Paintings by the great masters and wonderful gardens at Chantilly
Barely half an hour away from the Gare du Nord in Paris, a tree-lined drive leads you straight to the château of Chantilly. In the former lands of the Valois dynasty, surrounded by three forests, this crown jewel of French heritage stands imposingly in the centre of a 115 acre park designed by Le Nôtre, the favourite gardener of the Sun King. Its Ancien Régime decor chosen by Henri d'Orléans, son of the last King of the French, Louis-Philippe, will enlighten you about the way of life developed by the French aristocracy in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the Musée de Condé, you will be enraptured by the masterpieces in an incredible collection of old paintings: Raphaël, Delacroix, Ingres, Watteau… none of the great masters is missing. After this inspiring visit, head for the impressive stables with their extraordinary dimensions. They could accommodate 240 horses and 500 dogs which were used for hunting on the estate.
Château of Chantilly
+33 (0)3 44 27 31 80
Immerse yourself in the Renaissance at Fontainebleau
Sixty or so kilometres south-east of the French capital, retrace the footsteps of the French kings as you explore the château of Fontainebleau. Take a breath of fresh air in its vast park, a perfect example of a French-style garden adjoining an immense forest, then explore this iconic landmark of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The apartments are a showcase for the refinement of Italian art, while the magnificent gallery decorated by the artist Rosso Fiorentino, offers a combination of stuccos, panelling, mythological allegories from ancient times and paintings in honour of Francis I of France. Extend your visit at the Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, museum which recounts the Emperor's dazzling career. You will leave greatly enlightened about the decorative arts of the Imperial era.
Château of Fontainebleau
+33 (0)1 60 71 50 70
A magical night at Vaux-le-Vicomte
The château of Vaux-le-Vicomte was used as a template for the construction of Versailles, which explains its historical interest. This superb residence, the work of Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV's Superintendent of Finances, can easily be visited in one day from Paris. Take the time to stroll between the topiary, the stretches of water and flower beds in its splendid 35-hectare French style garden. Then enter this 17th century jewel of classical architecture, where an audio-guided tour will draw you into a luxurious world enhanced by a large collection of 17th and 18th century furniture. Vaux-le-Vicomte also organises night-time tours: don't miss this opportunity to discover its decor by candlelight. The visit is followed by a sumptuous dinner at les Charmilles restaurant. Your evening will have a fairy tale ending with fireworks set off in the park.
Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte
Water and colours interplay at Courances
Head for the department of Essonne, 47 kilometres from Paris, to visit the château of Courances. It is still inhabited and opens to the public at weekends, between April and October. With its ponds and canals, its park is considered as one of the most beautiful in France. Take a stroll through these remarkable gardens, with their classical and romantic beauty. You will immediately fall under the spell of its fountains, its views and its myriad greens ... a real invitation to spread out your tablecloth for a rustic picnic. Hidden behind foliage, the majestic outline of the Château reveals a redbrick facade typical of the Louis XIII style. Inside, follow a guide who will enthusiastically recount the history of this privately-owned residence which has been used as a location for many French films.
Domaine de Courances
5 Rue du Château
A pastoral walk at Champs-sur-Marne
Take a trip to the château of Champs-sur-Marne, half an hour by car from Paris. Typical of the country seats of the 18th century, this enchanting location will introduce you to a different, French-style way of life. As you enter this temple of elegance, you will be amazed to find bedrooms equipped with powder rooms and wardrobes. The famous Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress, who stayed there for three years, had a bathroom built with stucco decoration which was unique in the world. Take a stroll through its park which combines two gardening styles which initially appear incompatible: the first, French and formal, and the other – English – denser and more mysterious, like the eerie forests in Grimm's fairy tales.
Château de Champs-sur-Marne
31 Rue du Château