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Hang around Paris on a Sunday with all the tourists? Vous
plaisantez? As any self-respecting Parisian knows, the day of rest
is the perfect time to leave town. Australian-born Deborah Anthony
has lived and breathed France since studying French history at the
Sorbonne, anmsid now lives in Paris running insider tours of the
city through her French Travel Boutique company. Here are her
favourite great escapes an hour or less from the French
VAUX LE VICOMTE
This castle has become a favourite movie location - Sofia Coppola shot scenes for Marie Antoinette here and the James Bond film Moonraker was also filmed on the grounds. Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria even chose it for her wedding reception. It was really the forerunner to Versailles - Louis XIV commissioned the same architect, landscape artist and painter to build Versailles. Hire a golf buggy and spend time in the superb Le Nôtre garden or have lunch in the converted stables. There's an excellent audio guide.
Travel time 35 minutes from Paris, take the train from Gare de Lyon or RER D to Melun, then a 6km taxi ride or the weekend shuttle bus.
In the suburbs north-west of Paris, Maisons-Laffitte was originally the domain of a 17th-century wealthy landowner, and was important for its stables. It was later owned by Marie-Antoinette's brother-in-law, the Comte d'Artois, who introduced horse racing to France. In 1818, it was bought and developed into 'a town made up of country houses'. The Grand Park here is a favourite weekend and holiday destination for well-heeled Parisians. The grocery store - L'Epicerie de Longueil - has a mind-boggling range of gourmet ingredients (250 different brands of honey and jam alone) as well as a wine cellar. There's also a fromagerie with a huge selection of farmer's cheeses, plus hundreds of different liqueurs.
Travel time 20 minutes from Paris, take the RER A.
Stay at the hotel opposite the palace (Trianon Palace Hotel) and beat the crowds early in the morning or visit an hour before the palace closes, when all the tourist buses have gone. Sign up for a private apartment visit as soon as you get there because this will end inside the château and you can see the amazing state apartments without having to wait in another long queue. Don't miss the Grand Trianon and Domain of Marie-Antoinette, and be sure to visit the town where you'll find Louis XIV's vegetable garden, Potager du Roi, which was established in 1678 and is still producing vegies.
Travel time 40 minutes, take the RER C to Château de Versailles.
A fabulous little village 45km south-west of Paris, where many famous people lived - composer Maurice Ravel, EEC founder Jean Monnet, art collector Louis Carré. The Château de Groussay is a must-see. Bought by Charles de Beistegui in 1938, he spent 30 years developing a range of follies in the gardens, adding two spectacular wings and renovating the library, which was the model for Henry Higgins' library in My Fair Lady. There's so much else to see in this area that you could hire a car from Versailles or Rambouillet and spend a couple of days. There's a B&B in the village (Hôtel Saint-Laurent), a small antique fair at weekends, plus the Thoiry Château and zoo.
Travel time 50 minutes from Paris, take the train from Paris Montparnasse towards Dreux, stop at Mere/Montfort-l'Amaury, then a 4km taxi ride from the station.
This is the ultimate 'fresh air' break in a vast national park, with lots of bushwalking tracks and little villages. It's a real foodies' haunt with countless restaurants specialising in local produce, and places such as La Ferme de Coubertin, a family-run farm with tastings of cheese, pâtés, honey, cider, vegetables and eggs. There's even an organic snail farm, Ferme de Fanon, that supplies many of France's top restaurants. Be sure to visit Château de Breteuil. One of the ancestors of the owner (it's belonged to the same family since 1712) was a contemporary of Charles Perrault, author of children's fairytales including Little Red Riding Hood, Puss In Boots, Tom Thumb, and children will find all their favourite characters in animated and wax figures throughout the castle and its outbuildings. You can also picnic in the gardens. Stay overnight at Abbaye de Cernay, a 12th-century abbey which is now a luxury hotel. A less expensive alternative is Relais Saint Laurent.
Travel time 40 minutes from Paris, take the RER B to St-Remy-les-Chevreuse.
This is a pilgrimage destination for fans of Vincent Van Gogh, who is buried here. It's also the best introduction for people wanting to learn about Impressionist painting and should be visited before a trip to the Musée d'Orsay. Visit the 'spectacle' at the Château d'Auvers, which traces the history of the Impressionists, then wander the village checking out Van Gogh's paintings in the original locations he painted them. Visit his attic room (Auberge Ravoux) and his grave in the town cemetery. A copy of his last self-portrait near the château carpark entry marks the spot where he shot himself.
Travel time 60 minutes from Paris, take the train from Gare St Lazare (change at Pontoise) or Gare du Nord (change at Valmondois).
CHATEAU DE VINCENNES
This is a rare example of a medieval royal residence with a recently restored dungeon. Many famous prisoners of French history were sent to the dungeon, including the Marquis de Sade, whose grafitti is still on the wall. There is a terrific English audio guide and the château is on the edge of a huge natural wood with lakes and hire bikes. Along the street facing the château are plenty of restaurants and bistros - the locals get their lunch at Elisabeth and Regis Royer's Boulanger Pâtissier in Avenue du Château.
Travel time 20 minutes from Paris, take the metro line 1 to the end.
This château is one of my favourites because over the centuries various kings added bits and it's like a time capsule of French history. It was also a major residence of Napoleon. There are thousands of his books in the library and private apartments, which are being renovated. There's also a Chinese-style salon that Napoleon III's wife, Empress Eugenie, furnished. All you feel that's missing is the people.
Travel time 60 minutes from Paris, take the train from Gare de Lyon to Fontainebleau-Avon.
CHATEAU DE MALMAISON
This is Napoleon and Josephine's private house just west of Paris. It's very pretty with beautiful gardens and a little lake. You can visit Napoleon's office and council room, and even their bedrooms. There are still dinner sets and make-up sets on display and you do get a sense you could just move in and live there. Also nearby is the church where the tombs of Josephine and her daughter Hortense are located. A bit further afield is La Fournaise, the restaurant that appears in Renoir's painting.
Travel time 35 minutes from Paris, take the RER A or metro line 1 to La Defense.
This town is the place to escape Paris for fresh air, a change of scenery and a great lunch. Louis XIV built his private weekender here and it was a favourite of the Impressionist painters. Walk through the beautiful park then visit Le Village restaurant (3 Grande rue, +33 1 3916 2814) for lunch. Run by Japanese chef Tomohiro Uido it gets rave reviews from French food critics. After lunch, take a bus and visit Alexandre Dumas' Château de Monte-Cristo, then catch the bus to St-Germain-en-Laye and take the train back to Paris.
Travel time 40 minutes from Paris, take the train from Gare St Lazare or La Defense towards St Nom le Breteche and stop at Marly-le-Roi.
For rail routes and timetables, visit the English site www.transilien.com. For Deborah Anthony's tours of Paris and surrounds, visit www.frenchtravelboutique.com.
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