Discovering a Medieval Castle in France

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Around the time many of you confessed you’d like to see, hear and read other travelers’ voices around here, American-in-Paris Danee Gilmartin dropped me a note offering to guest blog on C&C. As luck would have it, I was leaving just days later for Tassie and could really use the help. I checked out some of her past work, saw she was a darn good writer and sage on the topic of museums, and said, “yes please! Do blog for me while I am on the road.” And so she did. Show the New Yorker some love, people, so she’ll stop by and grace us with her presence again in the future. And don’t forget to check her out over at her site, MuseumChick.com!

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Being an American expat and exploring Paris for a year has done very bad things to my waistline (my addiction to French cheese has never been so unmanageable), so I won’t be blogging anytime soon on how French women stay thin, because I wasn’t let in on the secret. However, living here has given me time to explore unfrequented places, so I can share my secrets on less crowded and offbeat sites. Discovering quiet rose gardens, the neighborhood stinky-cheese shop and the vast number of specialized museums (that display the most interesting and sometimes the most bizarre things that I’ve seen) has been the most memorable part of my time in Paris. I’ve even visited the Sewer Museum, where I actually paid to tour the smelly sewers of Paris.

chateau de vicennes, france, europe, travel, photography

On my quest for the less touristy spots, I discovered one of my favorites, the Château de Vincennes. Did you know there is a medieval castle just outside the immediate center of Paris (a 20 minute Metro ride from the Louvre)? Since it doesn’t get a lot of love from popular tour books and is overshadowed by its ostentatious successors (the Château de Versailles and Château de Fontainebleau), the Château de Vincennes is much less crowded but still rich in history.

Mr. MuseumChick and I recently took the Metro there to explore the grounds, climb the medieval tower and have a picnic on the lawn. As I exited the Château de Vincennes Metro stop, I didn’t have to go far. Ascending the stairs, I looked to the left and standing so tall that it blocked the sun was the Village Tower and main entrance. Oh, how enchanting, a draw bridge over a moat! Good thing I’m not scared of heights because the bridge was quite high over the deep, now dry moat.

chateau de vicennes, france, europe, travel, photography

Interesting facts: This medieval castle began as a hunting lodge for the Capetian monarchs in the 12th century. It was extended and completed about 200 years later by Charles V who made it the Royal Residence. Louis XIV did a brief stint here before he moved the Royal Residence to Versailles. Throughout the years this castle has served as a Royal Residence, a prison and a military stronghold for Napoleon.

Adorning the inside of the compound is the 14th century Holy Chapel, one of the first examples of high Gothic architecture. The purple entrance is for an exhibit called “Angel Musicians” (apparently Charles V had a thing for angel statues holding different instruments and the collection is on display).

chateau de vicennes, france, europe, travel, photography

chateau de vicennes, france, europe, travel, photography

I’m a big fan of audio guides, especially if it’s my first visit. The phone-like audio guide paired with a map guided me around the grounds and then lead me inside the tower. The grounds are free to roam around in but to go up the tower and tour the rooms it is €8. And it’s worth it.

chateau de vicennes, france, europe, travel, photography

The tower/keep/donjon (it has many names) is 165 feet high, making it the tallest medieval keep in France. It even towers over the apartment buildings in the area.
chateau de vicennes, france, europe, travel, photography

The most interesting room in the keep is the bed chamber of Charles V. The elaborate carvings and remnants of paint hint at the grandeur of times past.
chateau de vicennes, france, europe, travel, photography

chateau de vicennes, france, europe, travel, photography

These walls were painted by prisoners in the 18th century. I’m not sure where prisoners would have gotten paint—only in France!

chateau de vicennes, france, europe, travel, photography

I followed the spiral staircase that ended about halfway up the tower to catch this view. The 17th century extension of the castle in the distance is such a stark contrast to the medieval buildings.

chateau de vicennes, france, europe, travel, photography

After a day of information overload (the auto-guide is very detailed), I walked around the perimeter, pleased that I found an obscure spot and had a new secret to pass along.

chateau de vicennes, france, europe, travel, photography

chateau de vicennes, france, europe, travel, photography

-All words and images by Danee Gilmartin

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Thanks for the great tips, Danee! If you’d like to guest blog in the future, shoot me an e-mail and I’ll keep your information on file for the next time I’m on the road.

COMMENTS
  • July 26, 2010

    thanks for sharing the secret! 🙂

  • July 26, 2010
    Kristin

    Castles are my favorite thing to visit while traveling. I’ve only ever been to Versailles in France. Will definitely have to add this to my next trip over there!

  • July 26, 2010

    Hey Danee!!! So nice to see you guest posting on C&C! Loved the pics AND your dress, it’s fabulous! 😉

  • July 26, 2010
    SVV

    Excellent visuals. I definitely want to see this now. I dearly love me some castles and throwing in a moat? Twice as visit worthy.

    Also? I want to sleep in the keep.

  • July 26, 2010

    Wow, I’ve never been to Paris or in a castle. Will put on my travel list. Thanks for posting this.

  • July 26, 2010

    wow, thanks for sharing. I really want to check this place out some day!

  • July 27, 2010
    Mmmmm

    Can’t wait to go back to Paris now! I’m a history major (course, never used it) and love to go digging in museums! Thanks!

  • July 27, 2010

    Hi Everyone! Thanks for all of your nice comments and I’m glad you liked the castle. I’m so happy to be able to say hi to all the Camels & Chocolate friends!

  • July 27, 2010

    @ Andi- Thanks, on sale at Zara 😉

  • August 1, 2010

    i love the vaulted ceilings and the faded wall painting!

  • August 14, 2010

    I enjoyed your description of Vincennes and will visit myself soon to see the musical angels exhibition and Chapelle Royale at invitation of a french friend. A day trip on Eurostar. If ever you are in London you should visit the Inner Temple, home to the mediaeval Knights Templar and now a prestigious legal Institute, a hidden gem which few visitors visit. Would be a pleasure to show you around.

    And Brunei! I visit very September.

    I have enjoyed browsing your website.

    Patrick

  • March 18, 2012

    Wow, very beautiful. Castles and architecture amaze me.. This summer, traveling will be a blast!

  • March 1, 2016

    I have to admit, I am a sucker for a medieval French château, so when I read that Château de Vincennes was only 20 minutes from the centre of Paris you had me hooked.

    I live in the South of France near the Cathare Fortresses and our nearest is La Cite at Carcassonne, but visiting Paris again is high on the wishlist along with a look at the Palace of Versailles.

    But now I have seen your photographs I am pretty much decided that the 20 minutes on the Metro will be well worth the effort when we do finally make it back to Paris.

    Oh and the secret to not eating too much cheese, well it is a visit to the doctor, a finger poke in the belly, followed by the words ‘you are too fat’ in broken English. Well it made me cut down on the cheese!

  • April 18, 2017

    Congrats on the post with lots of information and wonderful photos.

  • December 22, 2017

    I love your dress! I enjoy visiting castles when I travel too.

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