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You’ll find a long list of picturesque castles and fortified towns to explore in France, where you can marvel at its architectural beauty and wander through quaint French towns steeped rich in history. Representing the country’s past, you can step inside these grand fortresses to discover fascinating period furniture and photograph colorful gardens. Fit for royalty, here are the most beautiful castles in France.
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Le Mont Saint Michel, Normandy
Sitting off the coast of Normandy, UNESCO-listed Le Mont Saint Michel is one of the most famous castles in France that for centuries was one of Europe’s major pilgrimage destinations. It was a refuge for Christian pilgrims in the 9th century and was then used as a prison by the French monarch in the 15th century. The castle is a photographer’s dream with its majestic island views that are topped by a medieval monastery.
Château de Chambord, Loir-et-Cher
Located in the Loire Valley just two hours from the top attractions in Paris, Château de Chambord was constructed in the 1500s for King France I and is beloved for its collection of cupolas and turrets on the roof. It once housed Mona Lisa and other collections from the Louvre to keep safe during World War II. Admire its Renaissance architecture, then step inside to see a central double-helix staircase lit from a skylight.
Cité de Carcassonne, Carcassonne
Considered a fortified town and a castle, Cité de Carcassonne is one of the country’s oldest and most impressive fortifications. The historical gem has been occupied for over 5,000 years, where some of its walls date back to the 5th century in the heyday of the Roman Empire. Take a guided tour to see its 19th-century restorations and learn all about its unique position on the historical routes across Southern France.
Château de Chenonceau, Indre-et-Loire
An iconic castle nestled on the River Cher, Château de Chenonceau was a gift from King Henry II to his mistress. Take a look at its beautiful arches that make it one of the most recognizable chateaus in the Loire, then go on a guided tour to learn about its fascinating history or pack a picnic and enjoy it on the lush grounds that includes a maze and small farm with donkeys.
Palais des Papes, Avignon
Drive to the South of France to see Palais des Papes in Avignon, as it is considered one of the most important medieval structures in Europe. The construction of the former convent began in 1252 and remained the center of Western Christianity throughout the 14th century. Considered one of Europe’s biggest Gothic buildings, some of the highlights of the landmark include 14th-century frescoes and secret chambers hidden in the palace’s thick walls.
Château de Pierrefonds, Sainte-Geneviève
Soak up the historic medieval atmosphere at Château de Pierrefonds, an impressive fortress with large crenellated towers and a pathway that leads around the battlements. Sitting northeast of Paris, the 14th-century castle features some of the defensive military architecture that was common in the Middle Ages. When it started to deteriorate in the 19th century it underwent a restoration, but much of the original details still remain.
Château du Haut Kœnigsbourg, Bas-Rhin
Used to protect its inhabitants from intruders throughout the Middle Ages to the Thirty Years’ War, Château du Haut Kœnigsbourg is now one of the most popular landmarks France. Nestled on a strategic location on a high hill overlooking the picturesque Alsatian plan in the Vosges mountains, the castle was actually left unused until it was restored in 1908. The pink sandstone castle dominates the surrounding landscape and offers panoramic views out to the Black Forest.
Château de Vaux le Vicomte, Seine-et-Marne
Located in Maincy, the Château de Vaux le Vicomte dates back to 1658. Louis XIV oversaw the construction of the castle and helped mark the beginning of “Louis XIV” style. Take a stroll around the extensive grounds, as it can take an entire day to see it in its entirety. If you’re traveling with the kids, consider renting a golf cart to get around quickly, while the palace also offers little ones the chance to dress up in period clothes.
Château de Cheverny, Loir-et-Cher
Château de Cheverny has been in the same family for the last six centuries, where its opulent 17th and 18th century interiors are sure to impress. Known for its Grand Salon paintings and tapestries, those traveling with kids can also enjoy a tourist train ride through the English-style ground or a scenic boat trip on its tranquil pond. Make sure to step inside to see its small exhibition space or the kennel where hunting dogs are exercised.
Château de Chantilly, Oise
Comprised of two buildings, Château de Chantilly includes the Petit Chateau and the Grand Château. While the Grand Chateau was destroyed during the French Revolution, it was rebuilt during the 1870s and is currently operated by the Institut de France. Step inside to explore Musée Condé, which showcases notable art, sculptures and a library of medieval manuscripts. Some of the most valuable pieces include Italian Renaissance masters like Botticelli and Raphael.
Château de Villandry, Indre-et-Loire
Château de Villandry is a beautiful Renaissance palace known for its lush formal gardens, it once served as a fortress against attackers. Arranged across four terraces, the gardens were restored in the early 20th century and each features a theme, including a sun garden, water garden, ornamental garden and decorative vegetable garden. After you explore the gardens, make sure you also admire the castle’s classic Loire style roofs and 18th-century interiors.
Château d’Angers, Maine-et-Loire
One of the best castles in Southern France, Château d’Angers dates back to the 9th century. The castle boasts 17 watchtowers constructed out of black stone, in addition to a refined garden and Gothic interior. It’s also home to the famous Tapestry of the Apocalypse, with tapestries that highlight events from the Book of Revelation in the Bible that are considered some of the most important collections of French art.
Château de Fontainebleau, Seine-et-Marne
Château de Fontainebleau is a UNESCO-World Heritage Site that was used a residence by the kings of France from the 12th century. Nestled in the heart of a beautiful forest just south-east of Paris, you can see the castle’s more than 1,500 rooms that highlight over 700 years of history. See where Napoleon III and Louis VII once lived in addition to the Emperor’s Apartments on a guided tour.