I’m a castle nut. I think it started when I became obsessed with the Medieval period and since then, castles are always on the itinerary when I travel. I’ve been to so many now, I thought I would put together a post of some of my favourites, but that list was long so I decided to narrow things down to one country – France.
So, please enjoy my list of what I think are the best chateaux in France.
A list about castles (even though, it’s technically a palace) in France is not complete without mentioning the Palais de Versailles, about 40 minutes from Paris. I first went at age five with my parents, but I really remember it from my visit at 17. I couldn’t believe the decadence—gold everywhere, velvet wall coverings, magnificent furniture. You can’t help but be overwhelmed as you wander the rooms.
Now, much of what’s there isn’t original because it was sacked during the French Revolution, but they have tried to restore it as accurately as possible. Louis VIX was immensley proud of Versailles and you can really understand why when you get there.
For information on getting there and ticket prices, visit the Versailles website.
Chateau de Vincennes
Vincennes is about 15-20 minutes on the train outside of Paris and fits more into one’s idea of a castle, with fortified walls and towers greeting you on arrival. While there was some sort of structure in place on the site from the early 11th century, what you see is mostly from the 14th and 17th centuries.
The inside of the castle has a more military and prison focus and you can even see the cell where the infamous Marquis de Sade spent his days. I really liked Vincennes because it’s a great example of a working military building as opposed to an opulent palace.
For information on getting there and ticket prices, visit the Chateau de Vincennes website.
Chateau de Maisons-Laffitte
More of a hunting lodge, the Chateau de Maisons-Laffitte (about 30 minutes outside Paris) is right near my grandmother’s house so I’ve been a few times. It was built in the mid 1600s so the architecture is very much of the French Baroque period and it’s beautifully symmetrical (if you like that sort of thing and I really do).
Inside hasn’t been restored to the same level as Versailles and it was owned by a long line of people who didn’t treat it all that well, but it was listed as an historical monument in 1914 to save it from demolition (phew!). You really want to go there because of the external architectural features anyway!
For information on getting there and ticket prices, visit the Chateau de Maisons-Laffitte website.
We move away from Parisian castles now and head south to the Loire Valley. When I initially planned my trip to the Loire, Chateau d’Amboise wasn’t on my list, but we stayed nearby (in a much smaller 12th Century castle, of course) and when we went into town for dinner, we were so impressed we went to see it the first thing the next morning.
It’s a massive site and offers brilliant views of the surrounding area, including the Loire River, which is (from memory) the reason they started building there. You can easily spend a few hours there because there are so many different areas to visit, though not nearly as many as there were a few hundred years ago.
I was also surprised to learn that Leonardo di Vinci spent his last days at Amboise and was buried in a chapel there.
For information on getting there and ticket prices, visit the Chateau d’Amboise website.
A garden lover’s dream. Villandry is known for its gardens, so if you love horticulture and history all rolled into one, it’s a must-visit.
While I visited during winter and it was nice, the photos I’ve seen of the gardens during spring and summer are absolutely stunning.
For information on getting there and ticket prices, visit the Chateau de Villandry website.
Chateau de Chenonceau
Chenonceau is also in the Loire Valley and I’ve chosen it for my list because it’s the prettiest of the chateaux (my photos don’t do it justice at all) and it has a really cool basement kitchen. And as a lover of history and food, old kitchens are totally my thing.
For information on getting there and ticket prices, visit the Chateau de Chenonceau website.
Chateau de Chantilly
Chantilly is about an hour north of Paris if you’re driving and about 30 minutes on the train, so it’s perfect for a day trip. The Chantilly site is multi-faceted and includes the chateau itself with art galleries (their website even says they have ‘the second largest collection of antique paintings after the Louvre’), suites and reception rooms as they would have been in their heyday, and a truly impressive library; the gardens and lake; and The Great Stables with demonstrations and a museum for the horse lovers out there.
I was so lucky to visit on a beautiful sunny day so I could appreciate the gardens and external architecture. But, honestly, nothing beats the feeling of shock and awe when I walked into every single room. My poor Dad had to put up with me dragging him to every corner of the Chateau, and we stared for what seemed like ages at the lake. If you want to skip the busier places like Versailles, Chantilly needs to be on your list.
For information on getting there and ticket prices, visit the Chateau de Chantilly website.
My favourite castles in France – pin for later!
I hope you enjoyed my list. These are just a handful of the castles I’ve visited over the years and it’s even a smaller handful of the fascinating castles you can find all over France. I can’t wait to get back over there to tick off some more.
Do you have a favourite castle in France? Tell me about it in the comments!