Are these the most jaw-droppingly beautiful chateaux in France? These architectural wonders have inspired artists, poets and films over the centuries.
Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron, Bordeaux Region
Pichon Baron castle is an absolutely stunning example of French châteaux architecture, and even better, is a winery and vineyard! The 73 hectare site produces wine under the ‘Château Pichon Longueville Baron’ name. Eleven dextrous workers prune every vine by hand of the cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes on the Bordeaux site in the west of France. Now, if I won the lottery, this would be the top of my wishlist!
Vaux-le-Vicomte Chateau, Maincy, north-central France
In the suburb of Melun, just 55km south of Paris is the imposing Baroque Vaux-le-Vicomte chateau. It was built for the Viscount of Melun, Nicolas Fouquet in 1658, who also served the French government as the Finance Minister. This lavish chateau was to be his undoing however as King Louis XIV took offence as his outward displays of wealth and promptly imprisoned him! And to further punish Fouquet, King Louis XIV ordered the construction of a much larger and more opulent chateau, and the exquisite Palace of Versailles was born!
And if you think that Vaux-le-Vicomte looks familiar, you may have spotted it in a film or two. In particular the 1979 James Bond outing of Moonraker, where the property served as the residence of villain Hugo Drax.
Chateau des Ducs de Bourgogne, Dijon, eastern France
This sprawling complex comprises the Palace of the Dukes, as well as the Estates of Burgundy. The result is a blend of architectural styles including medieval and Gothic. Works started in 1364 and have been ongoing ever since with various additions. Today the Mayor of Dijon is based here, as well as the Museum of Fine Arts, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon.
Chateau de Vizille, Grenoble, southeast France
The impressive Vizille Castle is located in the old Dauphiné region, where the Kings of France originated between the 14th century and the French Revolution. Needless to say that when this chateau was built in the early 1600’s it needed to exude the opulence fit for future Kings. And it certainly delivers: ringed by a 7km wall, the chateau has 320 acres of grounds and today houses the interesting Musée de la Révolution Francais.
Chateau de Chaumont, Chaumont-sur-Loire, central France
This fairytale castle was first founded in the 10th century and has a long and colorful history. Here Catherine de Medici entertained legendary astrology Nostradamus and influential woman of her time, Madame de Staël extensively renovated the castle. Today this impressive structure is a museum and each summer the English-style gardens play host the annual garden designers festival.
Palace of Versailles, just east of Paris
Originally built at the command of King Louis XIV to punish his former minister (see above), the lavish Palace of Versailles is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also one of the most visited tourist attractions in France, with over 6 million people meandering through the pristine gardens and fabled Hall of Mirrors. The intricately designed gardens are the work of French landscape architect André Le Nôtre who designed both Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte. The gardens cover 800 hectares and the lush landscape includes fifty fountains, a 5.5 km long grand canal and over 200,000 trees. The most popular rooms within Versailles are the King’s private apartments, chapel and the famous Hall of Mirrors, aka Galerie des Glaces. This is where the French court held their ceremonies and the name is derived from the 17 decorative arches which are encased with mirrors.
Chateau d’If, Marseille, south of France
The small, but historically important Château d’If, lies on a small island within the Mediterranean Sea, just 3km off the coast of Marseille’s Vieux Port. The controversial three storey square structure was built as a defence structure in 1524, to defend the port area against attack. However in the 18th century the castle was used as a prison for 3,500 Huguenots: the surrounding waters were likened to Alcatraz and thus rendered it escape-proof. This was challenged however when Alexander Dumas published ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ in which the character of Dantes escapes. The 1844 novel proved to one of the most popular books ever. And American author Mark Twain also visited Chateau d’If in 1867 and tells the tale in his book ‘The Innocents Abroad’. Today visitors can hop over to the island and explore the secrets of the former prison.
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