Splendid Castles to visit in France

Splendid Castles to visit in France

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Castles are forests of stones. – George Herbert

 

Imagine roadtripping through France, driving from fairytale castles to romantic Renaissance châteaux. Climbing up ruined fortresses and wandering through enchanting royal gardens. If you are a history buff or love exploring châteaux, France is actually filled with splendid castles to visit. You certainly know about the famous Château de Versailles not far away from Paris. Or the Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley. But have you ever heard of the Château de Malbrouck in Lorraine, or the Château de Lourmarin in Provence?

 

 

Château de Malbrouck

By Mei

 

 

Perched on a hill, overlooking the small village of Manderen in northeastern France, Malbrouck Castle is located only a few kilometers away from the Luxembourgish and German borders.

 

Built in the 15th century, the Château de Malbrouck was first called Meinsberg Castle and belonged to Arnold VI, Lord of the nearby Sierck Castle. Today, the château is named Malbrouck because it was briefly occupied by the first Duke of Marlbourough, who wanted to invade France during the War of the Spanish Succession in June 1705, and who was nicknamed Malbrouck by the French.

 

Although listed as a national monument in 1930, the restoration works of the ruined castle started only in 1975. First, they had to consolidate the remains of the castle. Then, from 1989 onward, a major archaeological excavation program was launched. The restoration works, led by the architects of the Historical Monuments and the Historical Buildings, lasted until 1998 and cost about 18 million euros in total.

 

Since it reopened to the public in 1998, the Château de Malbrouck offers both permanent and temporary exhibits, as well as guided tours and live shows. When we visited the castle in September 2019, we got to discover the temporary exhibit about the life and works of the famous Belgian cartoonist Hergé.

 

But the castle’s permanent exhibit was in fact an even bigger highlight for us. Especially the one inside the Tour des Dames, where we learned so much about the history, methods and techniques used to restore the Château de Malbrouck. For instance, did you know that this was the second largest restoration site for a historical monument in France?

 

When visiting the Lorraine, you might also like to explore the medieval village of Rodemack

 

Château de Ratilly

By Martina from PlacesofJuma

 

 

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One of the most beautiful castles in France, which certainly not everyone knows is the romantic Ratilly Castle. It is located in the department of Yonne in Burgundy, in the middle of green, mystical forests. Once this medieval castle was a moated castle, today the structure is enclosed by a dry moat.

 

The castle was already built in the 13th century, on the foundations of an 11th century fortress. During the Wars of Religion, the castle protected the Huguenots and gave shelter to the Jansenists, who were persecuted at the beginning of the 18th century.

 

Especially imposing are the mighty round towers with dovecotes, which give this historic building a touch of fairy-tale castle. If you like, you can also visit this building from the inside. For a small entrance fee of 5 euros you can look around a bit. Interesting is also the pottery, which even offers beautiful creations for sale. This was already founded in 1951 by Jeanne and Norbert Pierlot.

 

But not only that! In addition, this historic castle functions in the summer as a kind of cultural center, where various concerts, from classical to pop, but also art exhibitions of changing artists and on various topics take place. Recently, yoga events have also been held here.

 

In general, the facility is rather little visited and therefore a real insider tip for a quiet trip. Very worth seeing are the dovecote, guard room, Renaissance fireplace, the pottery workshop and the exhibitions of contemporary art. Photography is allowed, especially from the outside of the castle.

 

If you road trip through Burgundy, make sure to also visit the Château de Tanlay.

 

Château du Haut Koenigsbourg

By Victoria from Guide your Travel

 

 

The Château du Haut Koenigsbourg is a beautiful castle located in Alsace, France close to the German border. This is a stunning castle with unique architecture. While it’s well-known in the area, the castle is still somewhat of a secret location and not yet overrun by tourists. If you’re looking for a beautiful place to visit while avoiding the crowds, the Château du Haut Koenigsbourg is a fantastic choice for all sorts of travellers.

 

The Château du Haut Koenigsbourg dates back to medieval times. It played a significant strategic role in multiple wars such as for example the Thirty’s Year War after which it was abandoned temporarily. It was rebuilt in the early 1900s and restored to its former glory.

 

Today, tourists can visit the castle and admire the beautiful architecture which was still intact in most places. While the exact time when the castle was first constructed is unknown. Documents date back to 1147, although it is thought to be even older than that. The Château du Haut Koenigsbourg is listed as a historic monument and is under cultural protection.

 

The opening hours of the castle depend on the season. From June to August tourists can visit from 9:15 am to 12:30 and 14:00 pm and 17:30 pm. This is the high tourist season, so most people will come to visit during this time when the weather is warm. Opening hours get slightly shorter during the colder months. A ticket costs 9€ per person and 5€ for children.

 

Visiting Alsace in December? Here are 7 reasons why you should visit Strasbourg during Christmastime

 

Château d’Annecy

By Utkarsh from Journey from Heart

 

 

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The Château d’Annecy is a redeveloped castle, located near the old town of Annecy, in the department Haute-Savoie in the region Rhône-Alpes of France. It is one of the country’s most visited historical monuments, which was converted into a museum by the city in 1959.

 

The history of the castle dates back to the 12th and the 16th century. And it is believed that it was home to the Counts of Geneva and the Dukes of Genevois-Nemours. The fort has witnessed several accidents, like fire which tarnished the fort. And it was abondonded in the 17th century, after which it was restored by the city of Annecy.

 

The architecture of the fort is a reflection of the structural developments from the 13th to the 16th century, clearly highlighting the Renaissance architecture. The oldest part of the castle is The Tour de la Reine, which dates back to the 13th century. It has a height of over 30 metres and with walls with a thickness of upto 3.3 metres. The robustness and massive structure was used mainly by the military.There are some recent constructions as well as from the 16th century, like the Logis Nemours and the Logis Neuf.

 

Some popular areas of exhibition include the regional Alpine Lake Observatory, the Tower of the Queen, the tower and lodging house Perrière, and the old lodging house. One can expect to complete the visit of the Château d’Annecyin a duration of 60 minutes. The château is opened all year round, and the entrance price is 5.50 € at the time of writing. Children under 12 years old, press members, holders of the M’ra card, and teachers can enter the castle for free.

 

There’s more in Annecy than a castle. Read our story about Annecy, the Venice of the Alps

Château de Vincennes

By Elisa from World in Paris

 

 

Château de Vincennes is one of the most impressive castles near Paris. This historical monument is located just outside of Paris, in the eastern suburb of Vincennes, and it is very easy to access with the Paris metro, line 1.

 

The castle was built in medieval times for the Kings of France. It still keeps most of the architectural elements typical of medieval castles, like a moat, a drawbridge to access (today fix), and an impressive keep.

 

The keep at Château de Vincennes is 52 m high, the highest in Europe of its kind. In medieval times, it hosted the King’s chambers, a private chapel, and his working room. It still keeps most of the original decoration. The King’s cabinet is the only royal cabinet that we know of from medieval times. And thanks to it, the historians could retrace his daily working routine and habits.

 

Inside the château, there is also a Holy Chapel. And its plan is inspired by the Holy Chapel on Ile de la Cité in Paris. Just like the Holy Chapel in Paris, it hosted some relics from the passion of Christ in the past.

 

Château the Vincennes offers interesting guided tours in French included with the ticket. The tours last two hours, and they cover the access area with the remains of the first constructions in the castle, the keep, and the Holy Chapel. The self-guided tour of Château de Vincennes will take you two to three hours. After this, consider exploring the surrounding area: the Bois de Vincennes or the Musée de l’Immigration.

 

Château de Chantilly

By Jessie from Pocket Wanderings

 

 

Located only 50km north of Paris in the region of Picardy, Château de Chantilly is a truly breathtaking castle that makes the perfect day trip from Paris. The castle started life in the middle ages and has been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times over the years. The current château has survived since the 1800s and has since been home to the various collections of Henri d’Orleans, son of the last King of France. It is now owned by the Institut de France.

 

It’s thanks to Henri that the castle is known for its prolific art collection. Explore the impressive art galleries, where the walls of grand stately rooms are plastered in centuries-old paintings. They are even displayed as they were back in the 19th century, so the castle’s art galleries make for a fascinating time capsule. The Château de Chantilly houses the second largest collection of antique paintings in all of France, preceded only by the Louvre.

 

One of the most spectacular sights of the château is its extensive and beautifully kept gardens, covering an almighty 115 hectares. The grounds feature gardens from various different periods, from the 17th century through to the 19th century. Wind your way through stately statues, manicured lawns and gushing water features.

 

On your visit to the castle, you can enjoy a boat ride on the lake, take a Segway through the grounds, or spot the various peacocks strutting through the gardens. Horses are also a big feature of the château grounds, with arguably the most beautiful stables you’ll ever see at the Great Stables of Chantilly. The stables are a sort of mini château in themselves, with their own architectural prominence.

 

To get to the Château de Chantilly, you can take a 20-minute train from Gare du Nord to Chantilly-Gouvieux, followed by a 20-minute picturesque walk through the town. Alternatively, there’s a bus. Or you can drive as parking is available at the castle.

 

If you like strolling through enchanting castle gardens, you might like the gardens of the Château d’Ansembourg

Château de la Bussière

By Dymphe from Dymabroad

 

 

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One of the best lesser-known castles in France is the Château de la Bussière. It has beautiful architecture, which makes the castle worth seeing. This is a castle that you can find in the commune of La Bossière, which is located in the department Loiret. La Bossière lies to the south of Paris and from the capital city you can get there in 1.5 hours by car. Other neary places are Orléans and Bourges.

 

The castle was constructed between the end of the 16th century and the start of the 17th century. The first family that owned the castle was the Feins family and they may also have constructed the castle. The architecture of the castle is in the Phillipian style. This is a building style that existed between the 12th and the 14th century. One of the charateristics of this architectural style is the use of freestone. You can also see this in the exterior of the castle. There are some section where it is part of the front.

 

Nowadays, the castle is privately owned by Bertrand and Laure Bommelaer. Furthermore, you find a fishing museum at Château de la Bussière. Here you can see a collection of objects that all relate to fishing. For example, there is an exhibiton about the evolution of the fishing rod. Also, you find here a coelacanth fish, which is a very special type of fish. Moreover, you find here artworks that feature fish, which is great to see as well!

 

Château de Fontainebleau

By Ruma from The Holiday Story

 

 

The castle of Fontainebleau was first mentioned in 1137. It was used by many French kings such as Philip II, Henry IV, Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV, Philip IV, Napoleon I, Napoleon III, etc. Nowadays, some areas of the château are used for administrative purposes. It was also used as a mayor’s house.

 

The construction of the castle is very long. It started near the 12th century to the 20th century. Every king of France added decoration or construction in this palace. That’s why the château has a unique identity. We can see the ideas or revolution of constructions in it. In fact, this château has changed its look or decoration throughout 600 to 800 years.

 

In the medieval times, this place was the heart of Europe. The aristocrat families lived here. And many vintage mansions of aristocrats surrounded the palace. It was mainly used for hunting and lodging purposes by the French kings. The chapel was built by Thomas Becket during the reign of Philip II. King Henry IV added more décor into this palace than other kings. The first Emperor Napoleon turned this château into a military school. He spent his last days in this château.

 

Today, there are more than six museums in this castle. Somme artwork on the roof is made of silk. Many furniture, showpiece, and stairways are covered by gold. This place is 70 Km away from Paris. It takes 45 minutes to get there from Paris.

 

If you like historical royal places, you might also want to explore the Royal Monastery of Brou

 

Château de Caen

By Michaela from She goes the distance

 

 

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While many castles in France seem straight out of a fairytale, Château de Caen seems straight out of a history book. This large-stone medieval fortress sits upon a hill, now surrounded by the modern city center of Caen. To see a castle built over a thousand years ago while standing in the middle of a bustling city puts into perspective just how much history the Château de Caen has been part of.

 

Château de Caen is a monument historique in the region of Normandy in northwest France and is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. It was built around 1060, by William the Conquerer, as a palace and military fortress.

 

The Château de Caen held strategic significance throughout history. From the Hundred Years War to the French Revolution to being an active fort in World War II.

 

The Château de Caen is extremely easy to reach being in the city center. And you can enter and explore the castle for free. Wander through the ground floor rooms-turned-museums and then up to the top of the fortified structure. The overlook from the towers provides panoramic views of the city of Caen. While exploring the once active military equipment and setup provides a visceral experience to understanding the Château de Caen’s history. You can even visit the St. George’s Church that is a part of the complex.

 

Around the castle are fields of grass where there used to be a moat protecting it from invaders. Nowadays, the French get together with friends or take a walk on their lunch break here and around the grounds. If you’re a history buff or passing through Normandy on a road trip, a visit to Château de Caen is a must-do.

 

Can’t travel to France now? Here are 25 movies and TV shows to make you visit France from your couch.

 

Lassay-les-Châteaux

By Faith from XYU and Beyond

 

 

Lassay-les-Châteaux is home to 3 medieval castles. Two lie in ruins and the third is a magnificent example of a medieval fortress. Located in the Mayenne on the border of lower Normandy, the village of Lassay-les-Châteaux is also one of France’s small villages of character.

 

Attacked during the English invasions of the 15th century, the Brittany wars and the religious wars of the 16th century, the castle became home to the Montalembert family by the 17th century, who still own the castle to this day.

 

The imposing Lassay-les-Châteaux has eight towers, curtain walls, a Barbican, working drawbridge and a two-storey gatehouse. Tours of the castle are in French with an English translation, and conducted by members of the Montalembert family. You will tour furnished rooms that include a bedroom, weapon room, a kitchen with its curious granite vegetable garden and a beautiful collection of old brass. On the first and last visits of the day, the public is invited to lower and raise the drawbridge. The family also host special events at the castle, including re-enactments of the many famous conflicts in which the castle played a part, along with musical and entertainment events.

 

Lassay and its castle are also famed for their association with Chrétien de Troyes, who as a romance writer immortalized the tale of Lancelot du Lac. Another famous writer who loved the castle was Victor Hugo whowrote of it in letters to his wife and sketched the castle from its lake side.

 

Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers

By Ophelie from Limitless Secrets

 

 

The Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers is a castle ruin in the Loire Valley. It’s located in the commune of Les Trois-Moutiers. Far from being as famous as all the Renaissance gems in the region, the castle of la Mothe-Chandeniers is nevertheless worth the visit. It has in fact a very interesting story and architecture!

 

The castle of la Mothe-Chandeniers was built as a stronghold in the 13th century. Over the centuries, this fortress had a lot of different owners. The English took it several times during the Hundred Years’ War for example. And it was improved by the Marquis Francois II de Rochechouart-Chandenier who added parks and gardens in the 17th century. But then it was abandoned again.

 

When in the 19th century, Baron Edgard Lejeune bought the castle, he also decided to do a lot of reconstructions. The style of the new architecture was inspired by the neo-gothic style, the Romantic movement and some of the famous Renaissance castles of the Loire Valley. Sadly, the castle was destroyed by a major fire in 1932 as the current owner just installed central heating. Then the castle fell into ruins and Mother Nature took back its rights on the estate, creating a surprising and enchanting environment!

 

Since 2017 the Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers is slowly coming back to life thanks to the start-up company Dartagnans and the Association Adopte Un Château. They raised more than 1,6 million euros online with 18 thousand people coming from 115 countries. With that money, they bought the castle and are restoring it. Nowadays you can visit the castle and also take part in the restoration and join the community owning a small part of this château.

 

If you’re enchanted by this castle, you will certainly also like the Lichtenstein Castle in Germany

 

Château de Langeais

By Leyla from Off Beat France

 

 

Langeais is not a typical Loire Valley château, although it does have many of the trappings.This includes a regal interior, stunning tapestries, and one of the few remaining working drawbridges, which is raised and lowered every day.

 

Located in the Indre-et-Loire, a mere 15-minute drive from the much-loved and visited Château Azay-le-Rideau, Langeais stands quite tall, a half-fortress half-palace in the Flamboyant Gothic style of the mid-15th century, which is when it was built.

 

The original fortress stood here from around the year 1000. But it was destroyed – with the exception of its unique stone keep – during the Hundred Years’ War. And the present castle built over it. The heritage of both styles is still visible. On the side facing the city, Langeais looks very much like a fortified castle. On the side facing the courtyard, it metamorphoses into a proper residential palace.

 

Langeais stands out in the history of France for the wedding of Charles VIII to Anne of Brittany, heiress to that duchy. The wedding for the first time brought an independent Brittany into France.

 

An unusual codicil was included in the wedding contract: should Charles VIII die without an heir, Anne would have to marry the next king. This is in fact what happened, and she married Louis XII, the deceased king’s cousin. You can see the re-creation of the wedding in the 15 life-size wax figures depicting the ceremony. Langeais is listed as a National Monument and is owned by the Institut de France.

 

Château du Clos Lucé

By Jade from The Migrant Yogi

 

 

One of the most awe-inspiring (and highly underrated) châteaux in France is the Château du Clos Lucé in Amboise. Amboise is a lovely town situated on the banks of the Loire River, accessible by train from Paris.

 

This gorgeous building of pink bricks and freestones was once used as a summer home for French royalty. Today, the Château is staged as a museum open to the public. It is currently owned by the Saint-Bris family.

 

Château du Clos Lucé is where Leonardo da Vinci lived up until his death in 1519. He spent the last three years of his life in the castle, teaching students and creating masterpieces. In addition to enjoying the ornate castle interior, you will also have the opportunity to visit da Vinci’s workshop, where you are able to learn about his time as an artist, inventor, and master engineer.

 

After touring the Château, head to the basement to see four rooms filled with models of all of da Vinci’s inventions to truly appreciate the breadth of his genius. For the true da Vinci aficionado, you can also visit his final resting place located in Amboise at Chappelle Hubert.

 

While in Amboise, there are two other castles worth visiting – Royal Château d’Amboise and Château Gaillard. All three castles in Amboise are within walking distance from one another (bring appropriate footwear!), making a day trip from Paris to Amboise the perfect option for anyone hoping to explore some iconic French chateaux.

 

Château Comptal in Carcassonne

By Julie from Julie Around the Globe

 

 

Carcassonne is an incredibly well-preserved medieval fortified city with its origins dating as far back as the Antiquity. Located in the heart of the Cathar country in Southern France, its castle, city walls, and old town are a must-see on any trip to France. The city evolved with time, but most of what you can see today was built around the 13th century. The medieval wall and castle date back to the 12th century, with a second level added to the castle a few decades later.

 

Carcassonne is a city rich in history and legends, taking a guided walking tour is highly recommended. Head to the Tourism Office when you get there for information on tours and to get a map of the city.

 

Today, people still live within the fortified city. And meandering through the paved street you’ll find cute cafés, tasty restaurants, charming hotels, and handicraft shops. Roaming the city and visiting most religious edifices is free. But if you want to visit the castle, the entrance fee is 9.50 euros. Add 3 to 7 euros for a guided visit.

 

The Château Comptal was built around 1130 by Bernard Aton IV Trencavel, a vicompte of Carcassone. A century later, it became part of France’s royal estate, and was fortified further to serve as a border between France and the kingdom of Aragon. After the treaty of the Pyrénées, Carcassonne lost its military significance and the castle and city walls were left to decay.

 

In the mid-19th century, after considering destroying it, the government hired the architect Viollet-le-Duc to renovate the fortress. The citadel has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1997.

 

Château de Peyrepertuse

By Norbert from France Bucket List

 

 

Château de Peyrepertuse is one of the most impressive castles in southern France. It is located in the Aude department, in the region of Occitanie, not far from Toulouse or the magnificent Cité de Carcassonne.

 

This impressive ruined fortress was built in medieval times (11th – 13th century) on the top of a rocky spur dominating the surrounding valleys. It is part of the Cathar Route, a tourist itinerary covering medieval villages, castles, and other buildings related to the Cathars. Catharism was a Christian dualist religion that flourished in Southern France between the 12th and 14th centuries. Catharism was seen as heresy by the Catholic Church, and the Popes launched the Crusades to exterminate Catharism.

 

Castles like Château de Peyrepertuse were the ultimate refuge for Cathars escaping the crusaders. This one, in particular, has two parts connected by an external staircase. The lower part was built by the Kings of Aragon in the 11th century. They chose this site to build a castle for its strategic location. The upper part was built by King Louis IX of France after defeating the last Cathars who resisted in the chateau.

 

The best way to visit the Chateau de Peyrepertuse is by car, as public transportation here is scarce. Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse is the closest village to the château. From the car park in the village, it is a 20-minute hike up to the castle. After exploring the ruins of the castle, admire the views of the surrounding valleys: they are amazing!

 

If you like ruined castles, you might also want to visit Brancion, a secluded medieval village in Burgundy 

 

Château de Lourmarin

By Nadine from Le Long Weekend

 

 

Unlike many of the castles in the South of France, the Château de Lourmarin isn’t situated atop a rocky outcrop. Rather, it’s located on the southern end of the Luberon Valley, on the edge of the charming village of Lourmarin – one of Provence’s most beautiful villages. Built in the 16th century, the Renaissance style castle was built on a spot where there was once another 12th century fortress, but little remains of its predecessor.

 

The newer castle, “Château Neuf” almost faced the same fate, before the historian Robert Laurent Vibert bought it in 1920 to save it from demolition. He worked tirelessly to restore the castle before his tragic and sudden death in 1925.

 

The château is now owned by the French Academy for Art and Science in Aix-en-Provence who hold workshops and events showcasing the region’s young artists. There is also an annual music festival held in the grounds every summer. The castle is open to the public, who can take guided tours of the interior every day. And appreciate the intricately furnished rooms. The grounds also regularly play host to various kids’ events, such as the haunted château (for Halloween). And the Renaissance weekend in April which features magicians, sword fights and fire eaters – fun for all ages!

 

Combine your visit with a walk around Lourmarin, where you can take in the boutiques and cafes that line the pretty cobbled lanes. Shop for local produce at the farmer’s market held every Friday morning. Or wander among the olives groves and fountains that surround this stunning little town.

 

If you are a castle lover, why not explore the castles of Luxembourg?

 

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Travelers at heart, Mei and Kerstin have been roaming the world together since 2002. Expats for over a decade, they used to live in Bordeaux, Paris, Athens, and San Francisco. Now back in their country Luxembourg, they continue to travel whenever they can, despite their full-time job. Their travel stories are meant to make you leave your couch and explore the globe.

5 Responses

  1. Maggie
    | Reply

    Ooohh I’ve never actually heard of most of these castles!! I thought I was familiar with a lot of France’s top ones, but clearly not. Mothe-Chadeniers looks so beautiful and abandoned

  2. Candy
    | Reply

    It’s fascinating to me that historians don’t know when The Château du Haut Koenigsbourg was built. Usually, building dates are standard that we know so this one must be REALLY old. I also love that it’s somewhat of a hidden gem and not filled with tourists.

  3. Alice L. Ford
    | Reply

    Wow, this is quite the round up of amazing castles. I have actually never visited the French countryside but it is high on my list of things to do and if I can only pick two castles I would choose these Château du Haut Koenigsbourg and Château de Peyrepertuse. I also love the castle with the trees and plants still growing out of the windows it’s amazing to see all the different architectural styles in this great article.

  4. I would absolutely love to do a Fairytale Castle crawl! It’s definitely not something we have the privilege of here in Australia. What really fascinates me the most about castles is not just the gorgeous structures, but all of the stories that those walls would be hiding. I mean, we do hear a lot of old stories, but what about the stuff that’s not in the history books, the stuff that hasn’t been passed down?

  5. Eric Gamble
    | Reply

    Holy crud guys, I cant ever show Darcee this post otherwise I will have to immediately book a trip for several months to France cause she would lose her mind exploring all these castles! Personally, I love the older looking ones like Ratilly Castle, Château de la Bussière, & Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers! But I think any would be quite fun to explore and walk around.

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