Château de Castelnaud
Architecture

Best Chateaux in France (Castles in France) to Explore!

10/20/2019

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Looking for the best chateaux in France to add to your #francebucketlist? In France, castles are a little bit everywhere in and there’s something for every taste, from medieval fortified castles to private estates surrounded by French gardens.

Below, the list of the most beautiful castles in France, with famous French castles but also castles that are hidden gems. We have tried to cover all the French regions and different architectural styles. Because ruins can be just as beautiful as flawless palaces, the list also includes a couple of crumbling castles. Let’s explore the most beautiful castles in France.

WE RECOMMEND – Stay at Château de Villiers, an awesome French chateau-hotel near Paris!

 

Our Map of French Castles

For your convenience, we have included the list of our favorite chateaux in France on this map of French castles. If you are traveling around France, have a look at this Castles in France map, perhaps there’s a beautiful French chateau close to your itinerary!

What is a château? In France, a château is a castle, which can be fortified or not. The plural word of château is châteaux, which is pronounced almost the same than château

 

Castles Near Paris

There are many Castles near Paris which make great day trips from Paris. Most of the Paris Castles are Royal Castles but there are other lesser-known (and less crowded) castles which are worth the visit. If you are looking for a chateau near Paris, here’s the list of the most beautiful castles near Paris.

Château de Versailles (Ile de France)

Most Beautiful Castles in France - Château de Versailles

Most Beautiful Castles in France – Château de Versailles

  • Location: Versailles
  • Architectural Style: Baroque

Château de Versailles is THE royal Palace. It is also the most beautiful and the most visited chateau in France. Versailles was built in the XVII century by King Louis XIII as a hunting lodge. Under his son, King Louis XIV, the Palace was totally rebuilt by the best artists of that time: Le Vau was in charge of the architecture, Le Nôtre designed the gardens and Le Brun was in charge of the sculpture.

In Versailles, the Gardens and Fountains are as beautiful as the palace itself. Versailles Gardens span across 800 hectares and comprise 200,000 trees, 50 fountains and a 5.57km canal so we recommend dedication at least half day for visiting the Gardens. The nearest source of water to feed the fountains and water the gardens was the River Seine, located at more than 10 km from Versailles. For this reason, the best engineers of the kingdom build a fantastic machine, La Machine de Marly also known as the 8th World Wonder, to pump and transport the water from the Seine River up to Versailles.

READ MORE – Best Tips for Visiting Versailles Palace and Gardens

 

Château de Fontainebleau (Ile de France)

Beautiful France Castles - Château de Fontainebleau

Beautiful France Castles – Château de Fontainebleau

  • Location: Fontainebleau
  • Architectural Style: different styles

This is another great Paris Castle which means that it is very easy to reach from Paris. Fontainebleau Castle is one of the royal Châteaux in France, used by the French Kings as their base camp for their hunting stays. Fontainebleau forest was since the Middle Ages a hunting place for the royals and nobles. Louis VII was the first King to build a castle in Fontainebleau in the XII century. Since then, his successors enlarged and embellished this former castle, turning it into one of the most beautiful castles in France. Fontainebleau Castle has amazing rooms and halls richly decorated with the best materials. The exquisite Renaissance Rooms, decorated in the 1500s under the supervision of Kings Francis I and Henry II, are worth the entry alone. Finally, don’t miss the surrounding gardens with beautiful fountains and ponds.

 

Château de Chantilly (Hauts de France)

Château de Chantilly

Chateaux in France – Château de Chantilly

  • Location: Chantilly
  • Architectural Style: Renaissance

Château de Chantilly is one of the most beautiful castles near Paris and it’s definitely one of the easiest day trips from Paris by train. The current castle is a reconstruction of the nineteenth century for Henry d’Orléans, penultimate son of King Louis-Philippe I, and heir of the estate. Henry d’Orléans installed in the chateau his collections of paintings, drawings and old books, known today as the Musée Condé. The Musée Condé hosts the second largest collection of artwork in France, only beaten by the Louvre artwork in Paris. It includes masterworks by Raphael, Botticelli or  Sassetta just to name a few. Both the Musée Condé and the breathtaking library with medieval manuscripts are the highlights of any visit to this French chateau.

Once you have finished the visit to the castle go and explore its amazing gardens. The château is surrounded by a  beautiful French Garden designed by André Le Nôtre and also by an English Garden.

 

Château de Pierrefonds (Hauts de France)

Château de Pierrefonds

  • Location: Pierrefonds
  • Architectural Style: Late Medieval /Early Renaissance

Château de Pierrefonds is a fairy-tale French chateau located in the village of Pierrefonds, north of Paris. The first structure was built during the XIII century. One century later, King Philippe Auguste incorporated the castle to the royal domains to be used as a royal palace. When King Charles V died in 1392, Château de Pierrefonds was inherited by his youngest son, the duke Louis d’Orléans, who rebuilt the castle entirely. Over the centuries, the castle changed hands many times. In March 1617, during the early troubled days of Louis XIII’s reign, the castle, then the property of François-Annibal d’Estrées who joined the “parti des mécontents” (party of discontent), was besieged, taken and destroyed by the King’s troops. Two centuries later the ruined castle was bought by Napoleon I and it was used for important banquets and other events. Emperor Napoleon III of France asked Viollet-Le-Duc in 1857 to undertake the restoration of Château de Pierrefonds to be used as an imperial residence. Viollet-le-Duc tried to imagine how the castle was in medieval times rather than basing his studies in the history of the castle itself. The result was more a work of invention rather than a faithful restoration. Château de Pierrefonds makes an excellent day trip from Paris by car and it is a great place to explore with the family.

 

Dordogne Castles

Dordogne is a French department located southwest France, in the Aquitaine region. It is set between the Loire Valley and Pyrenees mountains. Dordogne is well known for its cute small towns, great food, and awesome castles. Actually, Dordogne is reputed to have 1001 castles and chateaux! Many of them are open to the public and some of them are among the principal attractions in the department. Here’s the list of the most beautiful Dordogne Castles.

 

Château de Commarque (Nouvelle Aquitaine)

Château de Commarque

  • Location: Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil
  • Architectural Style: Medieval

Château de Commarque is one of the most beautiful medieval castles in France, located in the Dordogne Valley. It is a medieval castrum which regroups inside the fortification a castle, a chapel and some tower-houses for the nobility.

Château de Commarque was built during the XII century to ensure the safety of the valley which saw the crossing of two important trade routes of the region: the road from Périgueux to Cahors and that of Brive to Bergerac. The Beynac, the lords of the castle, lived in the dungeon while the other towers with a house attached were used by noble families. During the Hundred Years War, the Beynac remained the faithful defenders of the valley and the crown of France. The English nevertheless seized the castle in 1464 and kept it for a few years. Other wars followed and with them, the castle was badly damaged. Finally, the site was abandoned in the XVIII century.

In 1915 a religious man discovered a prehistoric cave inside the cliff that supports the castle. This cave contained 150 drawings carved by men 15,000 years ago, under the Magdalenian. The cave was classified as a historical monument in 1924.

In 1968, a descendant of the original family bought the ruins of the castle and he undertook an extensive program of consolidation and restoration of the castle. The castle is open to the public since the year 2000.

 

Tours de Merle (Nouvelle Aquitaine)

Tours de Merle

Source: Flickr
  • Location: Saint-Geniez-ô-Merle
  • Architectural Style: Medieval

This set of crumbling towers in a steep valley on the western side of the Massif Central is just amazing. Tours des Merles was a feudal fortress (castrum) built between the XII and the XV century. It included seven fortified houses owned by seven noblemen from Merles, two chapels and a village. The site was taken by the English during the Hundred Year’s War and then by the Calvinists in 1574. The Calvinists established a garrison for two years until they were chased out by the co-lords of Merles. However, the site was then abandoned by the co-lords who preferred to live in more pleasant and more accessible places. At the end of the XVII century, the village population, no longer able to count on their protection, disperses and Tours de Merle gradually fell into oblivion.

Today Tours de Merle are part of a 10-hectare park and it is an exciting place to explore and to enjoy awesome views of Massif Central.

 

Château Castelnaud (Nouvelle Aquitaine)

Château de Castelnaud

  • Location: Castelnaud-la-Chapelle
  • Architectural Style: Medieval

This medieval castle is located in the Dordogne Valley, overlooking the Céou Valley and facing the fortress of Beynac, its eternal medieval rival. This is an excellent example of a feudal private fortification, with fortified walls, a bastion, a dungeon, an artillery tower and living quarters.  The first construction was built during the XII century but it was destroyed during the Albigensian Crusade led by the armies of Simon de Monfort. During the XIII century, a new castle was built and it was occupied by the families of Castelnaud and Berbiguières united by marriage. During the Hundred Years War Castelnaud took the party of the English until it was defeated by the armies of the King of France Charles VII in the year 1442. As a result, the castle changed of owners, and the family of Caumontkept it until the French Revolution when the castle was abandoned. The castle went through an extensive program of restoration works from 1967 to 2012. Today, Château de Castelnaud is open to the public and it hosts the interesting museum of the War in the Middle Ages, with an extensive collection of weapons and other items.

 

Loire Valley Castles

Loire Valley Castles are the most famous French castles. And for a reason! Fairy-tale architectures, unique settings and always with an interesting history behind. In addition, they are not far from the French capital so it is very easy to explore some of the Loire Valley Castles just on a day trip from Paris. Because of the geography in the Loire is rather flat, it is also possible to visit some of the most famous castles in France by bike. Here’s the list of the most beautiful Loire Valley Castles.

 

Château de Chambord (Centre – Val de Loire)

Château de Chambord - Loire Valley

  • Location: Chambord
  • Architectural Style: Renaissance

Château de Chambord is the most beautiful château in the Loire Valley and definitely a must on any Loire Valley bucket list. It is also the largest castle in the area, surrounded by the largest closed forest park in Europe (approximately 50 km2 surrounded by a wall of 32 km long). Château de Chambord was constructed in the 1500s for King Francis I. Work began with the destruction of several existing buildings, including the former castle of the Counts of Blois and the church of the village. The result was a huge and awesome castle easily recognized by its emblematic cupolas and turrets on the roof.

From the beginning of the Second World War, the castle became the center of sorting of the treasures of the national museums of Paris and the North of France, which had to be evacuated and protected from German bombardments. Curators and guardians stood guard to defend the works of the Louvre Museum stored in the castle. Some artworks like the Mona Lisa stayed only a few months, while others stayed in Chambord for the duration of the war. The castle was badly damaged in 1944 and 1945 and with the gradual repatriation of the works of the Louvre to Paris, in 1947 began the huge restoration and reconstruction which lasted almost thirty years.

Don’t miss Chambord’s famous double-helix staircase that twists gracefully up three floors: it is rumored that Leonardo da Vincy had a hand in its design!

 

Château de Chenonceau (Centre – Val de Loire)

Chateau de Chenonceau - Loire Valley

  • Location: Chenonceau
  • Architectural Style: Renaissance

Château de Chenonceau is another favorite of the Val de Loire Castles, with beautiful architecture and a unique setting. For many, Chenonceau is considered one of the best castles in France and it is the second most visited castle in the country only after Versailles.

The construction and later transformations of this Renaissance château are closely linked to powerful women. It was built by Katherine Briçonnet in 1513, enriched by Diane de Poitiers (who was a favorite of King Henry II and was gifted the palace by the king) and enlarged under Catherine de Medici, King Henry II’ wife. For this reason, Château de Chenonceau is also known as Le Château des Dames.

Chenonceau’s main highlight, and what makes the castle unique, is its famous two-story gallery overlooking the Cher. But of course, there’s much more to explore in Chenonceau! Chenonceau is definitely one of the jewels of the architecture of the Loire Valley and people’s favorite castle to visit in Val de Loire. If you can only visit one castle during your Val de Loire trip, this is Chenonceau.

 

Cathar Castles (Castles in the South of France)

Le Pays Cathar (the Cathar Country) is a beautiful area in the South of France with spectacular natural settings, and many castles, abbeys, and medieval cities. The name of Cathar Country comes from the Cathars, a religion in the Languedoc-Roussillon region considered heretic by the Catholic Church. The history of these vertigo Cathar Castles in the Cathar Country is linked forever to the Catharism as these places were the last refuge for the Cathars until they came under the authority of the kingdom of France. If you are interested in exploring castles in the South of France, consider visiting one or two Cathar Castles. Here’s the list of the most beautiful Cathar Castles.

 

Châteaux de Lastours (Languedoc– Roussillon)

Châteaux de Lastours

  • Location: Lastours
  • Architectural Style: Medieval

Châteaux de Lastours is an ensemble of four castles (Cabaret, Tour Régine, Surdespine and Quertinheux) perched on a rocky spur and isolated by deep valleys. They are located in the Cathar Country, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. It is just a 20-minute ride from the famous fortified city of Carcassone. At the foot of the castles, visitors still can see the ruins of the village of Cabaret surrounding the castles in Medieval times.

In the XI century, there were only three castles (Cabaret, Surdespine, and Quertinheux) occupied by the lords of Cabaret. Their location evolved in time following the successive destructions and reconstructions. This was the era of Catharism and the lords of Cabaret seemed to be very close to the followers of this new religion and there was a regular presence of Cathar bishops in the castles. Cabaret was besieged first in 1209 by Simon de Monfort without success and later in 1227 by Humbert de Beaujeu who also failed.

But the crusader Bouchard de Marly, then lord of the Château de Saissac, was taken prisoner by Pierre-Roger. His freedom was negotiated against the surrender of Cabaret in 1211. During the following years, the lords of Cabaret repossessed their lands but later Cabaret was besieged again until the year 1229 when Cabaret capitulated definitely. Cabaret became a royal fortress and the Tour Régine was built by order of the king to affirm his supremacy.

What visitors can see today are the structures of the XIII century, with amazing views over the valleys.

 

Château de Peyrepertuse (Languedoc – Roussillon)

Château de Peyrepertuse

  • Location: Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse 
  • Architectural Style: Medieval

This “vertigo citadel” is an amazing piece of military architecture perched on a limestone cliff watching over the village of Duilhac. Built between the XI and XIII century, the Château de Peyrepertuse first consisted of a small fortified settlement which over the years turned into an important piece of Aragon’s defensive line against the Occitan lords.
During the crusade against the Albigenses, the castle was the stronghold of Guillaume de Peyrepertuse who, not wanting to submit, was excommunicated in 1224. Guillaume finally surrendered after the fall of Carcassonne, and the castle became a French possession in 1240. The French King turned Château de Peyrepertuse into a key part of his line of defense against Aragon. In 1242, Saint-Louis decided to strengthen the castle and to add a second part, the Donjon Sant Jòrdi (Sant Jordi’s Keep), located higher up on the crest. Château de Peyrepertuse’s strategic importance ended with the Pyrenees Treaty in 1659, but until the French Revolution men continued to watch over this beautiful castle.

Today visitors can explore the lower walls, the two keeps linked by a staircase dug out of the rock and two small chapels. The view from Saint Jordi’s Keep, the castle’s highest point, is awesome.

 

Castles of Burgundy

The region of Bourgogne – Franche Comté is also very rich in castles of all architectural styles. More specifically, Burgundy boasts some of France’s most spectacular castles, with more than 70 buildings to explore. From Renaissance chateaux to survivors from the days before the Revolution or other more intimate castles, in Burgundy, there’s something for every taste. Here’s the list of the most beautiful Castles of Burgundy.

 

Château de Tanlay (Bourgogne – Franche Comté)

Château de Tanlay

  • Location: Tanlay
  • Architectural Style: Renaissance

The Château de Tanlay is a French château built in Renaissance style in Burgundy during the XVI and XVII centuries. It is one of the most beautiful castles in the region of Bourgogne, famous for its unique setting and awesome architecture with slate roofs à la française. The castle is totally surrounded by a moat, with access through a bridge. The reflections of the castle on the water and the perfect symmetry of the cour d’honneur is part of Tanlay’s serene charm.
The castle was totally rebuilt by the Admiral de Coligny in the XVI century, who inherited the property in ruinous conditions. Home of the family of Admiral Coligny during the Wars of Religion, its reconstruction was completed by Michel Particelli d’Hemery, Mazarin’s superintendent of Finance. In the late XVII century, Château de Tanlay became the property of the Marquis de Tanlay and it is still inhabited by the same family.

 

Château de Ratilly (Bourgogne – Franche Comté)

Château de Ratilly

  • Location: Treigny
  • Architectural Style: Medieval

This beautiful château in France is located on the top of a hill overlooking the Valley of the Tendril at 270 meters. The site is near the Seine-Loire watershed. The current castle was built in the XIII century following a Philippian plan: an enclosure with 6 turrets delimited a rectangular courtyard. The whole is surrounded by dry moats, with two towers framing the drawbridge. In the middle of the XIV century, during the Hundred Years War, the castle was home to a group of looters. Years later, in 1567, the castle became one of the headquarters for the Huguenots in the Auxerrois. During the Renaissance, the castle was transformed into a habitation for Mary de Puy. The renovation works included the installation of chimneys and windows open in the walls of the towers while the south-west tower became a garret.
In the XVIII and XIX centuries, the estate was sold several times. Today, the Château de Ratilly is opened to the public as an art center.

 

Other Beautiful Castles in France

In France, castles abound everywhere, not only in the French regions mentioned above. For example, there are some beautiful castles in France Normandy, Auvergne or in the Eastern part of France. Here’s the list of our favorite ones.

Château Gaillard (Normandie)

Château Gaillard

  • Location: Les Andelys
  • Architectural Style: Medieval

Château Gaillard is a medieval fortress built in the XII century under the orders of King Richard Lionheart, who was also Duke of Normandy, to protect his lands against the French King Philippe Auguste. The castle was strategically located on the top of a high cliff dominating the town of Les Andelys and the Seine Valley. The view from the castle, over Les Andelys and the Seine’s meanders, is amazing.

Château-Gaillard had a complex plan, very different from other fortresses built during the same period. The castle was organized in multiple volumes, nested or almost independent of each other. The objective of this arrangement was to multiply the obstacles in order to exhaust the attacker. This arrangement also needed fewer defenders.

Château Gaillard was essentially the result of one period of building so the architectural ensemble is very homogeneous. It consisted of three baileys (an inner, a middle, and an outer) the latest with the main entrance to the castle. The donjon, in the inner-bailey, is one of the most original and best-preserved keeps in the area. It is in the form of a circular tower on three quarters, but with an angle to the southeast. The baileys, which were separated by rock-cut ditches, housed the castle’s stables, workshops, and storage facilities while the donjon was reserved for the use of King Richard Lionheart.

 

Château de Val (Auvergne – Rhône Alpes)

Château de Val

  • Location: Lanobre
  • Architectural Style: Medieval

In France, castle islands do not abound so if you are interested in this type of castle you cannot miss Château de Val. Château de Val is a fortified castle built in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region during the XIII and XV centuries. The fortress was standing on a rocky spur 30 meters high overlooking the Valley of Haute-Dordogne. With the construction of the new dam, the Barrage de Bort Les Orgues, the castle and the surrounding park were supposed to disappear under the waters. However, at the very last moment, the water level of the new artificial lake was reviewed only up to the foot of the castle and Château de Val with its beautiful Saint Blaise Chapel was saved. Today, Château de Val appears as an atypical construction located on the edge of one of the largest lakes in Europe. Its elegant silhouette crowned with six towers reflected on the water and surrounded and the natural environment with landscapes of great beauty is a must-see in the region. We recommend staying until nightfall when the Château de Val lights up to let its shadows appear in the furrows of the beautiful “Rivière Espérance”.

 

Château du Haut Koenigsbourg (Grand Est)

Château de Haut-Koenisgsbourg

  • Location: Orschwiller
  • Architectural Style: Medieval

Château de Haut Koenisbourg is a must-stop of any Alsace Road Trip. It is a fortified castle built in the XII century but deeply transformed during the XIV century. The castle dominates the Alsatian Plain from the Buntsandstein Rock and has panoramas out to the Black Forest.

The castle was built by the Hohenstaufen as part of a defense line to reinforce their power in Alsace. Over the centuries the castle was disputed by different families and nations until it was badly damaged during the Thirty Years’ War and it was abandoned.

The castle that we can see today is from the XXth century, the result of Kaiser William II’s romantic vision of medieval castles. The castle went through a deep restoration under the direct supervision of William II who visited the works regularly. For the Kaiser, this castle marked the western boundary of the German Empire.

At the end of the First World War in 1919, the region of Alsace-Lorraine and the castle became part of the French State. However, the coat of arms of William II is still visible within the castle and it remains one of the symbols in Alsace of the German presence between 1871 and 1918.

 

We hope that you enjoyed your list of the best castles in France. What are your favorite French castles?

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Best Castles in France, explore the best Chateaux in France! Dordogne Castles, Cathar Castles, Castles in South of France, Castles Near Paris and Loire Valley Castles, all with a Map of French Castles included! #france #castles #bucketlist  Explore the most beautiful Castles in France, the best Chateaux in France! Read about Dordogne Castles, Cathar Castles, Castles in South of France, Castles Near Paris and Loire Valley Castles, with a Map of French Castles included! #france #castles #bucketlist

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