If a dreamy meandering through the vineyards and châteaus of the French countryside is in your travel dreams, follow this itinerary for a glorious road trip through region Bourgogne, the Burgundy region of France. Spend your days wandering the halls of the region's grandest châteaus and at night, you can even check into your own château hotel and appreciate the stateliness of their rooms first-hand. Not to mention, you'll have more than enough opportunity to sample some of the best French wines produced on these noble estates while following in the footsteps of French royalty.
From Paris, it will take you about three hours along the A6 Highway to drive southeast to your first stop in this journey. From there, allocate another four days to wind your way through the countryside and visit all of these impressive châteaux.
The neoclassical Château d'Ancy-le-Franc is a spectacular white stone building located in the middle of nowhere with some of the finest accommodations in all of France. Built by Clermont-Tonnere family, the exterior is magnificent but it's the interior's intricately stuccoed ceilings, painted wooden panels, an impressive library, and a royal guestbook that impresses visitors. For example, the Louvois lounge was originally used by King Louis XIV in 1674 and the family nearly went bankrupt designing the Guard's Hall for King Henri III, although he never did make good on his invitation. There are tiled floors, parquet floors, paintings from the Flemish and Italian schools, and huge murals in the Galerie de Pharsale depicting the horrors of war. During the day, light floods in from the long windows looking out onto the gardens, formally French with strictly delineated flowerbeds on one side, and an English garden with mature trees, green lawns, and still water on the other side.
Château de Vault de Lugny
About an hour down the road, check-in for the night at the five-star Château de Vault de Lugny. This stone building with a pitched roof is surrounded by a moat that reflects the 13th-century tower that once housed the building's dungeon. With multiple suites, you can opt to stay in a traditional room overlooking the garden or splurge on the grand King's Chamber which comes complete with a four-poster bed and a crackling fireplace. Visit in the summer and enjoy dining out on the terrace while watching the sunset.
The hotel runs wine-tasting expeditions, cooking classes, and offers outdoor activities ranging from fishing in the river to hot air ballooning, horseback riding, and rafting. Of course, if you'd rather laze around the château, take advantage of the indoor swimming pool, which sits underneath a stone-vaulted ceiling.
Château de Sully-sur-Loire
Follow the road through the hills of Morvan Regional Nature Park to Château de Sully-sur-Loire, a manor house with an intriguing family history. With symmetrical stables separated by a grand lawn surrounded by a moat, this château dates back to the 16th century when the Saulx Tavannes family, supporters of King Louis XIV's court, built the estate. Here, you can learn about the fascinating history of how the ownership of the property changed hands through the centuries, and the influence each family had on the property. Visitors are allowed to stroll through one side of the building and can take a peek at the elegant rooms filled with marble fireplaces and priceless furnishings, as well as the château's macabre taxidermy collection.
Château de Couches
The privately-owned Château de Couches stands apart from the village and overlooks the Creuse River. The restaurant is a wonderful place to sample some regional specialties for lunch, like smoked Morteau sausages, but you may need to make your reservation in advance. If you book a room for the night, your stay will include breakfast, a guided tour, and a wine tasting. Historically, this château was vital to the Dukes of Burgundy, protecting the route from Paris to Chalons and you can even explore inside the castle to climb the tower and observe the huge fireplaces and 17th-century Aubusson tapestries.
Château de Germolles
Originally built during the 14th century, the Château de Germolles is one of the best-preserved castles leftover from the age that the Dukes of Burgundy controlled the region. Its most famous occupant was Margaret of Flanders, a wealthy heiress who owned much of northern France, and who transformed the castle into a court fit enough to host King Charles V in 1389. Walk through the vaulted halls of the crypt and check out the astronomical clock, which was considered state-of-the-art technology during the 14th century. The interior reflects the château's later years with a mix of period styles reflected its Renaissance-era fireplaces and few rooms kept in the 19th-century style.
Spend your next night at the Château Saint-Michel, a red brick and stone château that dominates the landscape surrounding town of Rully. Ask the front desk about taking a quick tour down to spacious cellars, which stretch the length of the building and into the ornate chapel built by the very Catholic first owner. Rooms are large and decorated with antiques; bathrooms are impeccable. There’s a dining room opening onto a terrace for breakfast and if you are celebrating a special occasion, secure a table upstairs in the grand dining room.
Continue your journey into the Jura Mountains to visit the Château d’Arlay, where the ruins of a 9th-century castle are partially standing at the top of the hill. It's a lovely walk to the romantic ruins past the main estate, an open-air theatre, and some ancient walls. Once the property of a Dutch prince, this crumbling castle is far removed from its heyday. The current owners live on the main estate, an 18th-century former convent that is open for tours. The home is full of interesting quirks and oddities like the stove in the middle of the library. You can also taste and buy wine from the château’s vineyards that you see on the surrounding hills, which have been there since the year 1070. Fifteen minutes down the road, stop for lunch at the delightful Café Chez Janine, which has been in the same family for three generations or visit the town of Château-Chalon, considered one of the most beautiful villages of France. In town, Maison de la Haute-Seille is a museum that hosts unique exhibitions on the wines of the Jura region and offers tastings.
Dominated by its extraordinary 17th-century citadel, the town of Besançon is underrated. Spend an entire afternoon walking along this castle's ramparts, which were built by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, the genius behind many of King Louis XIV’s defensive buildings. The citadel also has different museums that paint a thorough picture of the region's history, including the chilling role of the citadel during World War II when it was used as an internment camp. There are also science exhibits designed for children that cover insects, nocturnal mammals, and a small aquarium.
Château de la Dame Blanche
Just outside Besançon in the town of Geneuille, spend the night at the Château de la Dame Blanche, which is a half-hour drive down the road. It’s a large estate with a red brick château housing the public areas and bedrooms, which are themed around different cities. Additionally, two adjacent buildings house comfortable rooms themed around different countries, and there’s an excellent restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere. If you're feeling castled out, opt to stay in one of the château's comfortable treehouses.
Château de Joux
The Château de Joux fortress harbors a formidable position on the top of a hill with defensive walls that make it appear truly impenetrable. It was used as a prison during the French revolution and in 1791, Touissant Louverture, an enslaved man from the island of Saint-Domingue, (present-day Haiti) was captured and imprisoned here. At the château, you can learn more about the fascinating events of his life, which include leading the Haitian Revolution in 1791, becoming the first Black general in the French army, and eventually, the governor of Saint-Domingue after slavery was abolished on the island. Tragically, Louverture died while imprisoned at the château in 1803.