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28 French Castles Straight Out of a Fairy Tale

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Knights in shining armours, damsels in distress, magic forests, and happily-ever-after spent on splendid castles perched on top of a hill. All these come to mind when we talk about castles.

In France, where there are thousands of castles dotting the entire country, you can star in your very own real-life fairy tale with castles so dreamy and spectacular not even your wildest imaginations could conjure it.

Today, I'll try to guide you through some of the best ones that should definitely make it to your travel bucket list.

Picking only 28 among the seemingly endless array of beautiful French châteaux is a hard task. But here it is, presenting to you 28 of the most interesting and awe-inspiring castles that seem to have popped out of your childhood fairy tale books.

Here in this article, I've arranged the castles according to their respective locations, combing France from top to bottom – from Picardy in the North to Provence in the south.

Quick note

Please note that the French term château has a wider scope than the English term castle and includes palaces, stately homes, mansions, as well as fortresses. For more clarity in this article, we will use the French definition of château and indulge ourselves in the aesthetic and historical beauty of these listed architectural wonders.

Are you ready to see your dream château?

Here we go.

 

French Castles in Picardy

 1.Château de Chantilly

1 Château de Chantilly www.talkinfrench.com

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Located in Chantilly in the Oise department of the Picardy region, this chateau was constructed sometime in the 14th century and houses the Musée Condé which holds one of the finest collections of paintings in France, second only to the Louvre.

Did you know?

Brazilian football star Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima known as Ronaldo got married in this castle in 2005, in a ceremony that cost approximately €700,000. Also, every couple of years in June, you can catch the Nuits de Feu international fireworks competition in the chateau’s gardens.

2. Château de Pierrefonds

2 Château de Pierrefonds www.talkinfrench.com

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Hold your collective breaths, here’s a true fairy tale gem. Originally built in the 12th century but rebuilt in the 14th century for Louis, Duke of Orléans, Château de Pierrefonds is in the Oise department of the Picardy region.

Napoléon Bonaparte visited it in 1850 and asked the father of modern restorations, Viollet-le-Duc to restore it to the point of even surpassing its previous grandeur.

Did you know?

This photogenic fairy tale castle has been a mainstay in television and movies. You might have seen Pierrefonds Castle as the setting in the 1998 Leonardo diCaprio movie The Man in the iron Mask as well as in Highlander: the series, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, and even in the Disney TV show Wizards of Waverly Place as Wiz Tech Academy and Camelot in BBC’s series Merlin.

French Castles in Normandy

 3. Mont Saint-Michel

3 mont-saint-michel

This surreal island commune in Normandy, in the northwestern part of France is technically an abbey (abbaye) but it has been fortified since the 8th century.

While it used to be connected to the mainland through a land bridge that appears during low tide, that land bridge is gone now due to the buildup of silt, causing Mont Saint-Michel to become a part of the mainland. But efforts are being done by the French government to make it go back to being an island once again.

Did you know?

Lord of the Rings fans, heads up! See anything oddly familiar? That’s because the design of the city Minas Tirith in the film Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, was based on Mont Saint-Michel.This island commune also inspired the works of several writers and musicians including French composer Claude Debussy.

French Castles in Île-de-France

4. Palais de Versailles

4 versailles wwwtalkinfrench.com

This widely famous royal palace started out as a hunting lodge for Louis XIII in the 17th century but later on converted by Louis XIV into one of the most impressive palatial structures all over the world.

4 Versailles Galerie des Glaces

The Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces) Photo source

Did you know?

The entire palace is fabulously opulent but the most spectacular feature is the Hall of Mirrors. At 235 feet long, the dazzlingly magnificent ballroom and drawing room boasts of 17 highly expensive mirrors whose main purpose is for the courtiers to be able to admire their beautiful gowns and costumes as they danced.


But as Versailles was meant to be the “showcase of France” and all items used should be manufactured in France, French minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert had to entice mirror artisans from Venice who at that time holds the monopoly on mirror manufacturing.


The Venetian government later on ordered the assassination of those artisans, in order to keep the mirror-making secrets strictly within the Venetian Republic.

5. Château de Vincennes

5 Château de Vincennes www.talkinfrench.com

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Imposing? Check. Picturesque? Super check! This royal fortress located in the suburb of Paris began construction in the 14th century and started out as a hunting lodge for Louis VII.

Did you know?

2 kings got married in Vincennes while three 14th-century kings died there.

6. Château de Fontainebleau

6 Fontainebleau

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Another famous royal palace that makes it to this list, Château de Fontainebleau is located just 34 miles or 55 kilometers from Paris. It started out as a medieval castle in the 12th century, later on became the house of the monarchs, and today, a national museum and a popular tourist attraction.


6 Fontainebleau,i

Did you know?

This enormous royal palace was home to 34 French monarchs from the 12th to 19th century and has a very long and very rich history. Its name was derived from one of the springs found there, the fountain de Bliaud which is located near the English garden.

French Castles in Alsace

7. Château de Fleckenstein

7 Château de Fleckenstein www.talkinfrench.com

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Feast your eyes on this man-made marvel in a backdrop of nature’s best views in the mountains of Alsace.

This 12th century castle by the Fleckenstein family is located 370 meters above sea level and is just 200 meters away from the French frontier with Germany and may be accessed by road or using the hiking paths.

Did you know?

The chateau was totally destroyed in 1689 by the notorious Comte de Mélac, who was known for going against French policy by ruthlessly destroying enemy lands. Restorations to the castle have been done in 1870, 1908 and 1958.

8. Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg

8 Château de Haut-koenigsbourg 2 www.talkinfrench.com

You like more dreamy views? Here’s more. This medieval castle was built sometime in the 12th century, based on documented complaints filed to Louis VII of France.

It passed various hands from the Middle Ages, was rebuilt by German Emperor Wilhelm II in the early 1900s, and later on turned over to the French state after World War 1.

Did you know?

Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg is situated 757 meters high and looking down over the Alsace plains, the Black Forest, and even the Swiss Alps on some days.

French Castles in Brittany

9. Château de Pontivy

9 Château de Pontivy www.talkinfrench.com

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The Pontivy castle built in the 15th century in Morbihan, is one of the most well-preserved medieval castles and is also called the Castle of the Dukes of Rohan, or the Chateau des Rohan.

Did you know?

The name Pontivy comes from Pont d'Ivy because an English monk named Ivy built a bridge nearby and was credited as the town's founder.

10.  Château de Suscinio

10 Château de Suscinio www.talkinfrench.com

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More eye candy for you! Built in the 13th to the 14th century in Sarzeau commune in the Morbihan department, near the Atlantic ocean and right beside a forest, this castle began as a hunting lodge for the Dukes of Brittany and later on became their favorite residence.

Today, the son et lumière is a must-visit in July or August every year.

Did you know?

Henry Tudor (who became Henry VII of England) lived in the château de Suscinio from 1471 to 1483 during the English Wars of the Roses.

11. Château de Vitré

11 Château de Vitre www.talkinfrench.com

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Nothing like an 11th century castle to make you feel like a princess or arouse that knightly spirit in you. This imposing fortress served the purpose of warding off the English during the Hundred Years War, despite several attempts to take it. Today it houses the town hall and a museum.


French Castles in Centre Val de Loire

The Loire Valley is studded with hundreds of majestic and diverse châteaux, each with rich histories tied to the kings of France.

12.  Château de Chambord

12 Château de Chambord www.talkinfrench.com

Considered the biggest château in the Loire, this outstanding example of French Renaissance architecture was built in the 16th century as hunting lodge for Francis I. This massive royal chateau has: 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces, 84 staircases and a 13,000-acre park.

Did you know?

If this castle seems eerily familiar to you, it is probably because it was the inspiration for the Beast’s castle in the animated Disney film Beauty and the Beast (1991).


The 2017 live-action Beauty and the Beast film also based some of the castle's design on both Château de Chambord and the Palace of Versailles.


 If you're a gamer, you might have noticed it too in the popular video game Dark Souls.

13. Château de Chaumont

13 Château de Chaumont 2 www.talkinfrench.com

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This 10th century castle is also called Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire due to its location in Chaumont-sur-Loire in the Loir-et-Cher department.

The name Chaumont comes from the French words chauve mont, which translates as “bald hill” referring to the place it is built on.

13 Château de Chaumont www.talkinfrench.com

Whoa, gorgeous. Photo source

Did you know?

In 1613, a group digging in the fields near Castle Chaumont came across a huge tomb that contains the remains of human-shaped giants as tall as 25 feet.

 

14. Château de Chenonceau

14 Château de Chenonceau 2 www.talkinfrench.com

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 I can almost hear your sighs from here. Dreamy, isn’t it? Though this estate was already mentioned in writing as early as the 11th century, the chateau that we know of today took form in the 15th to the 16th century and is the second most visited chateau in France, next only to the Palace of Versailles.

Combining late Gothic and early Renaissance architecture, the beautiful chateau arches over the River Cher with renowned women such as Diana de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici designing additions to the castle.

Did you know?

When King Henry II offered the chateau to his mistress Diana de Poitiers, she commissioned the bridge to be built, connecting the chateau to the opposite bank. When Henry II died and his wife Catherine de Medici took over the place, she added another three stories atop the bridge.

But did you know that this beautiful bridge is also the reason that the chateau was not destroyed during the French Revolution? The owners were able to convince the Revolutionary Guard that the bridge is essential for commerce and travel, being the only bridge for miles, so the place was spared.

14 Château de Chenonceau www.talkinfrench.com

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15. Château de Chinon

15 Château de Chinon 2 www.talkinfrench.com

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This massive chateau that dominates the Chinon commune is built in the 12th century on the rocky bank of the river Vienne.

It is known as the castle where Joan of Arc proclaimed that she heard heavenly voices and where she went to meet with the Charles VII, Dauphin of France who resided here from 1427 to 1450.

Did you know?

The Chateau at one point in its history became the prison for the leaders of the order of the Knights Templar including Jacques de Molay. The graffiti carved by the imprisoned knights may still be seen in the walls of the Tour du Coudray where they were housed before their execution.

16. Château d'Ussé

16 Château de Usse 2 www.talkinfrench.com

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The fortifications of this castle was first built in the 11th century but it was in the 15th century when it was rebuilt to add Renaissance features into the design. The result is a classic fairy tale castle that overlooks the Indre valley.

Did you know?

Sitting on the edge of the Chinon forest that could very well double as a magical forest, this castle is often known as The Sleeping Beauty castle because it is the castle that French author Charles Perrault had in mind when he envisioned the Sleeping Beauty story.

17. Château de Sully-sur-Loire

17 Château de Sully-sur-loire www.talkinfrench.com

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An imposing medieval fortress built in the 14th century, this castle was later on transformed into a residential chateau by the Duke of Sully. Today the castle hosts a classical music festival every year on June.

Did you know?

Famous philosopher François-Marie Arouet better known as Voltaire sought shelter here in Château de Sully-sur-Loire during his exile from Paris.

 

18. Château d'Angers

Castle Of Angers

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In the city of Angers near the river Maine, this castle was first founded in the 9th century by the Counts of Anjou but its current colossal size was added sometime in the 13th century.

Did you know?

Today, the castle has been converted to a museum which houses the oldest and biggest collection of medieval tapestries from all over the world. It is also the home of the Apocalypse Tapestry which illustrates in vivid detail the Bible’s Book of Revelation.

French Castles in Burgundy

19. Château de Châteauneuf

19 Château de Chateauneuf www.talkinfrench.com

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This powerful (not to mention pleasing to the eyes) medieval fortress was built in the 15th century in the Côte-d'Or department, overlooking the Burgundy Canal.

Did you know?

Also known as Château Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, the last heir of the Châteauneufs met her death by being burned alive as punishment for poisoning her husband. Yikes.

French Castles in Aquitaine

20. Château de Beynac

Château de Beynac www.talkinfrench.com

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Can you imagine how intimidating this must have looked to invaders back in the day? Beynac castle, an imposing medieval fortress built in the 12th century, sits on a limestone cliff 200 meters above the Dordogne River, facing its rival castle Castelnaud.

Did you know?

This castle is where some scenes from the movie  'The corridors of time: The Visitors II' were filmed as well as Luc Bresson's 'Jean d'Arc'.

21.  Château de Bonaguil

21 Château de Bonaguil www.talkinfrench.com

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The name Bonaguil comes from bonne aiguilles which means good needle, after the steep hill where the defensive castle is perched in.

Built in the 13th century, during the time of transition between the Medieval and Renaissance periods, this interesting chateau holds an annual fireworks and music festival which is great to take part in when you're in the area.

Did you know?

This castle was further fortified with additional defences at the end of the Middle Ages, equipping it with the latest armaments tech. But those add-ons immediately became obsolete as soon as it was completed. And the castle was never attacked.

22.  Château de Roquetaillade

22 Château de Roquetaillade www.talkinfrench.com

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Roquetaillade, which means carved out of rock due to the rock formations in the caves below the castle, has been privately owned and occupied by the Roquetaillade family since it was built in Gironde in 1306!

23. Château de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle

23 Château de Castelnaud la chapelle www.talkinfrench.com

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Another picturesque castle overlooking the Dordogne river, this medieval fortress in Périgord was built in the 13th century and is now considered as one of the most visited castles in the South of France.

Did you know?

During the Hundred Years War, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle Castle changed hands between the French and English 7 times! Today it houses an impressive museum of medieval warfare including a showcase of full-sized medieval war machines, trebuchets, mangonels, and other weapons.

French Castles in Limousin

24. Château de Montbrun

24 Château de Montbrun www.talkinfrench.com

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If you wish to see a fine example of a 15th century medieval castle with moat, high walls, and battlements complete with machicolations, this is a good castle to drop into. Initially built in the 12th century and then reinforced in the 15th, you’ll definitely feel like you’re in the Game of Thrones’ land of Westeros instead of a fairy tale story.

Did you know?

There are lots of legends and mysteries surrounding this chateau, one of which is the Lady in Blue, a ghost which is said to be wandering around the castle.

  

25. Chateau de Rochechouart

25 Château de Rochechouart www.talkinfrench.com

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Feeling castle fatigue yet? Here’s another one to feast your eyes on. This 13th century chateau is located in Haute-Vienne department in Limousin.

Did you know?

Rochechouart, the town where this castle is located, calls itself the "Countryside of  the Meteorite" because 214 million years ago, the biggest meteorite to hit earth (weighing 6 billion tonnes) smashed into this place.

French Castles in Languedoc-Roussillon Midi-Pyrénées

26. Cité de Carcassonne

26 Carcassonne 3 www.talkinfrench.com

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 This 12th century fortified city in Aude in Languedoc-Rousillon region can be considered a proper medieval citadel with its 52 towers and 3 kilometers long double walls that surround it.

In its 2,500 years of colourful history, the town has witnessed the comings and goings of various military groups such as Romans, Visigoths, Saracens, as well as the Crusaders.

Did you know?

In the 17th century, when France has annexed the area, Carcassonne no longer needed to serve its previous military purposes. By the mid-19th century, the entire fortified city was totally neglected and scheduled to be demolished by the government.


Thankfully, through the efforts of the mayor, the restoration of the town was pushed through, with the lengthy restoration undertaken by the famous Viollet-le-Duc.

27. Château de Castelnau-Bretenoux

27 Château de Castelnau-Bretenoux 2.www.talkinfrench.comJPG

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This 12th century castle in Prudhomat, Lot department in the Midi-Pyrénées is seated atop a hill right in the intersection of four valleys and the Dordogne river. It is characterized by its red stone walls that is recognizable even at a distance.

It was the dream castle of 19th century opera singer and furniture collector Jean Mouliérat who purchased and restored the castle and furnished it with an eclectic mix of medieval style furnishings that may still be viewed today.

 

French Castles in Provence

28. Palais des Papes

28 palais-des-papes wwwtalkinfrench.com

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Last but a far cry from being the least on this list is the historical Pope’s Palace in Avignon. As the seat of Western Christianity in the 14th century, this papal residence held 6 papal conclaves in its walls.

Today, it is mostly a tourist attraction and also houses a convention center, a research center, and hosts various shows like the annual Festival d'Avignon and its own light show every year, the Luminessences d’Avignon which like the famous la fêtes des lumières, is a light show that tells a story.

Conclusion

 Travelling to see these castles soon?

Don’t forget to get a copy of the ultimate French phrasebook (with audio) from Talk in French. It has all you need to travel in France with confidence. Learn more about it by clicking the image below. 


About the Author Frederic Bibard

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Twitter and Google +

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