France's Most Beautiful Castles and Chateaux
Of all the beautiful castles throughout Europe, France has the most amazing castles. They're so romantic and dreamy!
After combing through tons of pictures of castles throughout France (hey, who hasn't dreamed of living in a castle), I came up with a list of the coolest.
If you're planning a trip to France, you'll definitely want to hit up one of these castles. You might even be able to spend the night in a castle (for a pretty penny... or a pretty €0.01) as many castle owners convert the castles into hotels.
Without further ado, here is my list of the coolest, most rad castles in all of France as well as a bit of history behind each.
Chateau de Chenonceau
Chateau de Chenonceau, built on the River Cher, was passed through many hands before it was given to the mistress of King Henry II, Diane de Poitiers. Diane de Poitier commissioned the gorgeous bridge that many people find as the most beautiful thing about the castle.
This bridge is also the reason why the chateau exists today as it was set to be destroyed during the French Revolution, but the owner convinced the Revolutionary Guard that the bridge was essential to commerce (it was the only bridge crossing the River Cher for miles.)
The bridge at Chateau de Chenonceau also served a major purpose during WWII as it created a way for the French to flee the Nazi-occupied side of the river to the free "Vichy" side of the river. The chateau also served as a hospital for wounded military during WWII.
Chateau de Chambord
Chateau de Chambord is an amazing example of architecture from the French Renaissance. This chateau, the largest in the Loire Valley, was built for King Francis I to serve as a hunting lodge and so that he could be closer to his mistress.
The chateau consists of a massive keep in the center with four enormous towers at the corners. Chateau de Chambord has 365 fireplaces, 84 staircases, and 440 rooms. The environs of the castle consist of a 13,000-acre wooded park. This is a great place to stop for those visiting Loire valley castles as it is perhaps the best example of a Loire valley chateau.
In building the Chateau de Chambord with its 440 rooms (and nearly as many fireplaces), the Loire river is rumored to have been diverted to make room. However, the chateau was only built as a hunting lodge for King Francois I.
When the project of building the Palace of Versailles was first started in 1624, the town of Versailles was just a small village. Now, this area is a wealthy suburb of Paris perhaps due to the Palais de Versailles.
The palace started out as a small hunting lodge built for Louis XIII, who later expanded it. His successor, Louis XIV, also had it renovated and expanded causing it to become among the largest palaces in the world. This helped him fulfill his desire of establishing a new center for the royal court. Because of the rich history behind the Versailles, it has come to be a major symbol of French nationality.
Mont St Michel
Mont St Michel, constructed during the 8th century, is located on a rocky island off the north coast of France in Normandy. When the monastery was first constructed, it was connected to the mainland by a land bridge that was covered completely by water during high tide and visible again at low tide.
Because of the addition of farmlands to the area, the land bridge no longer exists. However, the addition of the farmlands did cause Mont St Michel to be closer to the mainland. Currently, the buildup of silt around Mont St Michel has caused it to become a part of the mainland, but the French government is currently commissioning a hydraulic dam that will help remove the silt and make it an island once again.
Carcassonne, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is actually a fortified city which was first built by the Romans sometime around 100 BC and was fully restored in 1853. The view from the town below up toward the fortification offers many beautiful views. The view from the top is also unmatched.
Tourists here can enjoy medieval jousting displays which take place twice a day. Besides the fortified city, this area does not see much tourism, but still offers travelers a lot. It's a great place for those who wish to see one of the beautiful castles in the south of France.
Chateau de Chantilly
The Chateau de Chantilly is located in Chantilly, France which is a part of the very large metropolitan area that is Paris. This beautiful chateau is made up of two attached sections: the Grand Chateau and the Petit Chateau.
The Chateau was originally built in around 1528 for the Constable Anne de Montmorency, but the section called the Grand Chateau was destroyed during the French Revolution. It was later rebuilt. Every two years a spectacular fireworks competition, the Nuits de Feu, is held in the chateau gardens. This popular event brings many visitors in from the local area, from Paris, and from around the world.
The Chateau d'Amboise was first built sometime in the 11th century for Fulk III, the Count of Anjou. It was later owned by Louis d'Amboise but was relinquished to royal power when Louis was convicted of plotting against the king.
Leonardo da Vinci came to the chateau and it became both this workplace and his home. It is rumored that he is buried nearby. Mary, Queen of Scots was raised here as she was promised to marry Francis II. The chateau suffered a great deal of damage during the French Revolution and was further damaged in WWII.
Fougères, located in Brittany has suffered a long history of sieges. This caused much damage to Fougères, but much of the damage has been repaired over the course of its history.
The belfry, one of only three belfries in Brittany, served the inhabitants of the town of Fougères with the ability to know what time it was which was usually only something that the clergy and nobility could do at the time.
Fougères is one of the most beautiful examples of medieval castles in France still in existence. Much of the original wall exists today, which provided cover for those living in the town below who would retreat to the fortification when Fougères suffered attacks.
Pierrefonds was originally built in the 12th century but later was majorly rebuilt for the Duke of Orléans. In 1617, the chateau was besieged by Cardinal Richelieu's troops and was set to be destroyed. During this time, Richelieu's troops found that the destruction of the chateau was too large of a project and abandoned it.
Napoléon Bonaparte later decided to have it restored. Instead of being restored to its original splendor, the project became larger and it was eventually given a more modern interior design. However, much of the outside structures retain a 14th-century appearance.
Chateau d'Usse, located at the edge of the Chinon forest overlooking the Indre, is commonly referred to as the Sleeping Beauty castle.
Because of the dreamy Flamboyant Gothic/Renaissance look of the castle, Disney designed their castle after Chateau d'Usse. This gorgeous chateau can be found in modern day Rigny-Usse located in the Indre-et-Loire département.
These are just some of the many castles of France. Each region of France has many castles and chateaux. Loire Valley castles are simply astounding and are very much a part of the Loire Valley tours that run through the area. Castles such as Carcassonne are also a huge part of tours showing of castles in the south of France.
Many castles in France are open to the public, not only to view from the outside but as museums, so you can take a full tour and even learn what life in each castle was like.
For the lucky millionaire, there are always beautiful chateaux for sale. And, oh yeah, bonus points will be given to anyone who buys one built on a huge vineyard!
Questions & Answers
© 2010 Melanie Palen