Take Me Away! DIY Virtual Tours of Famous Chateaux in France
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
bronze statue of Leonardo da Vinci as Perseus near the Château d'Amboise
Fancy a virtual trip to France from home? Take me away! Here's my guide to the best virtual tours of famous chateaux in France. France conjures up visions of fairytale castles, stately Renaissance architecture, and ribbons of verdant vineyards. This is where France is the Frenchest.
Some of these glorious chateaux are right outside Paris, and make the perfect day trip from the City of Light. Some chateaux are scattered throughout the Loire Valley, which is known as "The Garden of France" and the "Valley of the Kings."
If you're stuck at home, you can now virtually visit these famous French chateaux. Grab a goblet of red wine, and let's travel to the Loire Valley and beyond.
Best Virtual Tours of Famous Chateaux in France
1. Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte
Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte was Versailles before Versailles existed. Vaux-le-Vicomte is the prettiest privately owned chateau in France. When Princess Elizabeth visited in 1948, she pronunced it “more beautiful than Versailles!” Built between 1656-61, it's a fine example of French Baroque architecture with elaborate gold paneled halls.
In fact, Vaux-leVicomte was the inspiration for Versailles. The chateau was originally owned by the ill-fated Nicholas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s finance minister. In 1661, against his friends' advice, Fouquet invited the king and his entourage to a luxurious dinner reception.
Three weeks later, jealous of such grandeur, a peeved Louis XIV ordered Fouquet's arrest and seized the estate. He stole the exquisite statues and tapestries for Versailles. But otherwise left Vaux-le-Vicomte intact.
You can virtually tour Vaux-le-Vicomte on Google Arts & Culture. You can also take a Google Street View tour of the chateau here and of the gardens here.
Chateau du Fontainebleau
2. Chateau de Fontainebleau
Chateau Fontainebleau is a ravishing UNESCO site. The rambling chateau boasts 800 years of royal patronage. The NYT calls Fontainbleau "the single greatest assemblage over time of French architecture and decor still in its original state." It's a rare royal residence that escaped from the war time ravages of the French Revolution.
Francois I is most associated with Fontainebleau and he significantly expanded it. The highlights are the Royal Apartments, Marie Antoinette's boudoirs (the Turkish Bedroom and the Silver Bedroom), the Papal Apartment, and the grand Francois I Gallery.
You can virtually tour Chateau Fontainebleau on Google Arts & Culture. This Youtube video gives you the full scoop on the history and architecture of the magical chateau.
Chateau de Chambord
3. Chateau de Chambord
Chambord is the big daddy of Loire Valley chateaus. Building started on this massive Renaissance chateau in 1519. Commissioned by Francois I, a lowly hunting lodge was transformed into a monument to royalty and royal sport. It's rumored that Leonardo da Vinci influenced some of the chateau's architectural elements.
The chateau is laid out as a keep in the shape of a cross with four towers, 400 spikey sculpted columns, two wings, and over 400 rooms. The highlight is its mind- boggling double helix staircase. Twin staircases intertwine without actually touching. The rooftop offers breathtaking views over the valley.
Built in the 16th century, the Chateau de Chenonceau is the most famous and romantic of the Loire Valley chateaus. It spans the River Cher with picturesque palace arches for boats to glide under. Chenonceau housed and was influenced by many famous women over the centuries -- Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de' Medici, and Louise Dupin. Hence, it's nicknamed the "Ladies Chateau."
Highlights of the meticulously maintained chateau are the lavishly decorated ceilings, the ornate chapel, the Grand Gallery, the bedroom of Diane de Poitiers, and the Medici Gallery (now a museum). The museum houses Old Master paintings by Rubens, Pouissin, and Tintoretto.
Chenonceau has partnered with Google Arts & Culture. So you can take an extensive virtual tour, read stories about the historic chateau, or examine the art collection here. Here's another virtual tour of the glamorous chateau.
5. Chateau de Villandry
This lovely Renaissance chateau was completed in 1536. If you have a passion for gardens, this is the chateau for you. Villandry is renowned for its beautiful landscaped gardens. There are acres of decorative ponds, arbors, a maze, fruity trees, vineyards, and themed gardens.
You get a bird's eye view of the gardens from the chateau's only medieval remnant, the donjon of the keep. The chateau now offers a virtual tour of its famed gardens and a virtual video tour of both the chateau and gardens on its website. You can also take a virtual tour on Google Arts & Culture and virtually attend an online exhibit about Villandry's famed oriental ceiling.
walls of the Chateau d'Angers
6. Chateau D'Angers
Angers was the fiefdom of the powerful dukes of Anjou and the Plantagenets. The formidable Chateau d'Angers is an impressive black and stone affair, ringed by battlements and 17 watch towers. The "black" stone is actually blue schist.
The chateau houses one of France's great treasures -- the 14th century Apocalypse Tapestry, the Tenture de l'Apocalypse. Louis I, Duke of Anjou, commissioned the set of tapestries from Hennequin de Bruges in 1375. The 300+ foot tapestry depicts the story of Judgment Day.
Chateau d'Angers has partnered with Google Arts & Culture, so you can explore the chateau and the beautiful tapestry here. You can also take close up Google Street View 3D virtual tours of the garden, the top of the tower, the dungeon, and the tapestry.
Chateau de Blois, Dennis Jarvis, Flickr
7. Chateau Royal de Blois
The royal Chateau Royal de Blois was the favorite residence (and architectural project) of 7 kings and 10 queens of France. With its various Medieval, Gothic, Renaissance, and Classical facades, the chateau reflects all of France's great architectural periods. In 1429, Joan of Arc visited the castle to be blessed before doing battle with the English.
The Chateau de Blois was fully restored in the 19th century. It also houses the Blois Fine Arts Museum, with approximately 35,000 art works from the 16th and 17th century. It boasts masterpieces by Ingres, Rubens, and Boucher.
Built in 1625-34, the Chateau de Cheverny represents the zenith of French classical architecture. It's a perfectly proportioned tour de force of symmetry and aesthetic order. It's so orderly and stately that it's not quite as appealing to me as some of the other more romantically styled chateaux you can virtually tour.
Inside, the Chateau de Cheverny is sumptuously furnished with many works of art and tapestries. The dining room murals famously depict the story of Don Quixote. Chateau de Cheverny inspired Moulinsart Hall in the TinTin comic books, which you may remember from your childhood.
You can take a DIY virtual tour on the chateau website. The chateau is also a working hunting estate. It's known for the "feeding of the hounds," when a trainer gathers and feeds 100 hunting dogs all at once. You can see that tradition on YouTube.
Chateau de Chaumont
9. Chateau de Chaumont
The beautiful Chateau de Chaumont combines a medieval facade with 19th century furnishings inside. Construction began circa 1465 and continued until 1510. The chateau has elaborate gardens and hosts a "Festival International des Jardins" in high season.
Catherine de Medici purchased the chateau after her husband Henry II died. There, she entertained various astrologers, including Nostradamus. In 1559, Catherine kicked Diane de Poitiers, Henry II's mistress, out of the Chateau de Chenonceau and gave her the fortress-like Chaumont instead. She also made Diane hand over the crown jewels Henry had given her.
In 1875, the heiress Princess de Broglie purchased and renovated the chateau. Rather high maintenance, she also had the entire village razed and rebuilt.
The royal chateau of Amboise is a Renaissance jewel, with a taste of Italy and some medieval gargoyles thrown in for good measure. It features the Loire Valley's iconic gray slate cone-shaped rooftops. Designed by Italian master masons, Chateau Amboise is known as the “First Italianate Palace in France.”
Chateau d'Amboise is perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the town of Amboise. The chateau was the childhood home of luminaries such as King Charles VIII, Francois I, and Mary Queen of Scots.
At the invitation of Francois, Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci was a guest at the chateau. Da Vinci lived and worked at his own Amboise home, Close Luce. It was connected to the chateau by an underground tunnel. Leonardo brought three of his favorite paintings along with him to Amboise -- Sainte Anne, Saint Jean Baptiste, and a special little piece called the Mona Lisa.
Da Vinci is buried in the chateau's Chapelle St-Hubert, also called, naturally, the DaVinci Chapel. You can read about da Vinci's time in Amboise here and virtually tour the Close Luce here. You can take a virtual YouTube tour with GeoBeats here and another virtual tour of the interior here.
Chateau de Maisons-Laffitte, Moonik on Wikimedia
11. Chateau de Maisons-Laffitte
Maison-Lafitte is a 17th century beauty, located northwest of Paris. It was built by renowned architect Francois Mansart between 1630-35. The chateau is a milestone in French cultural history because it was one of France's first Baroque style palaces.
Nobody in France had seen anything like it. When the chateau was finished in 1651, people would travel long distances just to catch a glimpse. The chateau has commanding views of the forest of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and the Seine.
You can follow the chateaus social network here, with gorgeous photos of the grand chateau. Or take a virtual tour on YouTube here or here.
12. Chateau de Sceaux
Sceaux Castle is a dreamy little chateau-castle that be reached easily from Paris. The chateau was originally built in 1670. But it was demolished during the French Revolution.
In 1856, it was re-built by the Duke of Treviso. The castle lies in a beautiful estate with a cherry blossom orchard and orangery, which makes a spring visit enticing.
Like Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte, the gardens of Sceaux were designed by master landscaper André Le Nôtre. There are fountains, green spaces, and trees galore. And the grounds are free to visit.
Château de Monte-Cristo in Le Port-Marly outside Paris
13.Chateau de Monte-Cristo
Literature lovers will adore the swishy pleasure house of the famed novelist Alexandre Dumas. In 1847, with characteristic panache and elan, Dumas unveiled a dashing new estate to his coterie of friends and fans. It was one of the greatest architectural follies of its time -- a miniature Renaissance chateau and a Gothic house set in Le Port-Marly outside Paris.
Naturally, Dumas christened the chateau the "Chateau de Monte-Cristo" and the Gothic house the "Chateau D'If." The novelist Honore de Balzac described the duo as “one of the most delicious follies ever created … the most royal sweetbox in existence.”
The Chateau de Monte-Cristo is now a house museum dedicated to Dumas' life and novels. Here's my complete guide to visiting the Chateau de Monte-Cristo. You can take a virtual YouTube tour of it here (though it's in French).
This petit chateau is one of France's most romantic hidden gems. Situated on an island in the middle of the Indre River, this moat-ringed chateau dazzles with fanciful turrets and decorative stonework. Honoré de Balzac dubbed it a "multifaceted diamond set in the River Indre."
The chateau's most famous feature is its open loggia staircase. The staircase is Italianate in style and overlooks the central courtyard. And it's decorated with salamanders and ermines, symbols of Francois I and Queen Claude.
You can take a virtual tour of the lovely chateau on Google Arts & Culture. And there's a YouTube video about the chateau's restoration.
Chateau de Pierrefonds
15. Chateau de Pierrefonds
In 1857, Napoleon III hired the famed architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc to rebuild the romantic ruins of Pierrefonds Castle. Napoleon III longed for a lavish castle, fit for a king and evoking a medieval fantasy.
Inspired by Coucy Castle, one of my favorite French ruins, Viollet-le-Duc sought to maintain an equilibrium between a fortified palace with beautiful state rooms and a residence. The rooms are recreated in vibrant rich colors as they would have appeared in the Middle Ages, with medieval motifs like St. George and the Dragon.
Here's my complete guide to Pierrefonds Castle. Here's a 360 virtual tour of Pierrefonds. You can also explore the castle on its official website. Google Arts & Culture features Camille Corot's painting of the romantic chateau ruins before they were rebuilt.
entrance of the Chateau de Coucy
16. Chateau de Coucy
If you fancy a romantic ruined chateau, the Chateau de Coucy is perfect. The Chateau was the home of Enguerrand de Coucy VII, the star of Barbara Tuchman's magnificent novel The Distant Mirror. Chateau de Coucy was the greatest castle of the middle ages.
During its heyday, the chateau was famous for the size of its donjon and the pride of the Coucy lords. They had a bold motto, which translates to "I am not king, nor prince nor duke nor count; I am the Lord of Coucy."
In 1400, after Enguerrand's death, the Duke of Orleans bought the chateau. In 1498, the chateau became Crown property. During the French Revolution, it was transformed into a prison. In 1829, King Louis-Philippe purchased the chateau. It was renovated by Viollet-le-Duc, the famous restorer of Notre Dame, Carcassonne, and Pierrefonds.
the Chateau de Fere Hotel & Spa in Fere en Tardenois
17. Chateau de Fere
Reminiscent of Chateau de Chenonceaux, the Chateau de Fere is now an atmospheric 5 star luxury hotel. It's delightful. I know; I stayed there.
The hotel sits next to the evocative remains of a 13th century fortified castle that fell into ruin in the 17th century. Formerly a wing of the old castle, the chateau hotel was restored in 1863 and now nestles amidst flourishing woodland and manicured gardens.
You can take a virtual tour on the hotel's website.
the Chateau de Chantilly, Panoramas on Flickr
18. Chateau de Chantilly
This imposing palace is a 19th century version of Renaissance architecture. It was built by Henri d’Orléans, son of the last king of France Louis-Philippe. He was a great patron of the arts and made Chantilly the showcase for his masterpieces.
Andre Le Notre designed the gardens. The 18th century stables are original and now contain an equestrian museum.
Inside, you'll find Chantilly's crown jewel, the Musée Condé. The museum is chock full of precious art, sculpture, and a breathtaking library with medieval manuscripts. The most valuable pieces are the Renaissance paintings by Raphael, Botticelli, and Lippi.
Chateau de Chantilly has partnered with Google Arts & Culture, so you can take an excellent virtual tour. You an also take a virtual tour of the art galleries and chateau interiors on the chateau website.
Chateau de Vincennes
19. Chateau de Vincennes
Lying in the eastern suburbs of Paris is the 14th century Chateau de Vincennes. The chateau began life as as a royal hunting lodge in the 12th century. During the 13th century, the lodge was transformed into a larger, palatial estate for the French kings.
In the 14th century, the venerable building you see today was reconstructed, renovated, and modernized. It became the primary royal seat until Versailles was completed. When the 52 foot Donjon was added, Chateau de Vincennes became the tallest medieval fortified structure in Europe.
The chateau is wholly intact with a keep, dungeon, moat, and fortified concentric walls. You can take a 360 tour of the chateau here and explore it online at Google Arts& Culture.
20. Chateau de Versailles
Last, but certainly not least, is France's most famous chateau, the Chateau de Versailles. The UNESCO-listed palace was once the center and cultural heartbeat of Europe, until the French Revolution. The Sun King Louis XIV used Versailles as his royal seat from 1682 to 1789.
The Palace of Versailles is ornately decorated, to say the least. It's massive, flashy, and very, very gold. The opulence is overwhelming. Even the bathrooms are gold plated.
As exemplifies the Baroque style, the palace was decorated with gilding, stucco, arabesques, frescoed vaulted ceilings, mirrors, and tromp l'oeil effects. The king's apartments were in the center, because the world revolved around him.
Marie Antoinette's royal bedroom in Versailles
The Palace of Versailles has now opened its digital doors. It has partnered with Google Arts & Culture to present its virtual exhibits online. Google takes users on a journey of the palace's rich decor and art collection of over 22,000 pieces.
You can also take an amazing virtual tour on the Palace of Versailles' website. Nothing is left out! You can tour the Hall of Mirrors, the Royal Apartments, Marie Antoinette's rooms, the magnificent gardens, etc.
Versailles 3D, created by Google, also gives you an impressive 3D tour of Versailles. For the latest photos and stories, you can check out the Palace of Versailles' Facebook page. If you've watched the BBC's Versailles TV series, you visit the filming locations via my guide.
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This is just a sampling of the beautiful chateaux that abound in France. I've covered all the best Loire Valley chateaux here. But if you want to see a few more, head to Castles of the Loire on Google Arts & Culture. I also liked Rick Steves' YouTube video on his four favorite Loire Valley Chateaux.
If you'd like to travel virtually to other places in Europe, I've got guides for that too: