It’s not only Paris. It’s Île-de-France

France is the world’s most visited country with almost 89 million tourists arriving in 2017 alone. The country is known for its exceptional cuisine, its world-famous art museums and galleries. Its fashion, its architecture and, of course, the Eiffel Tower have become the iconic staples of luxury travel. The latter also happens to be the world’s most visited monument, receiving about 7 million visitors annually.

While Paris is undeniably charming, there are other gems one can find around its region that should not be missed. Considering the warming temperatures and spring being around the corner, I’ve picked four of my favourite châteaux. These castles are perfect for a day trip of culture and history. Not mentioning their gardens that are some of the most beautiful in the country. The chateaux are an essential addition to understanding the French history and are a must-see for those who appreciate decadent style and rich historic architecture.

Château de Fontainebleau 

Arguably, one of the most important residences of the French royalty. It took eight centuries for the property to be fully complete, with many influential kings and emperors of France leaving their own mark on it. The château holds beautiful wooden halls, a chapel, and even a theatre, while the gardens are vast, very well-preserved and maintained. Unlike Versailles, all of Chateau de Fontainebleau gardens are open to public free of charge where the locals often spend their afternoon reading and relaxing. 

How to get there: 

Public transport: 1 hour. Train Line R from Paris Gare de Lyon. Get off at Fontainebleau Avon then by bus line 1 towards Les Lilas – get off at Château de Fontainebleau. 

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte 

The one that inspired Versailles. When Louis XIV first saw Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte he was very impressed by its grandeur and colossal beauty. He quickly decided that the castle was to be taken from his rightful owner – Nicolas Fouquet – then the vicomte de Melun et Vaux and the Superintendent of Finances. The marquise was accused of peculation and imprisoned, while the château was transferred to Louis XIV with its architect and garden designer, André Le Nôtre, hired to work on Versailles. Today, Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is privately-owned and is open to public as a museum. During the warm season, from May to October, the château hosts candlelit dinners and private weddings. 

How to get there: 

Public transport: 40 minutes. Train Line R from Paris Gare de Lyon. Get off at Melun then by the special shuttle bus or taxi. 

Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye

The third giant in history. The birthplace of The Sun King (Louis XIV), Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye was the main residence of Louis XIV in addition to the Louvre until the completion of Versailles. The property hosts the gorgeous Sainte Chapelle, as well as the French National Museum of Archeology with an exhibition on the history of France from prehistoric times to the Middle Ages. The gardens offer beautiful views of Paris and the surrounding region. 

How to get there: 

Public transport: 30 minutes. Train RER A – get off at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. 

Château de Monte-Cristo

Fun fact, this little château is not so far from the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, so I’d highly recommended to visit them both in one trip. This estate belonged to the world-famous writer Alexandre Dumas, who named his château after his novel The Count of Monte Cristo. Unfortunately, the writer had to sell it off in the late XIX century. However, under the patronage of King Hassan II of Morocco, the restoration of its Moorish room was complete. This château is much smaller than the other three, but just as captivating.

How to get there: 

Public transport: 40 minutes. Train RER A – get off at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Then take bus line 259 towards Anatole France , getting off at L’Ermitage.

With the warmer season approaching, these day trips are excellent to feel the royal grandeur of the past and pass a calm afternoon in gorgeous french gardens. A visit to Paris is not complete without these castles and without my quick “things to say” survival guide too! Bon voyage!