by Fiona McMurrey

Paris is not only the city of lights and romance but also a gateway to a treasure trove of historical castles. While the likes of Versailles, Chantilly, Fontainebleau, and the Louvre draw massive crowds, there are a lapidary panoply of lesser-known castles near Paris that offer equally captivating experiences without waiting for hours on end to enter and then miss the sights because of the immensity of the crowd. Here are five enchanting castles to visit that promise a journey through history and architecture, all while offering a more serene and intimate experience.

1. Château de Malmaison

Courtesy of Eye for Design

Location: Rueil-Malmaison, 15 km from Paris
Château de Malmaison, once the residence of Napoleon Bonaparte and his first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais, is a moody gem located just a short drive from Paris. This castle offers a deep dive into the Napoleonic era, with meticulously preserved rooms and artifacts that provide a glimpse into the private lives of its famous residents. The beautifully landscaped gardens, designed by Joséphine herself, are perfect for a leisurely stroll, offering a peaceful retreat from the city.

  1. The Consular Room, where Napoleon held important meetings that forever changed French history
  2. Joséphine’s extensive botanical gardens
  3. Napoleon’s library and personal belongings

2. Château de Maintenon

Courtesy of Passion Chateau

Location: Maintenon, 65 km from Paris
Nestled in the Eure-et-Loir department, the Château de Maintenon is a charming castle that often escapes the radar of tourists. This Renaissance-style château was the residence of Madame de Maintenon, the second wife of King Louis XIV. The castle’s interiors are beautifully preserved, showcasing exquisite furnishings and art. The picturesque gardens, designed by André Le Nôtre, offer stunning views of the aqueduct built by Louis XIV to supply water to the fountains of Versailles.

  1. The grand salon with its elaborate décor
  2. The picturesque aqueduct in the gardens
  3. Madame de Maintenon’s private apartments

3. Château de La Roche-Guyon

Courtesy of Sol Sophie

Location: La Roche-Guyon, 70 km from Paris
Perched on the banks of the Seine River, Château de La Roche-Guyon combines medieval fortifications with elegant 18th-century architecture. This castle, partially composed of a cliff, has a fascinating history that spans from the Middle Ages to World War II. The commanding views from the keep and the atmospheric interiors provide an utterly unique and unforgettable experience.

  1. The medieval keep with panoramic views of the Seine Valley
  2. The WWII-era German command post
  3. The terraced gardens cascading down the hillside

4. Château de Rambouillet

Author of image unknown

Location: Rambouillet, 50 km from Paris
Château de Rambouillet, located within the Rambouillet Forest, is a former royal residence that has hosted many French presidents, and is in fact regarded as the favourite among French leaders. This castle boasts an impressive amalgam of architectural styles, from its medieval origins to its classical and Renaissance expansions. The lush gardens, extensive lands, and the whimsical Queen’s Dairy, built for Marie-Antoinette, make for an idyllic day trip from Paris.

  1. The Queen’s Dairy with its ornate décor
  2. The formal gardens and vast parklands
  3. The opulent interiors reflecting various historical periods
  4. The grotto built specifically to woo Marie Antoinette

5. Château de Champs-sur-Marne

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Location: Champs-sur-Marne, 20 km from Paris Château de Champs-sur-Marne is a stunning example of classical 18th-century architecture. This château has been meticulously restored to reflect its former glory when it was a retreat for nobility and visiting dignitaries. The interiors are richly decorated, and the surrounding park, designed in both French formal and English landscape styles, offers tranquility and beauty. Highlights:

  1. The richly decorated salons and private chambers
  2. The beautifully maintained gardens with both formal and informal designs
  3. The historical exhibits detailing the château’s illustrious past

For those looking to explore beyond the well-trodden paths of Parisian tourist attractions, these lesser-known castles offer a perfect blend of history, beauty, and serenity. Each of these châteaux provides a unique glimpse into France’s rich heritage, ensuring a memorable and enriching experience.