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Ten of the Best Chateaux to visit in France

No visit to France would be complete without taking the time to explore at least one of its stunningly beautiful chateaux. Whilst the Palace of Versailles sets the gold standard for the finest historic houses in France, there are many others to consider. Here are ten of the best chateaux we recommend for a visit.

Chateau d’Amboise

Chateau d’Amboise

Situated on the banks of the River Loire, the Chateau d’Amboise creates an impressive spectacle over the small market town. First constructed as a castle prior to the 10th century, the chateau has undergone great periods of transformation over the centuries. Seized by Charles VII in 1434, Amboise quickly became a favourite of the Kings of France. As you would expect with a royal house, the building is one of the finest anywhere in the world and includes some of the oldest examples of Renaissance architecture in France. Also of note is the smaller Chateau de Clos Luce, which connects to Amboise via an underground passage. Clos Luce is reputedly where Leonardo da Vinci spent the final years of his life.

Chateau de Chambord

Chateau de Chambord

The Chateau de Chambord is almost certainly the most impressive hunting lodge ever built. The stunning structure, with a fireplace for every day of the year, has 440 rooms, of which around 80 are open to the public. Originally commissioned by King Francois I, whose name you will find associated with many of the great chateaux, Chambord features ornate ceilings and, in the centre of the building, an incredible double-helix staircase.  Although it is believed that Chambord was never fully completed (there appear to be the bases for two further towers at the corners of the stable block) the structure is the picture postcard image of the perfect French chateau. Chambord’s beautifully kept grounds are surrounded by a 32km wall, making it the largest enclosed forest park in Europe. It is not unusual to see deer, wild boar and ospreys during your visit.

Chateau de Chantilly

Chateau de Chantilly

The Chateau de Chantilly actually comprises two buildings, the Petit Chateau which was constructed in 1560 and the Grande Chateau which was rebuilt in 1870 having been destroyed during the French Revolution. The chateau’s art gallery is home to one of the finest collections of art outside the Louvre and the stunning library of the Petit Chateau contains, amongst other things, more 200 medieval manuscripts. The chateau overlooks Chantilly racecourse and has one of the finest stable blocks in the world. Legend has it that Louis Henri, Duc de Bourbon, believed he would be reincarnated as a horse and commissioned a stable block befitting his status.

Chateau de Chenonceau

Chateau de Chenonceau

Chenonceau with its arched bridge, which spans the Cher River, is one of the most visited of all French chateau. Throughout its history, Chenonceau has been greatly influenced by the women who lived there. Diane de Poitiers commissioned the building of the familiar bridge in 1555 and Catherine de Medici took possession four years later adding a series of stunning gardens. The beautiful mix of late gothic and early Renaissance architecture, coupled with the superb formal gardens, make Chenonceau a fabulous addition to any itinerary.

Chateau de Fontainebleau

Chateau de Fontainebleau

Napoleon Bonaparte christened the Chateau de Fontainebleau ‘The House of the Centuries’. Certainly it is one of the best places to visit if you wish to see a fusion of Renaissance and Baroque architecture working together in one building. From the Gallery of King Francis I, which contains beautiful Fresco’s, to the bed chambers of Marie Antoinette, the chateau captures the echoes of an era of finery and elegance. Outside, the stunning gardens are the perfect place to relax on a warm summer afternoon. A visit to Fontainebleau is one of the best ways you can spend a day in France.

Chateau de Pierrefonds

Chateau de Pierrefonds

Fans of the television series ‘Merlin’ will be enchanted by a visit to Pierrefonds, where much of the series was filmed. The chateau was destroyed in the 17th century and lay in ruin for almost 200 years before being purchased by Napoleon I in 1810, for just 3,000 Francs. Napoleon III commissioned a period of rebuilding in 1850 and the exterior of the castle has been restored as a faithful representation of medieval architecture. The restoration work inside the castle was never finished. However, what can been seen is still fascinating. Pierrefonds is stunning from the moment you first set eyes on it and is well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Chateau du Plessis-Bourre

Chateau du Plessis-Bourre

Plessis-Bourre was built in 1468 and is one of only a few French chateau whose exterior has not been significantly altered over the centuries. Surrounded by a large moat, and still with a working drawbridge, you feel as though you have stepped back in time the moment you access the chateau. The stunning courtyard, coupled with interior decoration dating back to the 15th to 19th centuries, mean that you can truly experience a chateau as it used to be.

Chateau d’Usse

Chateau d’Usse

Referred to on the website as Castle of the Sleeping Beauty, the enchanting Chateau d’Usse is straight from a fairy tale. In fact, it has been the inspiration for more than one Disney castle. Rose gardens and princess turrets capture the imagination as soon as you enter the grounds and the inside does not disappoint either. Rich displays of history, accompanied by life-like wax work figures, enthral young and old alike as you tour the centuries old chateau. An absolute gem among French chateaux which brings magic to life.

Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte

Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The fore-runner of Versailles, legend has it that the Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte was the catalyst which inspired Louis XIV to build his impressive palace. Vaux-le-Vicomte is stunning in its design and much quieter than Versailles. The superb formal gardens, believed to be the first to be planned with a French style layout by Andre le Notre, seemingly go on forever, and are more than worth the admission price in themselves. For something a little out of the ordinary, it is possible to visit the chateau by candlelight on selected dates.

Chateau de Villandry

Chateau de Villandry

It is unusual to find a chateau which does not immediately catch your eye but the stunning gardens at Villandry are so breathtakingly beautiful that it may be several minutes before you finally turn your gaze to the chateau. The formal gardens are arranged in symmetrical geometrical segments and, at the right time of year, the array of colour is astounding. Inside, the house is simply and elegantly furnished and it is worth taking the time to look around if you are there. There is also a superb restaurant on site which offers a seasonal menu at a reasonable rate.

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