This list of the most beautiful castles in France may look short to those who know about the long history of this country. France has over 40,000 castles and fortresses dating from between the 9th and 21st centuries. The oldest one is the Château de Thil, started in 850 AD, and the most recent one is the Château Louix XIV, completed in 2011. How do you narrow down that list to just 11?

    From Versailles to Cheverny and from Chambord to Fontainebleau, the must-see French châteaux and palaces take you for a ride back into time. These castles boast impressive architectural prowess and reveal the extraordinary talent and skill of bygone craftsmen. A visit of these historical edifices will surely spice up your holiday in France.


    Château de Versailles

    The home of the last king of France

    The Palace of Versailles is certainly the most iconic castle of France. Located 20 km southwest of Paris, it’s the residence of the last king of France, Louix XVI, before the fall of the monarchy in 1789. Established in a 1,070-hectare park with splendid French gardens, the palace itself covers an area of 67,000 sq m. It has 700 rooms, 1,250 fireplaces and 67 staircases – it’s about as lavish and over the top as you can get in a single building. From the Hall of Mirrors to the King's Apartment, you’ll find some of the finest French arts and crafts on display here.

    Location: In Versailles, 20 km southwest from Paris city centre, France

    Open: The Palace is open Tuesday–Sunday from 9 am to 5.30 pm, the Estate of Trianon from 12 pm to 5.30 pm, and the Royal Stables from 12.30 pm to 5.30 pm. The Gardens are open daily from 8 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +33 (0)1 30 83 78 00


    Château de Chambord

    The largest castle in the Loire Valley

    Built during the 16th century in an expansive wooded park between Blois and Orléans, the Château de Chambord is the largest castle of the Loire Valley, sat 5 km from the river. It’s said that Leonardo da Vinci himself influenced the Renaissance-style design of the castle. Go to the northwest side of the moat to take a great photo of the castle reflected in the water. When visiting, take the audio guide tablet to learn about the history of this stunning castle constructed by King Francis I of France.

    Location: In Chambord, 15 km northeast of Blois, France

    Open: April - October from 9 am to 6 pm, November - March from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +33 (0)2 54 50 40 00


    Château de Chenonceau

    A castle built over the Cher River

    The Château de Chenonceau is built in the middle of the Cher River, 30 km east of Tour in the Indre-et-Loire department. Linked to the ground by stunning bridges, it features splendid gardens to the north and woodland to the south. One of the most visited castles in France, its architecture blends late-Gothic and early-Renaissance styles. Do not miss the labyrinth in the park and don’t forget to book beforehand if you want to lunch at l’Orangerie, the restaurant in the castle’s garden.

    Location: In Chenonceau, 30 km east of Tour, France

    Open: Daily from 9.30 am to 5 pm (closes later in summer)

    Phone: +33 (0)2 47 23 44 06


    Château de Fontainebleau

    From King Louis VII to President Charles De Gaulle

    Originally built during the 12th century, the Château de Fontainebleau was extended, renovated and improved by many kings, an emperor and a president throughout its long history. Located in the city of Fontainebleau and surrounded by a large forest of the same name, the 1,500 rooms it contains make it one of the largest castles in France. It was among the favourite residences of Napoléon, and you can see his throne and crown in the former king’s chamber. You should take the very informative audio guide available during your visit, to learn more about the historical importance of this castle.

    Location: In Fontainebleau, 55 km southeast of Paris, France

    Open: October - March from 9.30 am to 5 pm, April - September from 9.30 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +33 (0)1 60 71 50 70


    Château de Cheverny

    Hanging around Marlinspike Hall

    Cheverny certainly doesn’t play in the same league as the others we’ve listed among the most beautiful castles in France. However, this remarkable 17th-century country mansion is famed for being the model used by Hergé when drawing the Château de Moulinsart (Marlinspike Hall in English) in the Adventures of Tintin comic books. This small castle is adorned with well-preserved period furniture and decorations. This makes it a very pleasant historical place to visit, even if you’re not a fan of Tintin.

    Location: In Cheverny, 15 km southeast of Blois, France

    Open: April - September from 9.15 am to 6.30 pm, January - March and October - December from 10 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +33 (0)2 54 79 96 29


    Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

    Discover the castle that inspired the architecture at Versailles

    Established in a splendid 500-hectare estate, 45 km southeast of Paris, the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a majestic example of French aesthetics and workmanship. From its jardins à la française to its symmetrical French Baroque architecture to its beautifully decorated interiors, Vaux-le-Vicomte is famous for being the castle that inspired Versailles. The highlights of a visit include the underground Styx River, the panoramic dome, and the Carriage Museum. If you come between May and October, don’t miss the candlelit visit held after dark every Saturday.

    Location: 77950 Maincy, France

    Open: March–October: Sunday–Friday from 10 am to 5 pm, Saturdays from 10 am to 11 pm. December–February: closed except for the Christmas period.

    Phone: +33 (0)1 64 14 41 90


    Château de Chantilly

    A domain for art and horse lovers 40 km north of Paris

    The domain of Chantilly is home to 2 castles – the 15th-century Petit Château and the 19th- century Grand Château. They sit in an extensive park that features a French formal garden, large water ponds, cascades and a rustic village that recreate the bygone countryside’s daily life. The estate also includes the Chantilly Racecourse, the Great Stables and the Condé Museum which is home to one of the largest French collection of antique paintings after the Louvre. Equestrian shows are held on certain days in the Great Stables.

    Location: 60500 Chantilly, France

    Open: March-October, daily from 10 am to 6 pm. November-February, Wednesday-Monday from 10.30 am to 5 pm, closed on Tuesdays.

    Phone: +33 (0)3 44 27 31 80


    Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg

    An iconic fairytale castle in the east of France

    Overlooking the Upper Rhine Plain from the top of a wooden, rocky hill, the Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg is one of the most iconic medieval castles in France. Built during the 15th century, its strategic position a short distance of the Switzerland and German borders and its well-executed restoration make it one of the most visited French castles. If you come by car, leave your car in Sélestat, a small village 7km east of the castle, and get to the castle by bus as parking at the castle is really difficult.

    Location: 67600 Orschwiller, France

    Open: January, February, November and December from 9.30 am to 12 pm and from 1 pm to 4.:30 pm; March and October from 9.30 am to 5 pm; April, May and September from 9.15 am to 5.15 pm; June, July and August from 9.15 am to 6 pm.

    Phone: +33 (0)3 69 33 25 00


    Château de Saumur

    Horses, wines and stunning castle on the banks of the mighty Loire River

    The symmetrical architecture of the turreted Château de Saumur gives it a stunning Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom look. Originally built during the 10th century, it had several lives, from royal fortress to army barrack to state prison. Today, the castle is home to the Museum of the Horse. Located on a hill just southeast of the city centre, you get breathtaking views of Saumur Old Town and the Loire River from the dungeon of the castle. Equestrian shows, exhibitions and special events are punctually organised at the castle.

    Location: 49400 Saumur, France

    Open: Hours vary by season

    Phone: +33 (0)2 41 40 24 40


    Château d'Ussé

    Sleeping Beauty's castle

    The legend says that Charles Perrault, the writer who laid out the foundation of fairy tales, was inspired by Ussé Castle when he wrote The Sleeping Beauty. Dated back to the 11th century, the castle is really picturesque and is as impressive inside as it is outside. Housing tapestries, trompe-l’oeil paintings, 17th-century furnishing, and quirky periodic costumed mannequins, it can be explored from the cellars to the top of the dungeon. You’ll find a pleasant, affordable restaurant, just at the entrance of the castle.

    Location: 37420 Rigny-Ussé, France

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 6 pm (close at 7 pm from April to September)

    Phone: +33 (0)2 47 95 54 05


    Château de Chaumont-Sur-Loire

    A charming lesser-known castle with extensive gardens

    Settled on the banks of the Loire River, between Blois and Amboise, the Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire is multifaceted. Founded in the 10th century, it’s of historical importance and pretty well maintained, but it’s also a centre for arts and nature as well as the place where is annually held an International Garden Festival. Combining modern art, extensive gardens and fairytale architecture, Chaumont Castle is worth a visit, especially between April and October, during the Garden Festival. Food and refreshment can be found on site.

    Location: 41150 Chaumont-sur-Loire, France

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 8 pm in summer (hours vary by season)

    Phone: +33 (0)2 54 20 99 22

    Stephan Audiger | Compulsive Traveller

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