Your day trip starts as you depart Paris on board a luxury coach for the 35-mile (55-km) drive southeast to Château Vaux le Vicomte, a baroque castle that is said to have been the inspiration for France’s most famous royal residence, the Palace of Versailles.
When you arrive, you are free to explore independently using your provided audio guide. See elaborate interiors and vaulted cellars, and learn about the man behind this massive home, Nicholas Fouquet, who was King Louis XIV’s minister of finance. After Fouquet commissioned Vaux le Vicomte to be designed by a top architect, the king felt upstaged and threw the minister in jail. When you’re finished inside, walk outside to discover the castle’s 99 acres (40 hectares) of grounds made up of fountains, flowerbeds and sprawling lawns. If you’re hungry, grab some lunch from the onsite café (own expense) before returning to the coach.
Then make your way south to Château de Fontainebleau, the only royal castle in France to be continuously inhabited for more than 700 years. With its Renaissance architecture, ceiling frescos, 15th-century furniture and detailed wood carvings, this World Heritage site is a great alternative to visiting Versailles. Tour the building independently via the audio guide, listening to tales about the French royalty who once lived here.
Château de Fontainebleau is also home to extensive gardens and lakes, so take time to wander the grounds before hopping back on your coach for the return drive to Paris, where your day trip ends.