Within a couple of hours of Paris – and in some cases, a couple of minutes – there are literally dozens of châteaux. Some are rather austere but historically significant, like the Château de Vincennes, while others are impossibly decadent and ornate (hello, Château de Versailles). These castles may look like something out of a fairy tale (ahem, Château de Fontainebleau) while others, like Joséphine’s Château de Malmaison, would seem more at home in a Jane Austen novel.
Of course, if you want to make a weekend out of château hopping, you should consider travelling down to the Loire Valley, which is home to many of Europe’s most incredible castles, like the Châteaux de Chambord and Chenonceau. But if you want to see some stunning châteaux while keeping Paris as your base, you still have many options. One I discovered recently is the quiet but beautiful Château de Sceaux.
Only a few kilometres south of the city on the RER B line, the Château de Sceaux is easily reached on foot from the Bourg-la-Reine station (watch out: Sceaux station is actually a longer walk). With trains that leave every six minutes or so, and a twenty-five minute journey from Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame (and thirty minutes or so from the Gare du Nord), it is ridiculously easy to get to this lovely spot.
Though first built in the 1680s for the Colbert family, the current château dates from the Second Empire. The grounds were designed by famous Versailles landscape architect André Le Nôtre and thankfully survived the Revolution, though the original château itself did not. Lovers of C19th interiors might be a bit disappointed to learn that most of the open chambers have been transformed into a gallery for porcelain and paintings of the period. (Versailles and Fontainebleau are still the best for C18th and C19th furnishings and trimmings.)
In fact, while the château is indeed lovely, Sceaux’s greatest attraction is its garden. A combination of trimmed hedges and fountains reminiscent of Le Nôtre’s work in Versailles, along with wilder patches of forest, the grounds spread out from a central, T-shaped lake. Factor a good hour or so into your visit to stroll around, admire the castle from the far end of the lake, and lose yourself in the grounds on a quiet afternoon. Drink in the greenery and feel the calm of the countryside. Then hop on the train and find yourself back in the heart of Paris in the blink of an eye.