to explore with its tiny courtyard and fancy rooms with wonderful decor to look at.
Château de Chantilly – Hautes de France region
This is more like a palace but this castle still has the glamour, the history and the art to check out. Located in the town of Chantilly, this castle was built in the 16th century but was destroyed in the French Revolution and was rebuilt in the late 19th century. Now owned by the Institut de France, the castle is now open to the public to explore plus it’s houses, plus the Conde Museum which is one of the finest art galleries in the country. Also here there are some great gardens to walk away but just don’t stray onto the nearby racecourse.
Tour César – Île-de-France
In the town of Provins which is an hour’s train journey west of Paris lies the Tour César (Caesar’s Tower) which has stood here since the 12th century, has been used as a prison, military use and a lookout tower. Paying a small fee I walked into the lower parts of the tower where museum displays greeted me but the further up I walked, the narrower the staircases and the steeper the steps. Half-way up I was able to walk out onto the balcony, taking in views from all angles of Provins and the surrounding countryside. The views are amazing but what caught our eye the most is the amazing view of the church across the public square. It just stands out and it is the symbolic symbol for the town.
At the top of the tower I could go inside the bell room where they are sometimes used (I am lead to believe) but I didn’t stay in there too long as there was a lot of pigeon waste all over the woodwork and floors. The birds sure have found a good resting place to get away from the heat of the summer sun.
Palace of Versailles – Île-de-France region
Not quite a castle because as the year’s rolled on, castles were more like palaces as we see today across Europe. This Château was the main residence of the Kings of France from 1682 until the French Revolution kicked in around 1789. Located twelve miles west of the centre of Paris (20km), the palace is now an ‘Historical Monument to France’ and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Whilst checking out this beautiful palace, things not to miss are the Opera Theatre, the Royal Apartments, the Hall of Mirrors and the stunning gardens with its many canals, flower beds and fountains.
Handy tips: easy to reach by RER train and takes about thirty minutes from locations like the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame. In the tourist season (otherwise known as July and August), it might be good to book tickets in advance but if not, get there around Breakfast time as the queues to buy tickets and to get into the grounds can be quite long.
Château de Vincennes – Île-de-France region
Another castle within Paris which is worth checking out (and easy to reach on the Paris Metro) is the Vincennes castle which has stood here since the 14th century (with bits and bobs added on during the 17th century). When the castle was built, it was located in the town of Vincennes but with Paris growing at an alarming rate, the city sucked in the town and castle and is now part of Paris (with Vincennes being a suburb of the French capital).
The main highlight is the keep located in the centre of the grounds with the outside walls and towers surrounding it turning the castle into a major fortresses to keep out unwanted people approaching Paris from the east.
Château de Fontainebleau – Île-de-France region
Located one hours train journey south of Paris is the Palace of Fontainebleau, which is located on the outskirts of the town of Fontainebleau and the forest. This palace (or castle) is one of the largest in France and served as a residence for French monarchs up until Napoleon III. Then the French Revolution came along and the castle didn’t suffer any damage (but all the furniture inside did get sold off). Later on Nazi Germany took over France and the castle, again, no damage.
Despite being really beautiful inside, taking in the tour of the grand halls, bedrooms of the former monarchs and looking at the mesmerising decor, for me it was the grounds which I was amazed at. The facade of the palace blends in well with all the grass, man-made canals and flowerbeds surrounding it plus the pond with the pavilion is well worth taking in. I spent nearly the whole day here and I am glad I did. A lot of walking is involved so good footwear is a must.
Have you been to a castle or maybe a few castles you have visited in Paris or within an hours journey. Or do you have a favourite castle? Have you explored any of the castles mentioned in this post? I would love to hear your views and thoughts.