Exploring the castles of France
France is renowned for its magnificent castles. In this section of France This Way we bring together some of the best, the most interesting, and the most popular French chateaux with visitors to the country. You can also start exploring using our map of castles in France.
There are said to be more than 1000 castles in the Dordogne region of south-west France. Although many are closed to the public, the most important chateau can be visited, and bear witness to the tumultuous events of the Hundred Years War in the region between the French and English. Dramatically located, the castles in the region are among the most fascinating to be found in France.
Languedoc and Cathar Castles
The cathar castles of the Languedoc region are mostly ruins set high on almost inaccessible craggy rocks. Their interest comes as much from their role in the fascinating story of the cathars, and their dramatic locations, as for the castles themselves. No tour of the region would be complete without visiting a couple of these evocative glimpses of the past.
Typically built in the 16th-17th centuries - or rather, the earlier medieval fortresses that previously stood here were renovated in this period - the splendid Renaissance castles along the UNESCO listed heritage site of the Loire Valley west of Paris are very popular with visitors, and are among the most beautiful castles in France. Many lack a defensive function, or have incorporated earlier fortifications into a 'residential' type castle, with the focus on luxury, grandeur and carefully manicured French style gardens.
Paris Region Castles
Other French Castles
Most other regions of France have castles to visit with their own fascinating story to tell - Chateau Haut-Koenigsburg, the Palace of Popes at Avignon and Richard the Lionheart's Chateau Gaillard are among the most exceptional. (Chateau Chillon in Switzerland is included here because it is close to France and in an outstanding setting.)
When is a chateau not a castle?!
There are literally thousands of castles in France, tracing the country's long and colourful history. The best known (and most visited) are perhaps the medieval castles of the Dordogne and the renaissance castles of the Loire Valley. The dramatically located cathar castles of the south of France have a very particular appeal, and date back even further.
But we need to use the word castle advisedly, because the word chateau is not quite right as translation for castle. While the word chateau encompasses the word for castles, the word 'chateaux' also includes manor houses and much more modest dwellings, because it is also used for properties that have been (or are) involved in wine production. None the less, most of the properties in this section (with a couple of clear exceptions such as the Pope's palace in Avignon) are correctly referred to as chateaux!