From its dreamy cities and rugged coastline to its high-end boutiques and quaint cafes, France is like a treasure box full of remarkable sights. Looking to do more than just eat croissants and sip red wine (though, we wouldn’t blame you if you did plenty of that!)? History-buffs and romantics, step back in time and discover the beauty of France’s captivating medieval castles..
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Don’t be fooled by the name – Haut-Koenigsbourg may be blessed with breathtaking views of Germany’s Black Forest but it is situated in France. Ideally located in the heart of the Alsace Wine Route (on the German and Swiss border), the fortified castle provides its visitors with a panoramic view over the plain – on a fine day, you can even see out to the Swiss Alps!
There’s more to admire here, though, than the spectacular outlook. At 757 metres high, the 12th-century Haut-Koenigsbourg castle dominates the Plain of Alsace and stands out with its imposing pink sandstone structure. Cross the drawbridge (a very cool experience) and explore the castle’s fully-fitted and furnished living quarters for a peek inside days of old – the medieval weapons are definitely a must-see!
This beauty is Southern France’s most-visited castle for a reason. Looking out over the picturesque village of Castlenaud-la-Chapelle on the Dordogne River’s left bank, the 12th-century monument has survived the ravages of time (especially in the French Revolution when it was abandoned and left to crumble) to remain a truly enchanting site.
Get to know Castelnaud-la-Chapelle’s history on a guided tour, watch an impressive trebuchet-firing display, wander through the sun-kissed gardens and sip an ale at the onsite old-world tavern for a memorable day out.
Chateau de Bonaguil, Perigord
Also located in France’s Perigord region, Chateau de Bonaguil looks straight out of an epic adventure film. Built on a rocky spur between the valleys of the Theze and Lemance Rivers, the former military fortress was the last of the fortified castles built in France. Beautifully preserved throughout time (it’s been in existence since at least 1271), it’s sure to make you feel as if you’ve been transported back in time.
Whether you prefer to join a guided tour or navigate the castle’s grand hallways by yourselves, be sure to climb the steps of the dungeon to see the magnificent 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside – amazing!
With more than four-million visitors each year, Carcassonne is among the most prestigious attractions in France, on par with Mont Saint Michel. A UNESCO World Heritage-listed site since 1997, it’s treasured for its marvellous medieval architecture – think humbling towers and imposing three-kilometre-long walls.
Surrounded by an ancient city (you can stay the night here) and majestic mountains, Carccassonne has plenty to enchant visitors. Terracotta-tiled roofs, a verdant valley and leafy vineyards all complete the wonderful scene here. How very romantic!
When you venture to this amazing ruined castle, you’ll swear you’ve stepped into a battle scene from Game of Thrones. Perched on a limestone crest at 800 metres high, Peyrepertuse was a coveted fortress along the French/Spanish border – no doubt that position would have been helpful for defending against invaders!
Situated in the Corbieres region of the Aude departement, the castle is a real must-visit for hikers. Here, you’ll find a long track leading from the nearby village of Duilhac up to the castle. There’s also a more accessible point-of-entry, plus guided tours that will take you through Peyrepertuse’s weather-worn but impressive structure.
Chateau de Pierrefonds, near Paris
Basing yourselves in Paris? Not wanting to travel out too far? Eighty kilometres northeast of Paris (about an hour’s drive) Chateau de Pierrefonds is definitely worth adding to your itinerary. Sitting around a bend in a road beside the Compiegne Forest, the 12th-century castle will have romantics and fairytale-lovers in their element.
Things weren’t always totally charming at Chateau de Pierrefonds. Destroyed in the 17th century, the castle was completely restored by the architect Viollet-le-Duc (under the direction of Napoleon III) to look like it does today. Disney-fans, this one’s for you.
Loches, Loire Valley
Even the words ‘the Loire Valley’ inspire romantic visions. Loches Castle, situated in the idyllic region, really fits the brief.
Towering over a seemingly time-forgotten riverside town, the 11th-century monument is actually one of France’s best-preserved castles. Featuring an eyebrow-raising 36-metre-high square keep, it’s brimming with character. Our advice? Take a culinary walking tour of Loches Castle, stopping at whichever bistros and cafes that take your fancy along the way.
One of Europe’s finest fortresses, the 12th-century Fougères castle makes for a sensational day-trip. Consisting of three tower-dotted enclosures (the most impressive of which is the Melusine Tower), it sits in the centre of a whimsical township. Here, there are enough bistros and little boutiques (much like at the Loire Valley’s Loches castle) to round out a visit – definitely don’t miss the lively Saturday-morning markets!
Of course, the castle is the main attraction here. History-lovers, check out the fascinating displays and spend some time exploring the ramparts and old towers.
Les Baux-de-Provence, Provence
Set above Les Baux-de-Provence sits the “Citadelle des Baux”, the ruined castle of the village. The fortress is hardly distinguishable from the edge of the plateau on which it was built, but that’s part of its charm. Seeming to rise out of the natural landscape, the castle looks like a deserted film set – very cool.
There are still remnants of Les Baux-de-Provence’s turbulent past here: the dominating keep, the Sarracen tower (taking its name from the Saracen raiders who came from the South), and the Paravelle tower (used as a lookout). The keep is accessed by a difficult stairway which will make you a little dizzy to climb, but the view from its top is one of the most impressive in all of Provence.
And now for something completely different… Located in the heart of Burgundy, Guédelon is not a historic castle as such, it’s more like an open history book. When construction started in 1997, the long-term goal was to build a fortified castle by using techniques and materials from the Middle Ages. How’s that for a challenging project?
Spread over 17 acres, the site is made up of three large areas: the castle and its building crafts, the village (with the tile makers’, house of colours, stables and animals, no less) and the forest and mill. Head along to see the talented tradespeople at work, bringing to life a piece of history.
Thinking of getting away to France? Find romantic accommodation here…
Image credits: www.tourisme-alsace.com/en, www.perigordnoir-valleedordogne.com, www.chateau-bonaguil.com, www.remparts-carcassonne.fr, www.purefrance.com, www.chateau-pierrefonds.fr, www.loirevalley-france.co.uk, www.brittanytourism.com, www.lesbauxdeprovence.com, www.guedelon.fr