Feel like enjoying a walk through French history? Let’s go and discover the main palaces and castles in Ile de France, their stones hold some secrets only unveiled to curious people.
Major palaces in Ile de France:
Château de Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is a symbol of the absolute power of the Kings of France. We’ll never get tired of walking around this universe created by Louis XIV to show his power to the whole world! And on weekends, the 55 fountains set in the 850 hectares of Versailles gardens provide an incredible show inherited from the Sun Century!
Château de Saint-Germain en Laye
Built in the 12th century by Louis VI the Fat, the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye is first and foremost a high fortress laying on a site safe from attacks. If the kings used it as a leisure castle, Saint Germain becomes the favorite residency of king Francis I who has the fortified castle in a Renaissance style. The magnificent monument now houses the Musée d’Archéologie nationale [Museum of National Archeology] and gathers Antique, Celtic and Gallo-Roman masterpieces, naming 3 million items including 29,000 exhibited – from the Paleolithic to the first Middle-Age.
Château de Rambouillet
First a medieval fortress, the Château de Rambouillet has seen many princes and kings walking its corridors who came to rest 45km from Paris. The fort was turned first into a royal leisure estate with places devoted to the queens’ and princesses’ leisure, such as Marie-Antoinette’s Dairy and Princess de Lamballe’s Chaumière aux Coquillages [Shell Cottage], remarkable places to discover!
Palais du Louvre
Did you know that the Louvre was the first residency of the Kings of France? In 1190, King Philippe-August orders the creation of a fortified castle to protect Paris. At that time, the palace includes a squared fortress (78m x 72m) surrounded by a ten-meter-deep ditch. Then, the castle is extended by its successors, making it a royal residency but less military-oriented. Saint-Louis (1226-1270) has a huge pillar room fitted in the basement of the palace. Francis I (1494-1547) will decide to raze the Palais du Louvre to built it over again but Renaissance style. The castle will house kings until 1681 when the Palace of Versailles is built. We can still see tracks of the fortified castle in the basement of the Louvre and we can still hear the steps of the Kings in the rooms of the Louvre.
Domaine de Saint-Cloud
Did you know it? The Domaine National de Saint-Cloud – that used to belong to Philippe of Orléans, Louis XIV’s brother – lost his castle during the French-Prussian War in 1870. Luckily, it kept its beautiful and big 460-hectare estate providing a good sum up of what the classic gardens were with terraces, perspectives, green beds, bushes, green rooms, fountains and pools.
Château de Vincennes
This fortified castle – known for being a royal residency in the 14th century – is used as a prison from the early 16th century to the 19th century: Fouquet, the Marquis de Sade and Mirabeau are held here. Transformed into a casern by Napoleon I, the fortress was said to protect Paris and is still the headquarters of the Service Historique de la Défense [Historic Site of the Defense]. Today, you can still visit the king’s apartment, the Sainte-Chapelle and even the upper parts of the dungeon!
Château de Champs-sur-Marne
The Château de Champs-sur-Marne is characteristic of the leisure houses of the 18th century built in the countryside. Built in 1708, by order of Louis XIV’s financial adviser, it displays splendid rococo decors as well as chinoiseries painted in the middle of the 18Th century by Christophe Huet. All around, 85-hectare garden leading to the Marne thanks to a path covering 900 meters and paced by bushes, pools, sculptures and more natural and wilder areas. And to attract curious people, there’s a brie dairy next to the castle and still today, you can discover the dairy in its original state with ancient tools allowing you to discover how brie cheese is made.
Château de Fontainebleau
The Château de Fontainebleau is the only royal and imperial castle people lived in for 7 centuries. It includes over 1500 rooms, 130-hectare garden, and has remained like this since the reign of Napoleon III, whose apartment is still visible. Visiting Fontainebleau also means you can enjoy an exceptional presentation of history, art history and the history of the French architecture.
Château de Blandy les Tours
The first outer wall of the Blandy manor dates all the way back from 1220: the wall enjoyed a squared tower, a mall round tower, a tower of justice and a main squared tower, then it has been fit into a fortified castle in the 14th century thanks to a fortified door, a drawbridge and its covered way, curtain walls, vestiges from the 12th century rehabilitated by the Conseil Général de Seine-et-Marne.
Château de Breteuil
The Château de Bévilliers is named for the first time in 1560 as a manor, but the Château de Breteuil as we know it today (renamed by the Breteuil family when they bought it), was born in 1830. The castle gets two new wings and the French formal garden is restored. Today, the Château de Breteuil houses a beautiful collection of small plays that allow us to travel through Charles Perrault’s tales with Donkeyskin, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in the Boots…
Château de Saint-Jean de Beauregard
The Château de Saint-Jean de Beauregard is a very beautiful piece from the past showing the all art de Vivre during the Grand Siècle. It has been named after the architect who fits the castle with a garden and a panorama over the 2-hectare flowered gardens. Its particularity comes from the fact that the chateau is still inhabited but you can yet visit it, so can you see the flowered kitchen garden, the stables and its dovecote.
Château de Dourdan
The fortified city of Dourdan is one of the best-kept Middle-Age vestiges in Ile de France. Finished in 1222 by king Philippe August, the fortified castle has kept the major defensive structures very innovative at that time: dry pits, curtain walls, towers and castle entrance.
The Château d’Auvers-sur-Oise was built in 1635 by Zanobi Lioni a rich wealthy Italian man from Marie de Medicis’ entourage, then in 1662, the castle is sold to Jean de Léry – president-treasurer of France – who transforms the house into a French castle. Since then, the château has been rehabilitated as an impressionist museum leaving not much room to its origin architecture in the indoor rooms, but it’s still very delightful to enjoy the 8-hectare park and its three gardens: the Italian Renaissance garden, the French formal garden and the English garden.
The Château d’Ecouen is a Renaissance castle built in the 16th century for Anne de Montmorency. For his house, the constable sees everything big and hires the best workers of that time so that they can include the most beautiful innovations of their time: tiling, stained-glass windows, paneling, friezes and painted landscapes, marbles… Today, the Château d’Ecouen houses a Musée de la Renaissance, which works mostly come from the Musée de Cluny (Paris). Note the splendid tapestry of David and Bathsheba, with its restricting dimensions (75m long and 4.50m high) and one of the very first copies of the famous Cena by Leonardo da Vinci ordered in 1506 in Milano to Marco d’Oggiono.
The Château d’Ambleville is an old castle set in French Vexin. If it was built in the Middle-Ages, its owner, Louis de Mornay in 1711, decides to carry out a big transformation and asks architect Jean Grappin to review the façade and bring a Renaissance style to the castle. Rumor has it that Madame de Maintenon – then Mornay’s mistress – went to Ambleville with the “Enfants de France” [Children of France]. Covering 4 hectares, the gardens include three terraces from the Renaissance. Today, the garden is a “remarkable garden” with its fountain, pergola, 4 tulip beds, 25 peonies and black tulip beds, as well as it 40,000 narcissus flowers in spring!
Château de Villarceaux
The Château de Villarceaux story starts in the 11th century when Louis VII builds a Benedictine priory for women who are almost autarky. In the 15th century, the place is chosen to build a genuine fortified castle to protect the kingdom of France. This fortified castle will be fitted with time and today, you can see two castles, a golf, a housing in the former and now-renovated sheep pen and a farm with cultivable lands.
Château de Roche Guyon
The Château de Roche Guyon was built in the Middle Age with a rampart delimited by 4 towers including one 38-meter high, the whole surrounding a square courtyard and a dungeon. At the Renaissance, the castle gets extended with a main building and several terraces supported by the arches. The Château de Roche Guyon gets a kitchen garden by the Seine in 1741, making it a lovely place very appreciated by impressionists. Today, you can see the guards’ room, the billiard room, the drawing room and a wonderful library reconstituted to recreate their state from the 18th century.
Château de Jossigny
The Château de Jossigny is a rococo estate built in 1753 by Jacques Hardouin-Mansart and decorated by rococo ornamentalist Nicolas Pineau. Covering a 2500-sqm surface, this premise includes a main house and two lateral pavilions for the chapel and the kitchen. The courtyard is lined with an orangery on the right, south, and stables, on the left… If the chateau still remains today, it’s yet closed to the public (excluding some rare occasions). The Centre des Monuments Nationaux launched a call for projects to highlight the castle and open it to the public these upcoming years.
Château de Maisons
The Château de Maisons is a beautiful estate set by the forêt de Saint Germain en Laye. It has been created by Jean René de Longueil at a strategic point, precisely on the path the king used to go from the Château du Louvre to the château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The idea was clever: meeting the king and offering him a short break on his way. The nobleman called in Mansart to design the castle: he even goes all the way to reserve a wing of the building for the king with the King’s Apartment including a room enjoying layered cupola-ceiling and a ball room created for the Sun King. With this strategy, Jean René de Longueil thinks he can get the good graces of the King and the latter will actually stay one night in 1671!
And a bit further away:
Château de Chantilly
The Domaine de Chantilly has been existing since the Middle Ages but it’s at the Renaissance that Anne de Montmorency decides to have a leisure castle built in the French Renaissance style by architect Jean Bullant. In the 17th century, Louis II de Bourbon has great artists come over such as Molière, Racine, La Bruyère, and La Fontaine. In the 18th century, the place underwent major works: in 1719, Louis-Henri, duc de Bourbon, extends the estate with the Great Stables, then, in 1740, Louis-Joseph pursues his father’s work with the construction of the hamlet, the theater and the Jeu de Paume. Unfortunately, the Grand Château is destroyed during the French Revolution but built over again in 1875 by the Duc D’Aumale. Since 1898, the estate has been welcoming the general public and displays the collections of the Duc d’Aumale.
Château de Compiègne
The Domaine de Compiègne has been bought by Charles V to build a fortified castle. This construction will keep a medieval look until Louis XV decides to rehabilitate the castle of his ancestors. He then calls in architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel but will died before the works end. Louis XVI will be interested in the estate and will have the works resume to create the new wing overlooking the park, while Marie-Antoinette has major indoor layout works done such as the King’s apartment and the queen’s apartment. The castle was refitted under the reign of Napoleon I and Napoleon III and the decors are still visible.
Château de Chambord
The Château de Chambord was built by order of Francis I in 1519 at a time when France is booming on the political, intellectual, artistical and philosophical level. The Château is designed to be a flower of the French architecture, a symbol of power to show the whole world, long before Versailles. Its masterpiece is special, because it’s the famous double revolution staircase inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci allowing people who climb up to never walk by the ones climbing down. A masterpiece! You can also enjoy the gardens (French garden and English garden) as well as the Cosson, the river lining the château.
Château de Cheverny
The Château de Cheverny is one of the most famous Loire castles. Built in 1624, the chateau kept its classic style. The apartments on the 1st floor show the French art de vivre: the birthing room, the King’s bedroom, the weaponry and the private dinning room…. Don’t forget the 100-hectare park featuring a flower-filled kitchen garden, an apprentice garden, a tulip garden (to admire in March and April) and a maze.
Château de Chenonceau
The Château de Chenonceau is known as the Château des Dames. Taken over by Francis I in 1535, it will be given to Diane de Poitiers – King Henri II’s favorite. In 1559, Catherine of Medici (Henri II’s widow) gets the castle back and settles the young king in Chenonceau as the same time as the Italian splendor. That time, Catherine of Medici makes of the chateau a true Venetian palace, a “Ponte Vecchio” in Touraine. Still today, you can visit the Francis I’s rooms and Louis XIV’s room, as well as the bedrooms of Diane de Poitiers and Catherine of Medici as well as see dozens of paintings by Rubens, Primaticcio, Tintoretto, Correggio, Van Loo, Murillo, Clouet, Sassoferrato, Andrea del Sarto, Ribalta, Nattier, Veronese, Poussin, Van Dyck…
So, what castle do you prefer?