France just has that something special. You know, that je ne sais quoi that everyone talks about. It’s a place where romance reigns supreme, which isn’t too surprising when you consider it’s the home of French kissing — and the home of some 40,000 castles scattered across its verdant landscape. Yes, that was indeed the correct number of zeros. There are an estimated 40,000 castles for you to explore. Of course, seeing them all could take an entire lifetime, but don’t worry. We’re here to help you narrow down the list to just a few French castles. By Stacey Leasca
Here are 12 spectacular French castles to visit on your next vacation to this beautiful country
Château de Chambord
If you’re going to go on a tour of France’s best castles, you might as well go big and visit the largest one in the Loire Valley, the Château de Chambord. Located just a few hours outside of Paris, the Renaissance-era castle was brought to life by King François I in the early 1500s as a personal hunting lodge. The castle’s interior is a stunning work of art, and that makes sense when you consider it’s rumoured that the castle was designed (or at least inspired) by Leonardo da Vinci. While the interior spaces are worthy of a visit, so too are its spectacular gardens, which guests can explore for hours on end.
Located about a half a mile (0.8 km) off the coast of Normandy sits Mont Saint-Michel, a fortress that has stood the test of time. The former abbey dates back to the eighth century when, according to Normandy Tourism, ”Aubert, bishop of the nearby hilltop town of Avranches, claimed that the Archangel Michael himself had pressured him into having a church built atop the island just out to sea.” The building has had many uses over the years, including as a prison and now as a major tourist destination, attracting millions of visitors per year.
Palace of Versailles
If you only have time to see one castle while visiting France, make it the Palace of Versailles. Built by Louis XIII as a hunting lodge due to the land being replete with a game like pheasants and wild boar, the home has become the very essence of grandeur after several renovations. His descendants, including Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, continued to use the home before she became Madame Déficit and was ultimately beheaded. The castle has maintained much of its opulence, including its lavish gardens, which have been restored to all their former glory, so you can get a taste of how Antoinette lived while keeping your head about you.
Make your way to Chenonceau Castle for a female-focused castle getaway. The castle may date back as far as the 11th century, but its true history began after Henry II gifted the castle to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. From there, it’s been a long succession of female owners and more recently, a female-led team of restorers to make it truly shine once again. Head inside to see its brilliant furnishings and tapestries and outside to enjoy its gardens on a sunny day.
Château de la Roche Courbon
Uncover some of France’s oldest secrets by exploring every nook at the Château de la Roche Courbon. The French castle, built around 1475, is historic in its own right, but a number of ancient artefacts have also been found on the site, proving it’s likely been inhabited for thousands of years. The current interior of the castle contains numerous furnishings from the 17th century alongside sculptures that may indeed be even older. But don’t miss the castle’s fantastic gardens, which are listed as one of the Notable Gardens of France.
Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg
The Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg is a medieval masterpiece located in the commune of Orschwiller, atop the Vosges mountains. Its high altitude location proved to be an important vantage point for France’s leaders throughout the Middle Ages. However, the castle was abandoned after the Thirty Years’ War in the 1600s. It received its due in the early 20th century when it was rebuilt to highlight all its architectural charms. Come walk across its drawbridge and drink in its slightly iridescent exterior, thanks to its pink sandstone construction.
The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is ideal for those who are fans of Baroque style. The castle, which finished construction in 1661, also exhibits extreme extravagance. It’s another castle that boasts stellar interiors, but also has gardens so vast you may want to get a ride around them. How vast? They stretch over 100 acres, including woodland areas and formal gardens that are still fit for royalty.
Fort de Salses
If you’re on the hunt to find a castle that looks like it could last through the Battle of Winterfell, then Fort de Salses is for you. The castle, built toward the end of the 15th century, first served as a battle point for the Catalonians but was captured by France in 1642 and has remained under its control ever since. It looks exactly as you’d imagine a medieval fortress would look, including thick stone construction, cylinder towers, and a confusing maze of corridors meant to confound any intruders. You can now roam its halls, but if you can, take the guided tour to learn as much about its rich history as possible.
Château de Cheverny
Find the ultimate in French castle charm at the Château de Cheverny. The dazzling estate is so delightful that it even served as the model for the Adventures of Tintin children’s books. The home, which is still privately owned, features 17th- and 18th-century interiors and furnishings that guests can peruse, as well as a massive lake that guests can explore via boat. It, of course, has a small Tintin exhibition on display for guests to check out, too.
In between wine adventures in Bordeaux, stop in at Roquetaillade, a castle built by Charlemagne the Great. Very little of the original castle remains, but what stands in its place is still a testament to time as the castle has been built and rebuilt over and over again for hundreds of years. What stands today is a fully restored castle that was transformed in the late 19th century. It’s also now listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture, making it a must-see for any true Francophile.
Château de Fontainebleau
Looking for pure excess? Head to Château de Fontainebleau, a castle located one hour outside of Paris. The castle was built in the 12th century as a hunting palace as it sits in the midst of a lush forest landscape. Since its first stone was set down, the castle has been endlessly under construction, with each successor adding more and more to the fantastic home. These additions also mean the castle is a mix of architectural styles, making it a prime place for a one-and-done castle visit. Come see its galleries, ballrooms, and the striking Chapel of Trinity.
Take it old school by heading out for an exploration of Château d’Angers, one of the oldest castles in the nation. The castle is home to a Neolithic tomb, which its preservation group says dates back to around 4,000 BC. It’s no surprise the site has been continuously occupied, considering it’s both a hearty fortress and one with breathtaking beauty thanks to its impressive landscapes and its interior furnishings, which include the Apocalypse Tapestry. The tapestry, which measures in at more than 450 feet in length and was commissioned in the late 1300s, depicts the Apocalypse as described in the Book of Revelation. Some 328 feet of it are on display for you to see now.
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