I love France! I love the food, the art, the history and everything about it. That’s why I go there at least once a year for a weekend break or on a French canal holiday (my favourite way of seeing the country).
France, like the UK is crisscrossed by a network of rivers and canals that provide a unique way of exploring the country and its history and culture. Many of these scenic water routes take your through rolling vineyards with some of the finest examples of magnificent French châteaux for you to explore.
The Best of the Best
With hundreds of miles of waterways, selecting a route for your French canal holiday can be difficult. But if you really want to see some of the best, classic examples of French Châteaux, then choosing a barge tour that takes you through Burgundy, Champagne, or the Loire Valley has to be your first choice.
I have to admit, that I do have my favourite Châteaux that I can revisit time after time and always discover something new. Here are just some examples of what I think are the crème de la crème of French châteaux that you mustn’t miss.
Château de Fontainebleau
Encompassing 800 years of history and over 1500 sumptuous rooms, the Château de Fontainebleau has to be one of the finest examples of French stately homes. It’s close to Paris, just 30 miles to the southeast and has housed French royalty from Louis 12th to Napoleon 3rd. As you’d expect from a building with such a long history, it is a collection of architectural styles and spectacular interior decorating that reflects the culture of each of its different occupants. Also, the château is home to an amazing collection of antique furniture, embroidered wall hangings and stunning artwork. If your French canal holiday takes you into the Loire Valley or Burgundy then this has to be a “not to be missed” attraction along the way!
Château de Bazoche
Burgundy, a region of France long associated with fine wines, is also home to the Château de Bazoche. A typical medieval fortress with four towers and a central keep, from the outside the château is a formidable structure. But once you get inside, the picture changes as you find yourself surrounded by luxurious furnishings, gorgeous frescos and another outstanding collection of art.
Château de Chenonceau
If you’re heading down the River Cher, then you can’t miss this unique château with its central gallery that spans the river, joining two magnificent structures on each bank. The château has been registered as an historical monument since 1840 and is one of the most popular in France. Apart from a huge collection of painting by Poussin, Rubens, Van Loo and many others, the landscaped gardens are superb including a reconstruction of a 16th century farm and a challenging, circular maze.
Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
In the Champagne region, apart from many excellent vintage champagnes, you’ll find the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, another stunning example of French architecture dating back to the 1600s. Set in a huge, man-made, landscaped park with many paths, groves and lakes, the château itself is surrounded by a wide, deep moat (kept empty today) with two bridges allowing access to the imposing structure. The château, with its lavish architecture, extravagant interior decoration, huge slate dome and geometrically precise landscaped gardens, marks the beginning of the lavish architecture and design language characteristic of Louis 14th, the “Sun King”.
Château de Villandry
Situated just a couple of miles from the River Cher is Château de Villandry, a building that is actually two separate structures. The original is a 14th century medieval castle with a central keep. Later on, during the reign of Francis the I in the 16th century, the original structure was renovated and a new, Renaissance style château was built around the old keep. This created a unique structure and one that is both exiting and interesting to explore. But perhaps the greatest attraction the château offers are its huge, carefully and precisely landscaped ornamental gardens.
Five magnificent châteaux, each unique in its own way and each offering you an unforgettable experience during any French canal holiday or river cruise in France.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury French canal holiday itineraries, as well as barge holidays in other great destinations. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.
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