Backside of Vaux-le-Vicomte

Backside of Vaux-le-Vicomte Casey Hatfield-Chiotti

From strolling the various quartiers and visiting museums to checking out the new “it” restaurants, there is no end to what you can see and do in Paris. Still, I must admit, some of my favorite days have been spent escaping the city. Many fascinating day trips are accessible by an easy train or car ride. While Versailles is by far the most famous and popular, there are other great places to visit that are just as interesting, and far less crowded.

Paris Day Trips, Palais de Fontainebleau, Chateau

Paris Day Trips, Palais de Fontainebleu Sculptures, Chateau Visit

Château de Fontainebleau, Richard White

Approximately 7,500,000 people visited Versailles in 2013. That’s 15 times more than the number of people who visited the Château de Fontainebleau, which is truly a bit of a crime. The only royal (and later imperial) chateau in France to have been continuously inhabited for seven centuries, Fontainebleau’s history is deep and rich. It dates back to the 12th century, but much of what you see today was the work of King Francis I, who had the palace renovated during the early 1500s. And the Francis I Gallery, with its frescoes framed in stucco by Rosso Fiorentino, serves as a beautiful example of Renaissance art and architecture.

Paris Day Trips, Malmaison, Chateau visit

Château de Malmaison, Casey Hatfield-Chiotti

Virtually every French sovereign from this period on – from the Bourbons to the Bonapartes – left their mark on Fontainebleau. Catherine de Medici gave birth to six of her children here, Louis XIII was baptized here, and Napoleon abdicated power here. Guided tours in French are available, but the self guided tour affords you the opportunity to see many of the highlights, including the ballroom with frescoes painted by Primaticcio and Empress Josephine’s sumptuously decorated bedroom covered in hand-stitched silk flowers.

Chateau de Fontainebleau is located in the town of Fontainebleau, about 55 kilometers southeast of Paris. To get there take a Transilien train from the Gare de Lyon to either Montargis, Sens, Montereau or Laroche-Migennes. Get off at the Fontainebleau-Avon station, then take the ‘Ligne 1’ bus that goes to Les Lilas. Get off at the ‘Château’ stop.

Paris Day Trips, Chateau Malmaison Garden View, Flowers, Chateau Visit

Château de Malmaison, Damian Entwistle

Just 12 kilometers from Paris, Château de Malmaison is a must-visit for anyone interested in the tumultuous reign of Napoleon Bonaparte and his Empress Josephine. The chateau was their country home until they divorced in 1809. It then became Josephine’s primary residence, and the Neo-classical villa showcases the Empress’ love of music, art, and above all, botany. At the height of the estate, Josephine cultivated over 250 roses on the property and many rare species can still be seen today. Inside, there’s a beautiful billiard room, a music room, and the room known as the Council Chamber, decorated to look like a military tent, where Napoleon conducted much business. Josephine died of a chest infection at Malmaison in 1814, but her lineage lives on. On your way out of the chateau take a look at the family tree in the stairwell. The royal families of Belgium, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark are all her descendants.

Paris Day Trips, Spotted roses at Malmaison, French garden, chateau visit

Château de Malmaison, Casey Hatfield-Chiotti

To get to Malmaison take the RER A train to “La Defense,” then take Bus 258 and get off at “Le Chateau.” Another option is to take the RER to Rueil-Malmaison, but it’s about a mile walk to the chateau.

Paris Day Trips, Vaux-le-Vicomte and moat, chateau visit

Paris Day Trips, Vaux-le-Vicomte French Formal Garden, Chateau visit

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, Casey Hatfield-Chiotti

Just outside the town of Melun lies Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, a magnificent chateau with a tragic history. It was built by Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s Superintendent of Finances, in the 17th century.  After attending a lavish party there, Louis XIV was reportedly so jealous he not only commissioned the architect, painter, and landscaper to create Versailles, he had Fouquet arrested and thrown in jail, accused of embezzling money. Fouquet died in prison in 1680, but the Baroque chateau endures. While the interior, and particularly the oval salon with domed ceiling, is impressive, the best part about visiting is strolling the one-and-a-half-mile-long garden designed by André le Nôtre, which reveals canals, grottos, and other hidden treasures as you walk through. Make sure to pay the extra three euros to climb into the chateau’s recently re-opened dome for a spectacular view of the grounds.

Montage, Paris Day Trips, Salon des Dames & Library at Vaux-le-Vicomte, Chateau Visit

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, Casey Hatfield-Chiotti

Vaux-le-Vicomte is still privately owned and several popular films have been shot here, including The Man in the Iron Mask and The Pink Panther. From May-October the chateau stays open until midnight on Saturdays, when 2,000 candles illuminate the castle and the gardens in remembrance of the estate’s unlucky creator.

Paris Day Trips, Bedroom at Vaux-le-Vicomte, Chateau Visit

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, Casey Hatfield-Chiotti

To get to Vaux-le-Vicomte take the RER D from Gare to Lyon to Melun. From the train station take a shuttle bus called the Chateaubus (only on weekends March 29-November 11) or take a taxi which will cost you 20 euros each way.

Related Links

  • Need a weekend getaway? Visit the historic town of Loches in the Loire Valley.
  • Another great day trip is a visit to Auvers-sur-Oise where the artist Van Gogh produced most of his work.
  • The Guardian lists the best day trip destinations from Paris.

Written by Casey Hatfield-Chiotti for the HiP Paris BlogLooking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.


Casey Hatfield-Chiotti

Casey Chiotti is a food and travel writer who recently fulfilled a life long dream by moving to Paris. She has a unique talent for sniffing out bakeries like a bloodhound and is finding it both incredible and, at times, excruciating to be in the best bakery city in the world (she tries to practice some self control). She writes about a different pastry every Saturday as well as other recommendations for restaurants and hotels around the world on her website Travelproper.


    1. We suggest each Chateau as a day trip on it’s own- three in one day would be too much! But any one of these castles make for a great day trip getaway!

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