Not all museums are for all travellers, and certain Paris historic sites will appeal to some and bewilder others. I personally love the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature but I know its penchant for animated taxidermy isn’t for everyone.
But no matter who you are and what you like, you can’t wrong with a château. They are grand and mesmerising and serene and exciting. If you haven’t visited a French château before, you should absolutely make the trek south to the stunning region of the Loire, home to the most wondrous collection of castles in the world. But if you don’t want to stray too far from the capital, Paris has plenty of them, too.
The king of the castles is doubtless the glittering, golden monolith of Versailles, 45 minutes from the city to the southwest. Further to the north, outside of the sleepy town of Rueil, lies the English-style castle Malmaison. Slightly further afield, but well worth the journey, is the monumental Château de Fontainebleau, surrounded by forests.
But perhaps the most unique château near Parisis just a short ride on the metro, in Vincennes. The Château de Vincennes doesn’t have any of the glitz of Versailles. Neither does it sport its original furnishings (or convincing remakes) like Fontainebleau. But it is a gem of history.
Built by Charles V and occupied throughout the ages by royals, Vincennes is a true Medieval castle, replete with moat, drawbridge, cathedral, soaring towers and dungeons. Quiet and composed, you can wander the grounds barely disturbed, to discover ballrooms, writing chambers and even latrines. Rather uniquely, the castle employs just the right amount of interactive technology. In one room, you can hear authentic Medieval music through a discreet touch display. In another, a guard will offer you an iPad to scan over the room, showing reenactments of the jewel-coloured tapestries and gilt edgings that once decorated the now-bare stone walls.
In fact, that app summed up what I find so great about Vincennes, compared with other châteaux; the castle doesn’t try to dress up its smooth stone facades with imitations of the past. It gives the visitor a creative glimpse into what the castle was like centuries ago, without obscuring the peaceful simplicity of what it is like today.
The Château de Vincennes gracefully bridges the gap between the then and the now, a fact that’s only reinforced by the path visitors take home. Stepping over the Medieval drawbridge, above the moat now lined with lush grass, within moments they arrive at the shining, modern metro station right outside the gates.