Château De Vaux-Le-Vicomte: An Inspiration for Versailles
At approximately 50 kms from Paris, this castle with its lavish décor, unparalleled views and magnificent frescos, is considered to be a masterpiece of the French Baroque. In 1656, Nicolas Fouquet, King Louis XIV’s superintendent of the finances and the owner of the castle, bought together three notable artists to transform the structure. After the completion of the work, Fouquet invited the King and the royal entourage to an extravagant soirée. However, Fouquet’s intention to flatter the king backfired, as the King stormed out of the castle with a lot of resentment and jealousy. Three weeks later, Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life on the charges of embezzlement of state money. The king later sent the team of the same artists to design and build a much larger project, the Palace of Versailles.
Château De Fontainebleau: A Temporary Residence for the Pope
With its angelic embellishments, lofty courtyards and towering apartments, the castle is a reflection of 800 years of successive French rulers. In 1804, Napoleon chose Fontainebleau for his meeting with Pope Pius VII, who had attended Napoleon’s coronation. He had opulently refurbished the castle and decorated a suite of rooms for the Pope. A few years later, the emperor planned a massive invasion of Russia, to mark his final conquest of Europe. During this time, from 1812 to 1814, Napoleon moved the Pope to Fontainebleau and encouraged him to make a public appearance, to assure the public of his support and good health, which the pontiff humbly declined. During his stay at Fontainebleau, the pope ate sparingly and led a monastic life.
Château De Chenonceau: A Tribute to the Power of Women
Built over the river Cher, with its five-arch bridge reflected in the languid waters, the Castle of Chenonceau is the most recognisable structure in France. It is often described as a ‘Ladies’ Château’, as throughout its history, many powerful women have influenced its destiny. One such among them was Diane de Poitier, mistress of King Henry II, who was offered the chateau as a gift and by 1555 became the legal owner. She built the arcaded bridge from the palace to the opposite side of the river and added extensive gardens. However, upon King Henry II’s death, his widow Catherine De Medici forced Diane de Poitier to exchange the castle for Château of Chaumont. As the regent of France, Catherine De Medici completed the gallery on the bridge and added a series of gardens, allowing her to hold lavish parties and entertain the French nobility.
Château De Villandry: A Renaissance Glory Restored
With tinkling fountains, cascading flowers and ornamental vines, the Castle of Villandry is home to a lacework of the finest gardens in France. However, back in 1754, when Marquis Michel-Ange of Castellane acquired the castle, he made significant changes to the interior of the castle, inevitably endangering its renaissance appeal. In the course of many decades, the castle changed hands and the estate underwent transformations. In 1906, Joachim Carvallo, a young Spanish doctor, and his wife Ann Coleman purchased the castle and put their energies and fortune to restore it to its former glory. They removed the walls and the windows added by the Marquis and redesigned the gardens back to the original French Renaissance.
Château de Chambord: A Hunting Lodge for the Kings
Nestled in the largest walled and enclosed park of Europe, lies a unique and singular castle which blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance compositions. In 1515, inspired and enamoured by the marvels of Italian architecture, François I built a new hunting lodge in France. It is suggested that Leonardo Da Vinci influenced the design of the renowned double helix staircase and many other features of the castle. In spite of the elaborate plans, the king barely stayed here for seven weeks in his lifetime. The colossal rooms, open windows and high ceiling made heating impossible, consequently the castle was impractical to live in. Furthermore, the estate was not surrounded by a single village, thus hunting games was the only food source for the royal staff. Nevertheless, the successors of François I continued to use the château for hunting.