You don’t need to travel to the Loire Valley to see the sumptuous chateaux once inhabited by French Royalty; there are several chateaux just a few miles from Paris that await your visit. Once a rural hunting ground and home-away-from-home for the rich and powerful of Paris, the Ile de France preserves the majestic past for us to see and enjoy. Impressive royal historic residences, with their opulent interiors and splendid gardens, are ready to welcome you. An excursion to the Ile de France is one beautiful way to discover why the French take such great pride in their cultural heritage.
Naturally endowed with lovely forests and a mild climate, the Ile de France is blessed with the elegant beauty of Versailles, the forests and Chateaux de Fontainebleau (I like Fontainebleau more than Versailles); Rambouillet, now the summer home of the French President; Chateau de Malmaison, once loved by Josephine; and Vaux le Vicomte, where you’ll find some of France’s most gorgeous formal gardens.
The many splendors of Ile de France are all less than an hour from Paris, and easily reached by car, train or tourist bus. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience the elegant history of the country through the royal French chateaux.
The Chateau de Versailles can actually be a day trip from Paris. You can take the RER (regional train service) to Versailles and walk a few blocks to the Chateau. The splendiferous chateaux and its surroundings give visitors a taste of life at the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King. Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette also resided here. But, the little town of Versailles is fascinating and staying a day or two would be worth it.
Where to Stay in Versailles
Pullman Versailles Chateau****
At the front door of Chateau de Versailles, this modern four-star hotel also allows for easy access to Paris. The building itself has been classified as a historic monument due to its location on the site of the artillery training grounds built by Napoleon III. The 152 elegantly decorated rooms come with all the proper amenities required for a special visit to this historically important city. There is a fitness room on the premises and also a shuttle service.
Trianon Palace ****
This beautiful luxury hotel is located just 20 minutes from downtown Paris and is a short walk from the Chateau of Versailles. People have been enjoying the service at The Trianon Palace since 1910. The hotel has been renovated, restoring it to its original beauty, and offers 96 beautiful rooms. There is also a pool, a lounge with live music and the famous restaurant, Les Trois Marches, is close at hand.
The Fontainbleau Chateau was built by Francois I, and his signature – the salamander – is carved into the building and its interiors to ensure that everyone knows it. The chateau is a favorite because it is furnished (unlike many in the Loire) and the surrounding gardens are breathtaking. The nearby Fontainbleau Forest, formerly the King’s hunting ground, is available for active tourists to hike, rock-climb, or bike.
Vaux le Vicomte
Set in Melun, a short distance from Fontainbleau, Vaux le Vicomte is a spectacular chateau, once the bastion of Nicholas Fouquet. For years, under his protection, Vaux was a haven for leading French artists who gave the best of their talents to the glory of Vaux. But the chateau was also the tragic setting of Fouquet’s downfall. He was imprisoned for life for an embezzlement he did not commit. His sin was his lavish lifestyle and hospitality, which evoked the jealousy of others, who saw to his ruin.
The chateau is entirely furnished and you can visit the state apartments and private rooms, the dining room, the bedrooms and private apartments, as well as the kitchens and cellars.
The chateau has been the setting for several movies, most recently Moliere, Marie Antoinette and Valmont, to name just a few. The gardens, designed by Le Notre, rival Versailles for its grand scope and artistic vision.
Where to stay in and near Fontainebleau
Hotel de l’Aigle Noir ****
The 55 rooms offered at this luxury hotel are elegantly decorated in all different styles. Each room comes with satellite TV, air conditioning, room service and much more. On the premises you will find Le Beauharnais, a wonderful restaurant offering the finest French cuisine. You can also relax in the heated pool or enjoy the gym and sauna.
Domaine de Belesbat****
Less than an hour from Paris and not far from Fontainebleau, you’ll find the beautiful hotel and golf resort, Domaine de Belesbat. The hotel is set alongside a beautiful forest and has been completely restored. The newer buildings are designed to fit into the castle’s architecture and complement the surroundings. Swim in the outdoor or indoor pool or experience the wonderful French cooking in the restaurant. Here, you will stay in a beautiful castle and experience the best in comfort and service. We love this fine hotel.
The Rambouillet castle acquired by Louis XVI in 1783, was transformed into a charming residence, with beautiful Rococo and Neo-Pompeian style interiors. Surrounded by formal French gardens, canals, and six islands, the castle today is an official presidential estate, and receives heads of state invited to France.
Where to Stay in Rambouillet
Mercure Relays Du Chateau Hotel***
With 83 rooms, this hotel is located in the historic center of the city of Rambouillet, opposite the castle and its park. The hotel is a former XVI post house and has been renovated in the last few years. It features a tea room and piano bar.
Chateau de Malmaison
Located just 12 kilometers from Paris, you can get here by taking the RER, line A from Grande Arche de la Defense and getting off at stop “Le Chateau”. Here you can visit Napoleon and Josephine’s home with its original 19th-century decor, variety of porcelain collections, paintings, and furniture.
Written by Terri Fogarty for EuropeUpClose.com