By Anne McCarthy
Director Ridley Scott is the latest Hollywood heavyweight to tackle a topic that has fascinated people for years: the French monarchy.
His film Napoleon debuted in November and features gorgeous interiors of French palaces during Emperor Napoleon I’s reign. France is home to thousands of majestic châteaux (or “castles) and palaces. It is, after all, the place where many kings, queens, and emperors – like Napoleon Bonaparte, featured in the film – have ruled and resided. So, it feels fitting that you’d find homes built to house such royal, outsized figures! There are estimated to be approximately 45,000 castles in France.
Check out our Napoleon Walking Tour in Paris!
While we won’t detail all 45,000 of them today, we will look at a handful of some of the most stunning châteaux and palaces that are worth a visit while on your trip to France.
But first, if you’re keen to learn more about France’s rich regal history and its enticing culture, come visit us at Fat Tire Tours Paris on your next visit to the City of Light. Our expert guides love showing visitors (and locals!) around the city of Paris.
We offer an array of tours, like bike tours, walking tours, Segway tours, small group tours, and Louvre tours. Our bestselling Versailles Bike Tours is an incredible way to see one of France’s most famous palaces. This epic tour leads you through the Versailles gardens, palace grounds, and more.
Château de Fontainebleau, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has the first slot on our list, and that honor is well-deserved. This château was home to a whopping 34 kings and two emperors. Kings regularly used the Forest of Fontainebleau for hunting activities.
The château’s architecture presents a mix of architectural styles, including Renaissance, classical, and medieval. The castle has gorgeous gardens, a serene chapel, incredible art galleries, and more. The castle regularly hosts different musical events today that delight visitors from near and far.
According to Frommers, Château de Fontainbleau has played a more significant role in French history compared to the more famous Château de Versailles. For instance, Château de Fontainebleau hosted guests like Emperor Charles V, Queen Christina of Sweden, and Pope Pius VII. Frommers cites King Francois I’s commissioning of a Renaissance makeover of Fontainebleau in 1528 as another reason this remarkable castle stands out as an example of artistic excellence and fine craftsmanship. France’s royals lived in this stunning castle from the 12th to 19th centuries, and even still today you can see some of their furnished bedrooms.
Château de Fontainebleau is easily accessible via Paris. It’s situated just 34 miles southeast of Paris’s city center.
Address: 77300 Fontainebleau, France
If you have a green thumb and love to garden, visiting Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte should be an essential item on your list of places to visit in France. This château was erected by Nicolas Fouquet who was the superintendent of finance of Louis XIV. Fouquet called upon André Le Nôtre, an expert landscaper and gardener for the building of Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. The final product of this castle inspired Louis XIV in the construction and organization of the Palace of Versailles. Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte was inaugurated on August 17th, 1661.
During summer months, you can visit Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte for “candlelight evenings” during which thousands of candles light up the castle and gourmet dinners are prepared, along with fireworks. You can also dress in 17th-century costumes and experience the castle as the royals did. This enchanting palace is well worth a visit.
Address: 77950 Maincy, France
And speaking of Château de Versailles…Versailles is arguably the most famous château in all of France. Revered for its opulence and its historical significance, Versailles holds a special place in French history.
This must-see palace is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and was among the first sites to receive that honor in 1979. Versailles is revered for its architectural and landscape design, the latter of which was heavily influenced by Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. Versailles has been home to some of the most famous names in French history, including Marie-Antoinette, Louis XVI, and “Sun King” Louis XIV. It’s also where, on June 29, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed. Specifically, it was signed in the palace’s famed Hall of Mirrors. The treaty was responsible for formally ending World War I.
Château de Versailles is easily accessible by train from Paris and takes around 60 to 90 minutes to reach by train. Let us at Fat Tire Tours take you there to make the journey even smoother, more fun, and more memorable. Book your Versailles Bike Tour with us and we’ll do the heavy lifting on planning your visit to Versailles.
Check out our article on How to Get the Most Out of Your Visit to Versailles
Initially, Château de Rambouillet was a medieval fortress that, eventually, became a stylish place of residence. It was home to famous names like Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, and Napoleon I, as well as French presidents Charles de Gaulle and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.
Château de Rambouillet boasts gorgeous gardens, which can be accessed via bicycle rentals or by boat. Rambouillet’s medieval origins and background are plain to see from first glance at its imposing turrets and Rapunzel-evocative towers.
The château is named for Marquise de Rambouillet, who acquired the property in the 1600s. The interior of the castle was refurbished in the Rococo style. Legend has it, however, that Marie-Antoinette was highly unimpressed by Château de Rambouillet’s interiors, reportedly calling it a “gothic toad-hole.” This “toad-hole” was also the site of the first-ever G6 meeting held in 1975, and it is well worth a visit.
Address: 78120 Rambouillet, France
Anne McCarthy is the Editor in Chief of the Fat Tire Tours Blog. She is a contributing writer to the BBC, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Wired, and many more. She splits her time between the U.S. and Europe.