France is filled with chateaus, castles and palaces. You will feel like Cinderalla as soon as you step onto any of their grounds! These palaces are so grand, nothing in the United States compares (well the Newport Mansions do give them a run for their money!). Any trip to France should include a visit to at least one of these amazing estates.
How to Get to Them
The main issue with trying to visit chateaus is that they are not going to be in major cities. That’s just a fact; the whole point of these way back in the day was that they were country estates for nobility to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. So they are going to be a little out of the way no matter how you slice it.
Therefore, I recommend making a trip to a palace an exquisite pit stop to compliment an existing itinerary. So be flexible on which ones you are going to see, but if there is one place that you really want to get to—for example, Versailles—then yes go ahead and make that a tent pole of your trip, but if you are just trying to put a little icing on the cake, then choose somewhere that is on the way to your main destination.
When to Go
Since any decent palace will have equally amazing surrounding gardens and parks, you should try to plan your visit during nice weather. Late spring or early summer is best. But remember, most palaces are big tourist attractions all year round, and also attract many locals so try to go during the week and avoid school vacation periods. Also, do not underestimate the amount of time you will need to really explore a true palace. You will easily spend several hours at most places . These are truly beautiful places; you will not want to rush.
On a recent trip, we were driving from Lake Annecy back to Paris and wanted to break up the 6-hour drive with some fun stops. We choose Château de Châteauneuf-en-Auxois and Chateau de Fontainebleau. Both of these were conveniently located right off our route and were places that certainly looked worth the stop.
Château de Châteauneuf-en-Auxois
Located in the Burgundy Region of France, Château de Châteauneuf-en-Auxois is a 14th century wonder. And in fact the castle is one of the “last remaining examples of 14th century Burgundian military architecture” according to the Burgundy Tourism Board.
The Château is from the Hundred Years War period and is a beautiful piece of Medieval architecture. Just driving up to it from the main road you feel like you are in a fairy tale—it is a real life castle! I thought Rapunzel was going to toss down her long hair any second!
And the surrounding fortressed town is just as amazing! These buildings are as old as the Château and are just as awe-inspiring! We visited on a sleepy June day and felt as if we had stepped back to another time.
Chateau de Fontainebleau
The second palace pit stop we made on our way back to Paris was at the Château de Fontainebleau. This Château dates back to the 12th century and was the seat of French power for centuries. Architecturally, the palace showcases French style across 7 centuries, from the 12th to the 19th. It is a sprawling house and estate.
During the French Revolution, Château de Fontainebleau, like many royal residences, was pillaged. But in 1804, Napoleon refurbished the entire palace in anticipation of the Pope’s attendance at his coronation.
The gardens are magnificent! We had a gloriously sunny day during our visit and it was just a dream to stroll through the gardens and courtyards.