Explore the French Countryside with Virtual Tours
With the world still upside down, virtual travel looks like it is here to stay – and I for one and incredibly grateful!
Even when travelling, whether for a few days or months, we often have to make tough decisions on where we can 1) afford to visit or 2) have time to visit. As as much as I love getting out of the main cities, it can often be difficult especially when limited by time.
This is why virtual tours, though by no means the same as actually being there, are the next best thing and more then a little addictive!
After exploring Paris using virtual tours, it made sense to venture out a little further and see what Châteaux, castles and regions of France also offer virtual tours.
So here we go, an evolving list of Châteaux and Palaces you can visit simply by turning on your laptop and pouring yourself a glass of Champagne… allons-y!
1. Visit the Château Vaux le Vicomte Virtually
Château Vaux le Vicomte began life as the private home of Nicholas Fouquet, who was the Superintendent of Finance or King Louis XIV. A stunning château built in the French Baroque style, it took 20 years to complete and was fit for a King.
Unfortunately for Mr Fouquet, he was being set up by his rival, another minister in Finance for Louis XIV. Jealous of Mr Fouquet’s success, Colbert convinced the King that Fouquet was embezzling money from the Royal Treasury.
After hosting a lavish dinner for the King at the Château Vaux le Vicomte, Fouquet was arrested and charged. King Louis XIV then stripped the Châteaux of its luxurious tapestries, treasures and even Orange trees and moved them to Versailles.
2. Visit Château de Chenonceau Virtually
The Châteaux de Chenonceau, better known the Château des Dames (Ladies Château) dates back to the 16th century and has a long and unusual (for the time) history of ownership and occupancy by ladies.
From King Henri II’s favourite mistress – Diane de Poitiers, to Queen Catherine de Medici who ran the Kingdom of France from office within the Châteaux for a time, to Louise Dupin who wrote the Code of Women’s Rights while hosting famous literary salons in Chenonceau.
Louise Dupin even managed to save the Château from certain destruction during the French Revolution by convincing the revolutionaries that the Château was the only bridge in the area for many miles, making it essential for travel and commerce.
There is more, but that gives you a very good idea of the incredible history behind this beautiful Château than sits over the River Cher in the Loire Valley.
Impeccably maintained, you can explore the bedrooms, chapel, galleries and museum virtually (while adding it to your must-see list for your next visit to France).
3. Explore Château de Fontainebleau Virtually
With its history spanning back as far as 1137, the Château de Fontainebleau is a living, sprawling reflection of the long line of French Kings who have lived there.
From its beginnings as a medieval castle, the Château has been renovated and expanded by each successive royal occupant from Francis I all the way through to Napoleon III.
Add its illustrious list of foreign Royal guests including the Czar Peter the Great and its role as a discreet prison for Pope Pius VII, and you have a very fascinating look into the history of France.
4. Explore Château de Chambord Virtually
The Château de Chambord is an incredible mansion which blends traditional French medieval structures with classical Renaissance style. It truly looks as though it belongs in a fairy tale!
Although the Château began life as a hunting lodge for King Francis I in 1519, and over a series of constantly changing renovations it ended up as the largest Château in the Loire Valley.
The architecture is stunning, from the towers, chimneys, intricate columns and double helix staircase (two staircases which intertwine around each other without touching). This is a palace you can easily get lost in!
5. Explore Château Royal de Blois Virtually
Considered by some to the gateway to Loire Valley, The Château Royal de Blois has an illustrious and very royal history.
Over the course of its history, it has had 10 Queens and 7 Kings of France call it home with its four distinct architectural styles reflecting various points in its history. From Medieval, Gothic, Renaissance and Classical facades, the immense 564 room Château sits in the centre of the Town of Blois. Walking through here really is like walking through French Royal history!
In 1840 the Château Royal de Blois was placed on the list of historical monuments of France, and because of this it was not only placed under protection, but also able to be restored and preserved using public funds.
Inside the Château is now the Blois Fine Arts Museum with over 35,000 works of art, most of which can be viewed virtually through its website, and you can learn more about the history and architecture of the Royal Château Royal de Blois through this link.
There are some great virtual walking tour videos on YouTube as well, including this video.
6. Explore Château d'Angers Virtually
The Château D’Angers has an interesting (and not always French) history. Dating back over 6,000 years the City of Angers has an impressive history thanks to its very strategic and defensible location.
From Gauls, to Romans the City of Angers was even once part of the English Plantagenet Empire before returning finally back to French rule.
What is left is an incredible mix of fortress, battlements, watchtowers, moat (turned garden and ex-menagerie), Château and Royal Residence.
The castle is best known for holding the oldest and largest collection of medieval tapestries in the world. Including the 14th Century ‘Apocalypse Tapestry’ which was originally commissioned by the Louis I, Duke of Anjou. The Apocalypse Tapestry depicts the entire story of Judgement Day from the Book of Revelation.
Unfortunately, during the French Revolution parts of the original tapestry was destroyed but was is left is still a remarkable work of art and testament to the skill of tapestry workers in the 14th Century.
You can learn more about the Château D’Angers remarkable history through its website, or their dedicated Google Arts & Culture page where you can also take virtual tours of the gardens, dungeon, the Apocalypse Tapestry and views from the top of the towers.
7. Explore Château de Monte-Cristo Virtually
A step away from the centuries old castles and Châteaux scattered around France is the whimsical fantasy that is Château de Monte-Cristo.
From the imagination of the famous writer Alexandre Dumas is this Renaissance style castle, built to his specifications in 1846. Wanting an escape from Paris to continue his work, Dumas had the equally well known architect Hippolyte Durand design an authentic (albeit miniature) Renaissance chateau as the main house, a miniature Gothic castle as his separate writing room and extensive gardens filled with waterfalls, grottos and even a menagerie of animals that Dumas had collected on his travels.
You can visit the website for the Château de Monte-Cristo to learn a bit more about it and watch a virtual tour in French. Otherwise there is a great video on YouTube by A French Frye in Paris which is worth watching.
8. Explore Château de Villandry Virtually
One of the last great Châteaux to be built during the Renaissance in the Loire region, the Château de Villandry is an elegant and charming example of Renaissance architecture.
Unlike many Châteaux in the Loire Valley, the Château de Villandry was never owned or inhabited by Royalty. Instead, it was the home of Jean Le Breton, Minister of Finance for François I (the same minister who oversaw construction of the Château de Chambord). When Jean Le Breton took ownership, the property was still an old feudal fortress which was subsequently knocked down to make way for the Chateau.
In 1908, Joachim Carvallo decided to restore all the gardens and landscape surrounding the Château to its original Renaissance glory. From the kitchen garden, to the terraces attached to the salons to the ornamental water garden. Each aspect, right down to the vegetables in the kitchen garden was meticulously researched to replicate what would have been the original gardens attached to the Château when it was first built.
There are many parts worth seeing, and while a virtual tour of the gardens is not the same as being in them, it is the best we can do for now!
9. Explore Château de Versailles Virtually
Of course, no list of French Châteaux would be complete without the most famous one of all… the Château de Versailles.
Having been inside Versailles, I have to say I enjoyed the virtual tour a lot more. Mainly because I wasn’t surrounded by people all trying to look at the same things! All the gold and insanely opulent décor can be a little overwhelming in person. I do still recommend visiting it in person, taking the time to see the detail online means you will be able to enjoy seeing in person more.
Versailles, apart from all the gold, is best known as the residence of King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette right before the French Revolution changed the course of France forever.
You can take a virtual tour of the Château de Versailles on its website while reading more about its incredible history, or you can also visit the Google Arts & Culture page which has several exhibits showing sections of Versailles.