14 fairytale French châteaux to visit on your next trip to France
PUBLISHED: 16:48 23 January 2019 | UPDATED: 13:34 01 February 2019
It's no surprise that the châteaux of France are on the to-visit list of most tourists who visit l'Hexagone; their stunning turrets and towers, ornate interiors and picturesque gardens seem to come straight from the pages of a fairy tale. We've picked fourteen of our favourites that are bound to enchant you on your next trip.
This stunning château, which lies at the edge of the ancient Forest of Chinon, is quite literally straight out of a fairytale. Its dreamy spires inspired Charles Perrault when he wrote the tale of Sleeping Beauty, and then Walt Disney when it came to designing the iconic Disney castles in his parks. Present-day visitors, especially those with a love of fashion, will be entranced by its amazing costume exhibitions which change every year.
Open February to November; tickets from €14 per adult; find out more
Château de Sully
At this majestic moated château, the largest of its kind in southern Burgundy, little seems to have changed since its construction in the 16th century. The beautiful Renaissance courtyard has been left untouched, pilgrims continue to pray in the neo-Gothic chapel and a 12-century tower still stands. Guided tours and child-friendly visits led by a professional storyteller allow a new generation to explore its every nook and cranny.
Open April to November; tickets from €8.90 per adult; find out more
You’ll struggle to find a more symmetrical castle than this Renaissance gem, designed by Italian architect Sébastiano Serlio. Part of the Italian team who built the Château of Fontainebleau, Serlio is considered one of the masters – if not the master – of the Renaissance style. The château is a particular favourite of art lovers, hosting regular exhibitions. You also can’t miss the stunning Chambre des Fleurs, which boasts paintings of more than 35 floral varieties.
Open March to November; tickets from €9 per adult; find out more
Château de Trévarez
The so-called ‘pink castle’ or ‘red castle’ is built in an eclectic mixture of Victorian and Neogothic styles and was put forward at the 1904 St Louis World Fair in the USA for its architectural prowess. During World War II, the castle was requisitioned by the Germans and in 1944 its western side was bombed by the RAF; it only reopened in 2011. It is particularly worth a visit at Christmas, when the stables come to life with festive activities for all the family.
Open March to January, tickets from €7 per adult; find out more
Château de Pierrefonds
Originally built by Louis, Duc d’Orléans, in the late 14th century, this château was taken down in the 17th century and lay in ruins for years until Napoleon III commissioned architect Viollet-le-Duc to re-erect it in the 19th century. Viollet-le-Duc followed the architectural style of the Middle Ages and the castle was transformed into the striking, crenellated fortress that is known and loved today. It received its moment in the spotlight when it starred as Camelot Castle in the BBC television series Merlin.
Open all year round; tickets from €8 per adult; find out more
Château de Chambord
With its stunning spires and spiral staircases, this Renaissance château has established itself as one of the famous castles in Europe, if not the world. The largest château in the Loire Valley, it was built as a hunting lodge for King François I but he hardly spent any time there. The château also housed art from collections at the Louvre and the Château de Compiègne during World War II. Present-day activities not to miss include an equestrian and bird of prey show in the grounds inspired by François I, the so-called ‘Knight King’.
Open all year round; tickets from €13 per adult; find out more
Château de Chenonceau
Spanning the River Cher, this unique château was built on the foundations of an old mill in 1514-1522. The distinctive bridge over the river was built decades later (1556-1559) and the gallery above it was finally finished in 1576. Famous former residents include Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de’ Medici, who forced Diane to swap the castle for Château Chaumont.
Open all year round; tickets from €14.50 per adult; find out more
Château de Valençay
This picturesque château in the province of Berry has no shortage of admirers; George Sand called it “one of the most beautiful [manors] on Earth”. The one-time residence of Napoleon’s foreign minister Talleyrand, the house is now owned by the Arnaud, Duke of Talleyrand-Périgord and his sister. Visitors can enjoy the newly-opened Hall of Treasures, boasting a mixture of ceremonial and personal treasures.
Open March to November; tickets from €13.50 per adult; find out more
Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
Lying between the châteaux of Vincennes and Versailles, this moated Baroque building is famous for being the largest private estate listed as a Monument Historique in France. Its beautiful dome and Le Nôtre-designed gardens have seen it used as the filming location for the James Bond film Moonraker and The Man in the Iron Mask, and it doubled for Versailles in the recent BBC adaptation. Get into the period spirit by renting some traditional costumes for your children to wear on their visit, or rent an electric buggy to tour the 33-hectare formal gardens.
Open March to November; 2019 ticket prices TBC; find out more
Château de Chantilly
Home to one of the best art galleries in France, the Musée Condé, this château is well worth a day trip from Paris. The stunning château interiors and grounds are also works of art in their own right. Horse lovers shouldn’t miss the Living Museum of the Horse in the majestic Great Stables, dedicated to all things equestrian. As well as the 31 rooms with over 1,200 works of art, there are also 31 horses of various breeds to stroke and daily dressage demonstrations.
Open February to December, and some days in January; tickets from €17 per adult; find out more
Château de Fontainebleau
This former royal residence, hosting French monarchs from Louis VII to Napoleon II, dates back to 1137, when it was a favourite residence and hunting lodge of the royals. It began to resemble its current form in the 16th century and is now one of the largest of the French royal châteaux. Since the end of the 19th century, it has housed four museums including the Empress’ Chinese Museum, housing the Eastern treasures of Empress Eugenie.
Open all year round; tickets from €12 per adult; find out more
Château de Villandry
The gorgeous gardens at this château have abundant flowers, beautiful, symmetrical miniature hedges and ornate topiary. The last of the magnificent Loire chateaux to be built, it also boasts some of the lowest entry prices in the Loire Valley to fulfil the wish of former owner Joachim Carvallo, who opened it to the public.
Open all year round; tickets from €11 per adult; find out more
Château de Versailles
It’s impossible to write about French châteaux without mentioning this palatial juggernaut. The former hunting lodge of Louis XIII, transformed by his son Louis XIV, now welcomes millions of visitors every year. There is a bustling year-round programme of concerts with operas and ballets being performed to the willing audiences.
Open all year round; tickets from €18 per adult; find out more
Château de Val
Rising majestically out of a man-made lake in Haute-Auvergne, this fortress is more austere than the other chateaux on our list, but its unique location makes it worth mentioning. Visit the exhibition which shows life before and after the construction of the Bort-les-Orgues dam.
Open February to October; tickets from €6.50 per adult; find out more
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