French castles: Top 6 majestic châteaux you should not miss

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If you ever go to France, you just must visit some of the castles. The châteaux are great evidence of the incredible know-how the people had even with few means. Some of the châteaux were royal residences, some were owned by nobility, destroyed, rebuilt, and altered through the centuries. If you love history, architecture, parks, and gardens, you will find that these places meet your interest. Here are 6 of the most beautiful French castles. You really should see them all, but otherwise, this can also help you make a selection.

1. French Castles: Versailles

French castles : Versailles
Château de Versailles, Photo by Vitor Pinto on Unsplash

The Château de Versailles or Palace of Versailles is in the city of Versailles, about 20 kilometers from Paris. It is the most visited of all French castles. Versailles was the principal royal residence between 1682 and 1789. The building started its history being Louis XIII’s hunting residence. It is during Louis XIV’s reign that the château truly became a palace. There were several phases of extensions, taking place from 1661 to 1715 when the Sun King died. During the Revolution, the castle was closed as there was no more royal family. Revolutionaries took all the furniture and sold it during an auction. Luckily, most of the items were later on returned. The Château de Versailles was never again a lived-in place but was instrumental through history, like for the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. 

There are so many rooms and areas of the estate to visit that it would be hard to list them all. First of all, you will be able to wander in the formal French gardens designed by André Le Nôtre. The entire estate represents 800 hectares. Regarding the inside, you must see the Galerie des Glaces, the King’s and Queen’s bed chambers, the multiple salons, and much more. There is so much to see that you will probably want to come back, and you would be right! Ticket prices vary according to the period and the areas you want to visit. However, it is free under 18 years old and free until 26 years old for EU residents.

2. French Castles: Chantilly

Château de Chantilly
Château de Chantilly, Photo by SofieLayla Thal on Pixabay

The Château de Chantilly is also rather close to Paris; about 50 kilometers. Two different elements form the castle. Revolutionaries destroyed the original mansion which dated back to the 16th century. It was rebuilt in the 1870s and this part was named the Grand Château. The other part named the Petit Château was built around 1560. Both parts were built for Anne de Montmorency, a French soldier, and diplomat. Henri d’Orléans, Duc d’Aumale rebuilt the entire château in the 19th century.

The historic monument has been open to the public since 1988. Chantilly has something that other French castles don’t. Indeed, it houses an art gallery named the Musée Condé. It contains numerous beautiful paintings such as works by Boticelli, Raphael, Delacroix, and more. In addition to that, the park of the château also offers a French formal garden with water features and pavilions. A ticket for an adult who wants to visit the castle, park, and the great stables costs €17 in the high season.

3. French Castles: Fontainebleau

French castles: Fontainebleau
Château de Fontainebleau, Photo by Jacky Delville on Pixabay

The Château de Fontainebleau is 55 kilometers south of Paris. There are proofs of a fortified castle at Fontainebleau from 1137. Once it had become a true château, it served as a residence for the French monarchs. Indeed, Francis I, Henry II, Henry IV, and Louis XIII through Louis XVI have all stayed at the Château de Fontainebleau and each altered it. However, it is Louis XIV who spent the most time there. He added a lot of new apartments, a whole new wing, and developed the gardens. Thankfully, the Revolution did not have too much of an impact on the château. Fontainebleau saw numerous historical events. Napoleon even signed his abdication there in 1814 right before exiling to Elba. The castle became a national museum in 1927. 

Thanks to its long and captivating history, the site provides a lot of interesting decor and views. You will be able to admire the Gallery of Francis I, a passageway entirely decorated in the Renaissance style. You will also discover a grand ballroom, the Stairway of the King decorated with scenes of Alexander the Great’s love life and much more. Access to the park and gardens is free. To see the inside you will have to pay between €8 and €12.

4. Château de Chambord

Château de Chambord
Château de Chambord, Photo by Valentin on Unsplash

The Château de Chambord is south of Paris, in the department of Loir-et-Cher. It is one of the largest in the Loire valley. This castle has a very unique architecture that blends the classic Renaissance style and traditional French medieval forms. Francis I asked for the construction and the château served as his hunting residence. However, the building was never completed because he passed away before the project could come to an end . Gaston d’Orléans renovated Chambord after it had been left unoccupied for some time . The castle was abandoned again for a while after the Revolution until some artworks were moved there from the Louvre and the Château de Compiègne. Now the château is open to the public. 

Inside, one of the most beautiful and impressive elements is the open double-spiral staircase at the center of the building. The two spirals both connect the three floors, but without ever meeting. Other sites in Europe took Chambord as an example for their construction. This architectural marvel inspired the Schwerin Palace in Germany and a staircase in Waddesdon Manor in England for example. An adult will have to pay €12 for a visit and young people from the EU will get reduced prices.

5. French Castles: Chenonceau

French castles: Chenonceau
Château de Chenonceau,  Photo by Guillaume TECHER on Unsplash

The Château de Chenonceau is truly incredible as it is literally built on water. Indeed, it is spanning the River Cher, in the department of Indre-et-Loire. Chenonceau comes second on the list of the most visited French castles. The architecture of the building is a blend of late Gothic and early Renaissance. A first château was already on the estate in the 14th century, but someone torched it in 1412 to take revenge on the owner. However, he had it rebuilt but eventually had to sell it. From there it went through a lot of owners from different families. The château that we can see nowadays dates back to 1522, after eight years of work. The start of the construction of the bridge linking that part and the opposite bank dates back to 1556. It took three years to finish it.

The gallery over the bridge was completed twenty years after the beginning of the bridge’s construction. We can say that this gallery is the main feature of the monument. The wine cellar, chapel, and Catherine de Médicis’ garden are also must-sees. When you are there, you won’t be able to resist taking a few dozens of pictures, trying to get the best angle to capture the reflection of the sun on the water under the château. The visit is free for kids under 7. It costs €12 for 7 to 18-year-olds and for students and €15 for adults.

6. Château d’ Ussé

Château d'Ussé
Château d’Ussé, Photo by Wolfgang Zenz on Pixabay

The Château d’Ussé is in the Indre-et-Loire department, between Tours and Angers. Guelduin I de Saumur originally built it with wood and stone in the 11th century. The fact that it overlooks the Indre valley made it a strategic stronghold. Another owner later rebuilt it in stone. Jean V de Bueil purchased the château in the 15th century and started to alter it in order to make it a place to live in. The modifications to the building continued with several different owners. In the 19th century, the Duke of Blacas became the owner and the castle is still in that family today. 

It is one of the most interesting French castles because the Château d’Ussé inspired the castle in The Sleeping Beauty. Indeed, Charles Perrault (1628-1703) often visited and he was thinking of Ussé when he wrote the fairy tale. There are a lot of things to visit there. The castle itself of course, but also the formal French gardens created by André Le Nôtre, the cellars, the donjon, the stables, and the chapel. You may be able to recognize the rooms Charles Perrault described in The Sleeping Beauty while you visit, which adds an interesting dimension to the experience. An adult entry ticket is €14. It is €5 for children from 8 to 16 years old and free under that.

That concludes this compilation of 6 of the best French castles to visit. Don’t hesitate to continue reading! Click here to read about beautiful Italian cities to visit on a budget.