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Mediaeval castles in France

Lying at the crossroads of western Europe, with Spain and Italy to the south, Britain to the north, and the Germanic parts of Europe to the east, France was for many centuries a battleground. Its many mediaeval fortresses bear witness to these turbulent times.
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Mediaeval castles in France
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On this page ► France - heritage of mediaeval conflicts A selection of mediaeval fortresses

This page lets you discover some of the most authentic French castles and fortresses that have survived from the Middle Ages . It does not include Renaissance châteaux (for these see Renaissance châteaux) nor mediaeval castles that were extensively rebuilt and/or embellished in the nineteenth or twentieth century.

Stay in a mediaeval castle ?

Among the mediaeval castles that are still lived in, a few are now hotels or B&Bs, offering a very special experience to guests.

Normandy - Cotentin peninsula.
Hostellerie de Bricquebec - In the heart of the Cotentin, south of Cherbourg, a three-star hotel within the ramparts of the mediaeval fortress

Poitou: near Châtellerault & A10 motorway
Château de la Motte - B&B - Just five rooms and suites in this 15th century castle with towers and gardens. Option candlelit dinner..

Poitou: 40 km east of Poitiers   
Château de Forges - B&B - A very impressive small fortified castle with towers, for a real mediaeval experience. Three guest rooms. Dinner to order.

Auvergne: 15 km south of Clermont Ferrand   
Château de St Saturnin - B&B - A small royal castle today operating as a B&B. Vaulted dining-room and comfortable lounge

Provence - near Verdon Gorge
Hotel Château de Trigance - Three star hotel in mediaeval castle in very rural village close to the Verdon gorge. four-poster beds and antique furnishings.

Provence - between Aix and Avignon
Château de la Barben B&B  - Fortified mediaeval castle, with gardens "à la française", in Provence . Historic residence with five spacious rooms with period furnishings. Restaurants close by.

France - the heritage of mediaeval conflicts

Papal palace, Avignon
The fortified mediaeval papal palace in Avignon
There is not a single region of France that cannot boast some fine mediaeval castles.

  Multiple conflicts in mediaeval Europe - not just between different nations, but between rival factions within France – including the English (who were really French at the time) - have left much of France with a great heritage of fine mediaeval strongholds.
  In the Middle Ages, France was much smaller than today. Much of the south was disputed territory fought over by the kings of France, the Kings of Navarre and the Kings of England.... not to mention the Dukes of Burgundy or Savoy, the Dauphins d'Auvergne, the Pope, the Holy Roman Empire, and other lesser players in the mediaeval games of thrones.
   In the North, the Kings of France had to contend with the rivalry of the great Dukes of Normandy and Brittany and Lorraine, while to the east, France did not stretch as far as it does today.
   As strategic sites that were liable to be attacked in times of war, many of the great mediaeval fortresses were partly destroyed many centuries ago. Others escaped destruction in the theatre of war, but fell into disuse once they seased to serve any purpose. In some cases locals pillaged them for their building materials, in others they just gradually turned to ruins under the effects of time and the elements.
   After the wars of the Middle Ages came to an end, a surprising number of castles were however recycled into impressive residences, with new living quarters added onto their mediaeval infrastructure. This was notably the case with castles located in or beside towns or cities, as at Angers, Avignon, Chinon or Sedan... but also in some rural areas too. While many strongholds in the Auvergne mountains, and many Cathar castles  located out in the wilds, today stand as impressive ruins, many of the fortified places in the Dordogne, such as Beynac (photo top of page) were converted for more peaceful purposes.

A selection of mediaeval castles in France

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It is not easy to pick out the best mediaeval castles in France; taking into account all the ruined fortresses, those in semi-ruin, and those that have managed to stand the test of time, or have been converted over the course of the centuries into peacetime châteaux, the choice is enormous. The lists below offer a choice of some of the most impressive – some of them very well known and firmly on the tourist trail, others less well known and less visited.  This list just scratches the surface. Many smaller mediaeval strongholds, ruined or not, can only be discovered by chance, by taking a trip to a local tourist information office in France, or by patient searching on the Internet.
:

Northern France

  • The massive fortified citadel at Sedan, in the Ardennes, near the Belgian border, one of the largest mediaeval fortresses in Europe.
  • The dramatic hilltop castle of Haut Koenigsburg, near Strasbourg, in the Alsace region.
  • The château de Fougères, in eastern Brittany
  • Fort La Latte, on the  coast of Brittany near Saint Malo. A dramtically sited mediaeval fortress. Built in the local granite, this fortress has remained in a good state of preservation
  • William the Conqueror's castle at Falaise, in Normandy.
  • The chateau de Gisors, between Paris and Rouen, overlooking the Seine. A farly well preserved Norman mediaeval castle

Central area

  • The Chateau de Chinon, in the Loire valley, built by the King Henry II of England.
  • The mighty fortified mediaeval castle at Angers, former fief of the Angevin kings of England

Southern France

  • The austere château-fort de Murol, in the Auvergne
  • The impressive mediaeval fortress of Polignac, just outside Le Puy, also in Auvergne.
  • The hilltop fortress of Séverac le Château, just beside the A75 motorway to the north of Millau
  • The chateau de Bonaguil, in the Dordogne, one of the last mediaeval fortresses built
  • The château de Roquetaillade in the Gironde - Nouvelle Aquitaine.  The exterior of this very impressive14th century  fortress is more or less authentic; the interior is pure 19th century gothic revival, by Viollet le Duc.
  • The fortress of Najac, on a promontory overlooking the gorges de l'Aveyron in southwest France
  • The 14th century Palace of the Popes in Avignon, which was then a Papal city
  • The Fortress of Salses, 20 km north of Perpignan, clearly visible from the A9 motorway. A very late Spanish mediaeval castle, built around 1500 AD by King Ferdinand of Spain . Very well preserved.
  • The "Cathar castles", most notably Peyrepertuse and Quéribus , in the Aude and the Pyrenees, originally built as strongholds in the war between the kingdoms of France and Navarre
  • The Chateau fort de Saint Jean d'Angle - Charente Maritime.  A tiny mediaeval castle surrounded by a moat. Open 15th June - 15th September.
These are the tip of the iceberg.  For more extensive fortified places in France, see Walled cities in France.

There's more to France than the same old sites that are mentioned in all the tourist guides .....



Photo above : Beynac, one of several fortified castles dating back to the Middle Ages, and much fought over during the Hundred Years War.


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