Smaller Gem Châteaux of France
In Part Two of our look at France’s châteaux, we focus on the lesser known, smaller scale examples.
The mighty draw of the A List châteaux is hard to resist of course. But the lesser known gems have their own unique appeal.
For starters, you’ll usually find them less busy, cheaper and with shorter queues – allowing a more personal, calmer and immersive experience as you wander.
Next, while the A List châteaux can easily merge into a block of dramatic gorgeousness that demands a ‘tick-off-the-list’ approach, the smaller gems usually are more individual and have their own USP or special point of interest.
Wherever you are travelling in France, a smaller scale château will inevitably shine a little light on the history and driving factors of the region. This really helps provide context and a better understanding of your surroundings.
So, whether you fancy the allure of the A List blockbuster or the tempting intrigue of the smaller gem, seek out a château and soak up a little of France’s colourful and vibrant history.
Château de la Clos Lucé
Famously, this was the home of Leonardo da Vinci between 1516 and 1519 and is just a short walk from the Château d'Amboise. He lived there for the last 3 years of his life, bringing with him his Mona Lisa and Virgin and Child paintings. Today it houses the Leonardo da Vinci museum, artwork, and models of his engineering projects – primitive prototypes of the aeroplane, helicopter, tank and more.
Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
Ile de France
Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque château situated 34 miles southeast of Paris in the Seine-et-Marne département. It was constructed between 1658 and 1661 during Louis XIV's reign and is a wonderful example of a relatively small but perfectly formed château, with ornate rooms and elegant gardens and grounds. It is one of France’s Monuments Historiques and, topically, is also where the BBC's lavish period drama ‘Versailles’ was filmed.
Château la Rochefoucauld
Not far from Angoulême and rurally situated with origins in the 11th century, this is a beauty of a château, and on a charming scale. There are guided tours which reveal plenty of interesting features and, as a nice USP, they even provide period clothes for visitors to borrow and dress up in as you wander around.
Château de Foix
South of Toulouse and with roots in the 7th century, this precariously perched castle was an important centre for the Cathars and was strategically important for centuries. Today it has fascinating insights into medieval life, as well as fabulous views over the surrounding countryside.
Château de Crèvecoeur-en-Auge
Dating back to the 12th century and lying east of Caen, this is a perfectly preserved medieval moated castle. The original layout is intact with manor house, chapel and timbered outbuildings all wonderfully maintained. It’s a fascinating, evocative place to wander around and let your imagination run wild but, despite all this, the castle is perversely often overlooked in tourist itineraries.
We make no bones about including this masterpiece of classical architecture purely on aesthetic merit. Visits are possible, by arrangement, but it is not on the tourist circuit and does not offer public tastings. The wine produced is among the finest in the world, the first claret sold by Christie’s in 1771 and later enjoyed by US President Thomas Jefferson. As a dramatic, elegant and beautifully proportioned structure it is, quite simply, one of the glories of all French châteaux.
Clos Luce by Nadègevillain - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Vaux-le-Vicomte By Jean-Pol GRANDMONT - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Foix By Pierre Bona - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Château de Crèvecœur-en-Auge By Karldupart - Own work, CC BY 3.0