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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
These walls were painted by prisoners in the 18th century. I’m not sure where prisoners would have gotten paint—only in France!
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.
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.
-All words and images by Danee Gilmartin
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.