Once a royal hunting ground, the Ile de France region is made up of the eight departments surrounding Paris. Being conveniently close to the seat of power and the former royal domain, this area has a number of opulent palaces and chateaux that are now open to the public. As with most French museums, entrance is free to those under the age of 18.
No-one can compare other grand palaces and chateaux without first visiting Versailles, the grand inspiration on which so many other palaces were modeled. Versailles is easy to reach on the RER regional train from Paris, which delivers visitors almost to the gates of the palace.
This magnificent residence gives an insight into life in the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV, from 1682. He lived at Versailles with his wife, Marie Antoinette, and hundreds of courtiers, hence the need for 2,300 rooms and 67 staircases in a palace that has a floor area of 67,000m². Guided tours reveal the highlights including the Hall of Mirrors, the King’s Apartments, Coronation Room, Battles Gallery as well as the Grand Trianon in the extensive formal gardens.
The palace of Fontainebleau is one of the largest chateaux in France. Started in the 16th century by Francis I on the site of a 12th century chateau, it was a favourite country house for French rulers for eight centuries. Built in Italian Mannerist style combining sculpture, metalwork, painting, stucco and woodwork, both indoors and out, it became known as the “Fontainebleau style”.
Today part of the chateau houses the Ecoles d’Art Americaines which instructs students in music, art and architecture. The palace includes a magnificent theatre, throne room, ballroom, the bedroom of Napoleon I and the Gallery of Henry II, best seen on a guided tour.
Vaux le Vicomte
Set in Melun, Vaux le Vicomte is a spectacular chateau and former home of Nicolas Fouquet, marquis de Belle-Ile. He made it a haven for French artists who used their talents to further glorify the chateau. However, the monument became Fouquet’s undoing. The jealousy he invoked in others led to his imprisonment on a false charge of embezzlement. The opulent chateau remains beautifully furnished and is complemented by wonderful gardens, designed by Le Notre. During the summer the palace and gardens offer “Soirees aux Chandelles”, candlelit tours which finish with a grand finale of fireworks.
Acquired by Louis XIV in 1783, this former castle was converted into a home worthy of a king with rococo and neo-Pompeian style interiors. The formal French gardens are segmented by a series of canals which create six islands.
Today Rambouillet is used as a Presidential estate for entertaining visiting heads of state. During the summer it is open to the public with guided tours including carriage rides of the grounds, the Dairy Queen and Shell Cottage.
Chateau de Malmaison
Just 12km from Paris and easy to reach by local RER train, the delightful home of Napoleon Bonaparte and Empress Josephine still retains its original 19th century décor which Josephine herself oversaw. This national museum is packed with personal paintings, furniture, jewellery, sculpture, fashion and porcelain collections and guided tours are available. The house is surrounded by a park which is a pleasant place to stroll.
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