A visit to France would not be complete without visiting some of the châteaus or castles. We've visited a few of the better-known ones in French history and have included some photographs on the next few pages for you.
The first château to visit is Vaux le Vicomte. It was one of the last châteaus to be built with a moat. Vicomte had many innovative architectural ideas and was the most elaborate château of its time, even grander than that of the king. It's considered one of the architectural masterpieces of the seventeenth century.
One of the several innovative designs is the large, round dome room at the back center of the building. Another is the use of a separate room for dining. Before this, rooms were set up for dining just prior to each meal. They were used for other activities during the remainder of the day. The house was also raised so the large kitchen had windows to let in light and fresh air even though it's in the basement.
The garden is magnificent and also innovative in design. Its design is still being used as a guide that many great gardens follow today. The building, gardens, and waterfalls were laid out along an axis measuring almost two miles from north to south. As you enter the château, you can see through the building and out the large windows in the dome room over the two miles of garden. What a beautiful sight! This is one part of the design that's been followed by many gardens, including Versailles.
After enjoying Vaux le Vicomte, you should visit Fontainebleau. During the prime years of its use, it was located in the heart of a 42,000-acre forest. Much of that forest is gone now, but most of the large garden area remains. It was once one of the privileged residences of the sovereigns who ruled France. They used it primarily as a hunting lodge. Over the years, several improvements were made to it through additions or new decorations. This resulted in the large number of courtyards and buildings, as well as many architectural and decorative styles.
There was a fortified castle on the site in the twelfth century, but the spectacular additions were started in the 1400s. Francois I brought together a vast collection of art work at Fontainebleau that included paintings by Leonardo da Vinci (including the Mona Lisa) and Raphael as well as sculptures, tapestries, and many other works of art. Most of this collection is now in the Louvre.
Louis XIV (1638-1715) scheduled the court's residence at Fontainebleau every autumn for the hunting season. After the revolution, Napoleon (1769-1821) found the château to be completely empty. He set up a military school there from 1803 to 1808 and started to refurnish it in 1804. He used it to receive the Pope; it became one of his favorite residences.
Then it's on to Versailles. If there's one château or castle to see in Europe, it's Versailles. Words and photos can't show you how amazing it truly is.
Versailles, as did Fontainebleau, started as a hunting lodge for the king. King Louis XIV decided to spend more time at Versailles with his court. Having the court away from Paris and dependent on him meant he was able to keep more of an eye on them.
When the king saw what the designers had done with Vaux le Vicomte, he used them to plan the expansion of the hunting lodge and garden into the most beautiful château in the world.
We hope you enjoy this short tour of the châteaus.