In France, every castle is a château, but not every château is a castle. The French word can be used to describe most of the thousands of castles, palaces and stately homes scattered around the country. Many France’s best-loved castles are nestled in the verdant Loire Valley, but there are great examples of medieval fortresses and fairytale castles in every part of the country. From the romantic ruins of Château de Loches to the nearly fully restored Cité de Carcassonne, no visit to France is complete without exploring the best castles in France.
The Palace of Versailles is some 20 kms southwest of the French capital Paris. When the château was built in 1624, Versailles was a small village. Today, however, this area is a wealthy suburb of Paris. The palace was built as a small hunting lodge for Louis XIII, in 1624. Eight years later, he expanded it to chateau, and this structure became the core of the new palace. Later, his successor also had expanded it, that cause it to become one of the largest palaces of the world. This helped him fulfill his desire of establishing a new center for the royal court. Versailles is therefore famous not only as a building, but as a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime.
The immense Château de Chambord is the largest castle in the Loire valley and its some 5,000 hectare grounds contain a delightful forest park, farm houses and, of course, the castle itself which is recognized worldwide as the archetype of French Renaissance architecture. While some French chateaux are renowned for their lavish interiors, or perhaps their impeccably preened gardens, Chambord is a complete and unassuming immersion into French history and culture. Inside and out, the castle is a feat of engineering and art, while the relatively wild gardens allow adults and children alike to adventure and delight in the array of flora and fauna which lie in the shadow of Chambord’s extraordinary turrets.
The Château de Chenonceau is a sprawling, eye-catching collection of buildings which dominate this area of the beautiful Loire Valley. Directly on the Cher river, the chateau is renowned for its serene, picturesque location and its masterful Renaissance and Gothic architecture dating back to the 16th century. This is one of the most popular castles in France, and although it’s typically busy during the high season the relatively remote location, tranquil surroundings, well-informed tour guides and impressive art displays throughout mean the Château de Chenonceau makes for a pleasant day trip.
Located in the heart of seventeen thousand hectare forest, the palace of Fontainebleau was once one of the privileged residences of the sovereigns who ruled France. The love of the hunt made it into a regularly visited residence, and all of its occupants had their hearts set on improving it through new buildings or new decorations. This resulted in the present profusion of courtyards and buildings with different decorative and architectural styles. Only one tower remained of the original 12th-century castle. This tower was probable the location of the bedchamber of the kings.
Located in the Paris suburb of Vincennes, the Château de Vincennes began life as a hunting lodge for Louis VII. The site was improved during the 14th century with a heavily fortified keep, and a rectangular-shaped outer wall was added in the 15th century. A wide moat and two drawbridges helped secure the keep, which served as a royal residence until the mid 1600s. In 1860, Napoleon III gave the château and the nearby Bois de Vincennes to Paris for use as a public park. Today, the keep and the 16th-century royal chapel are open to visitors.