historic French chateau

Historic Ch�teaux in France

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Historic Ch�teaux of France
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On this page ► France of 6000 ch�teaux A selection of great historic ch�teaux

France - the land of six thousand castles

This page looks at  authentic French ch�teaux from the Renaissance to the 18th century. It does not include medieval castles (for these see fortresses) nor 19th century ch�teaux, nor ch�teaux such as Pierrefonds in the Oise or Hautefort in the Dordogne, that were extensively rebuilt and/or embellished in the nineteenth or twentieth century.

The word "ch�teau" covers everything from medieval dungeons and fortresses to the country houses that grace many wine estates. This page presents a choice of the finest French ch�teaux, including some that are less well known

Stay in a Renaissance ch�teau?

A fair number of privately-owned French ch�teaux offer B&B or hotel-style accommodation. Here is a small selection of some of the most historic and attractive.

Loire valley: between Blois and Tours.
Hotel Ch�teau de Pray - Near Amboise in the Loire valley - a Renaissance ch�teau with 19 rooms and Michelin listed restaurant.

Valley of the Cher: south of Cheverny
Ch�teau de Ch�mery B&B - Experience the intimacy of a small Loire valley Renaissance ch�teau.  Five suites in this small moated ch�teau.

Loire valley: near ChinoHotel Ch�teau de Mar�ay - stay in a genuine 15th century Loire ch�teau. Four star. 22 rooms. gourmet restaurant.

Sarthe: near le Mans
Hotel Ch�teau de la Barre - Just five suites in this fabulous Renaissance ch�teau, owned by the de Vanssay family for over 6 centuries. 100 acres or gardens.

Charentes - Hotel Chateau de Mirambeau
Five-star luxury hotel with  Michelin starred restaurant in a Renaissance chateau north of Cognac

To the question "How many ch�teaux are there in France?" there is no definitive answer. It all depends on what you mean by the word "ch�teau" ; and according to different interpretations of the word, there are said to be anything between 1,000 and 7,000 ch�teaux in France.
   France's historic monuments agency lists 6,450 ch�teaux or manor houses, 900 of them owned by the state, the rest in private hands, many of them owned by families that have lived in them for generations. Some are big, some are relatively small.
   Even excluding the smaller family residences that call themselves ch�teaux, there are over 1,000 ch�teaux in France, many of them visitable; yet unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, most tourist websites and package tours concentrate on a small number of classic ch�teaux, such as the main Loire valley ch�teaux, or Mont Saint Michel in Normandy; and while they are definitely worth visiting, these gems of France's historic heritage get overrun by visitors for much of the year.
   For a better visitor experience, it is well worth looking out some of the hundreds more visitable historic ch�teaux that France has to offer - on or off the beaten track.  

  The lists below presents a couple of dozen of the best French ch�teaux, several of which are largely unknown outside their region. As for smaller ch�teaux, the only way to find out which can be visited, and when, is to check out local tourist offices (or their websites), as these  may be the only sources of detailed and accurate information for their area. Large tourist offices and web guides tend to prioritize those ch�teaux that are alredy well-known, often ignoring the less important monuments, particularly those that are privately owned.

French ch�teaux : the great regions and the great ages

Chenonceau - one of the most visited Loire ch�teaux.
  While there are plenty of ch�teaux in most  regions and areas of France, some regions have a particularly rich historic heritage, on account of their turbulent past, or their later prosperity.
   Regions that saw centuries of strife and conflict in the Middle Ages tend to be rich in historic fortified castles (see  medieval fortresses).; other areas have a fine choice of  peacetime ch�teaux, built as royal or noble residences when times were good. In other areas, visitors can discover large numbers of ch�teaux built in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries by prosperous merchants or landowners.

   The finest of France's historic ch�teaux date from the  Renaissance (15th century) to the "Grand si�cle", the 17th century.  The areas with the largest concentration of spectacular Renaissance and grand-si�cle ch�teaux are the parts of France that were at the time both prosperous agricultural areas and in relatively easy striking distance of Paris. The Ch�teaux of the Loire indeed make up the finest group of Renaissance castles or palaces anywhere in Europe; but they are not the only such castles that France has to offer. 
  To the southeast of Paris, Burgundy is another area with plenty of ch�teaux to visit - from fine late gothic castles to neo-classical  ch�teaux of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries .
   The French call the 17th Century "le grand si�cle" - the great century. This was the time when France was a great European power, and French culture was at its zenith. It was the golden age of kings Louis XIII and Louis XIV. It was the age of great French architects, thinkers, philosophers and writers. It was the baroque age; but baroque in France was not the ornate florid baroque of Italy or Germany; it was ebullient, but more classical. It was the start of neoclassisism, a style that grew out of the Renaissance's rediscovery of classical art and architecture. And as far as ch�teaux go, it was the age that saw the building of some of the most iconic of French ch�teaux, fine ch�teaux that never had any military signification, but were stately homes, an expression of their owners' prestige.
   The greatest of the ch�teaux of the Grand Si�cle is of course the Ch�teau de Versailles, Louis XIV's great royal residence ten miles to the west of Paris, which immediately became the benchmark whereby kings and princes all over Europe set their architectural standards.
   Versailles was never remotely matched in grandeur, at least not in France; but the 17th and 18th centuries saw the building of many very fine smaller ch�teaux all over France, ch�teaux that came to define the paradigm of the French ch�teau until the twentieth century.

pick of the finest historic ch�teaux in France 

areasChateaux in Northern France - Paris area and further north

  • Ch�teau de Versailles, Louis XIV's great royal residence ten miles to the west of Paris.  Open all year
  • The Ch�teau de Fontainebleau, south of Paris  - The royal ch�teau of King Fran�ois 1. A magnificent Renaissance  rebuilding of an older ch�teau. Open all year.
  • The Ch�teau of Ecouen, 20 km north of Paris. A fine Renaissance ch�teau, housing the French national museum of the Renaissance. Open all year.  
  • The ch�teau of Vaux le Vicomte, near Melun, 50 km southeast of Paris, with its classic symmetry and its great gardens � la fran�aise, was the model that inspired many other French baroque chateaux large and small.
  • The Ch�teau d'Anet, west of Paris, near Dreux, right in the north of the Centre -Val de Loire. This Renaissance chateau was the residence of Diane de Poitiers. Privately owned. Open February to November.
  • The Chateau de Josselin, in Morbihan, Brittany. On the base of an impressive medieval fortress, with towers, this late gothic / early Renaissance castle is one of the most impressive historic sites in Brittany. It was thoroughly restored in the 18th century. Guided tours.
  • The Ch�teau d'Etelan, near Rouen in Normandy; a delightful small Renaissance/gothic chateau. Open June to September
  • The Ch�teau de Fontaine HenryNormandy - between Caen and the coast. Privately owned, and in the same family since the Middle Ages. Open from spring to autumn.
  • The Chateau de Fl�ville - on the outskirts of Nancy, in the Lorraine region. Reputedly the finest Renaissance castle in the east of France, one of the few major ch�teaux in this part of France that escaped  demolition after the Thirty Years War. Essentially 16th century.  Open from mid-April.
  • The ch�teau de Harou�, in the Lorraine region, south of Nancy. A substantial privately owned classic French castle, partly surrounded by a moat. Open weekends June to August, and daily from mid July to mid-August.

Chateaux in central France - from the Loire valley to Burgundy

  • The Renaissance ch�teaux of the Loire (See Ch�teaux of the Loire) and Touraine. The most famous and most visited Renaissance ch�teaux in France - though some, like Chambord and Chenonceaux, are far more visited than others.
  • Among the Loire valley ch�teaux, Cheverny, southwest of Orleans, is the greatest classic ch�teau dating essentially from the seventeenth century.
  • The Renaissance ch�teau de Montgeoffroy stands to the east of Angers in the Pays de la Loire region. It is open every day in July and August, and otherwise from Wednesday to Sunday from March to October. Privately owned.
  • The Ch�teau d'Ainay le Vieil - Slap in the middle of France, south of Saint Amand Montrond, r�gion Centre -Val de Loire. A delightful small Renaissance chateau built within the fortifications of a medieval fortress, surrounded by a moat. Privately owned - in the same family for over 5 centuries. Open March to mid November.
  • The Ch�teau de Meillant, also in the far south of the Centre -Val de Loire. A decidedly beautiful late gothic /early Renaissance castle, with ornate tapestries and painted ceilings, open daily from March to 16th November
  • The Chateau de Bussy-Rabutin.  A beautiful 14th - 16th century moated ch�teau in the hills to the west of Dijon in Burgundy.  Open all year except 1st January
  • The Ch�teau d'Ancy le Franc. East of Auxerre, in Burgundy, is a fine Italianate Renaissance chateau . Privately owned. The interior contains the largest collection of Renaissance murals and ceiling decorations in France. Open late March to mid November.
  • The Ch�teau de St Fargeau. in the north of Burgundy, is a large 15th - 17th century ch�teau. Privately owned. From mid-July to mid-August, this ch�teau provides evening visits with historic reenactments; Fridays and Saturdays there is a large historic son et lumi�re event. 
  • The Ch�teau de Cormatin, in Burgundy. A fine neoclassical ch�teau standing  in beautiful grounds and surrounded by a moat.  Richly decorated interiors, including the "golden rooms".  Open daily April to mid-November.

Fine ch�teaux in Southern France

  • The ch�teau de Lapalisse, or La Palice. East of Vichy, in Auvergne, this is an imposing 16th - 16th century ch�teau standing on a bluff above the river Besbre and the village of Lapalisse. The interior has historic tapestries and a unique 16th century "salon dor�" with gilded ceiling.
  • The Ch�teau de Panloy, near Saintes in the Charentes, was built in 1760 and has belonged to the same family ever since.. coming unscathed through the French Revolution. Its interior furnishings are completely authentic. Open April to 1st November.
  • The Ch�teau de Montbazillac, southern Dordogne. Built in the middle of the 16th century, this is one of the finest French wine estate ch�teaux. The interior does not have a lot of historic interest, but the location is superb. Owned by the local wine-growers cooperative.  Free wine tasting included.
  • The Chateau de Lareole - 40 km northwest of Toulouse, in the Midi-Pyrenees area of Occitanie. A striking late Renaissance chateau begun in 1589.
  • The Chateau de Merville - 25 km northwest of Toulouse, in the Midi-Pyrenees area of Occitanie. A classic French ch�teau built in the style of the southwest. Visits of the ch�teau daily in the afternoon July and August.. At other times, check it out. 
  • The Ch�teau de Lourmarin, north of Aix en Provence. the oldest Renaissance chateau in Provence. Belongs to the Louis Vuibert foundation. Open all year
  • The Ch�teau de la Verdi�re, in inland Provence, is an impressive 18th century French ch�teau built in the Proven�al style. A private ch�teau open to the public afternoons in July and August, except Mondays

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

Photo above : Chateau Fontaine Henry, in Normandy.

Chateau de Montbazillac , Dordogne

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Gilded opulence at Versailles, near Paris

Renaissance ceiling in the Ch�teau de Cormatin, Burgundy

Chateau de Bussy-Rabutin, Burgundy

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Photo top of page by  Ikmo-Ned-
Photo Chateau de Cormatin: by Christophe Finot
Photo Bussy Rabutin: by Arnaud 25

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