Although the word chateau is most often translated as castle in English it most often means palace or manor house in the French language. For example, the famous Château de Versailles does not bear any resemblance to a castle, so it is known in English as the Palace of Versailles. Even more confusingly is the fact that the most famous castle in France is called the Palais des Papes, located in Avignon.
There are thousands of chateaus in France ranging from ruins to elaborate estates. Some of the most visited French chateaus include those located in the South of France and in the Loire Valley, favored for their Renaissance style of architecture.
Located just 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Paris, Chateau de Chantilly and all of its charm is reflected upon its surrounding moat. Built in 1560, Chantilly presents a whole package of lavish rooms, a fine art gallery, splendid gardens and impressive stables. A tour of the interior reveals the richly decorated rooms with their exquisite chandeliers, ornate carvings, furniture and art works. A must-see is the collection of paintings and book illuminations in the Musée Condé, one of France’s finest art galleries. A stroll about the grounds leads visitors through the formal gardens designed with beautiful pavilions, sculptures and fountains. The chateau overlooks the Grand Stables and Chantilly Racecourse, which was used as the venue for the racecourse scene in the James Bond film A View to a Kill.
Often used as the setting for several television shows, the Chateau de Pierrefonds stands out like a fairy tale castle perched on a hill overlooking a picturesque village. Originally constructed in the 12th century, Pierrefonds was later besieged in 1617 by war secretary, Cardinal Richelieu, when its owner joined a political party opposing King Louis XIII. Left razed by Richelieu’s troops, the castle remained in ruins for two centuries until Napoleon Bonaparte decided to take on the project of restoring it during the mid-1800s. Although Napoleon upgraded Pierrefonds into a far more grand estate, the spacious rooms were left unfurnished. However, visitors can still appreciate its splendor when they view the charming drawbridge, courtyard, towers, corridors, chapel and embattlements as well as the underground crypt that contains the remains of several French kings.
Situated in the Loire Valley, Chateau de Chaumont boasts a history that is every bit as vivid as its striking appearance. The chateau was first constructed in 1465 on the remains of a 10th century fortress only to be destroyed soon after when King Louis XI discovered that its owner, Pierre d’Amboise, had involved himself in a revolt against the king. After being rebuilt a few decades later, the notorious wife of King Henry II, Catherine de Medici, purchased Chaumont and often entertained famous people here such as the astrologer, Nostradamus. Following this, the castle passed through various owners over the centuries until finally being donated in 1938 to the French government. Today, visitors can tour the chateau to see its elegant interior, gardens, lavish stables and scenic views of the Loire River and countryside.
Also located in the Loire Valley, the Chateau Chambord is easily recognized by its remarkable size and design. Regarded as one of France’s best examples of French Renaissance architecture, Chateau Chambord was built in the 16th century as a hunting retreat for King Francois I. In this grand castle of 440 rooms and 300 fireplaces, Chambord presents many striking features such as its double helix staircase and elaborate rooftop of chimneys, cupolas, gables and towers that resemble a city skyline. Surrounding Charmond is an attractive moat and a walled game reserve that shelters wild boar and red deer.
As one of the most famous Chateaus in France, the Chateau Versailles draws more than 3 million visitors annually. This magnificent palace was first constructed in 1624 as a hunting lodge for King Louis XIII and then later expanded to become the residence of the French Royal Family. The palace’s many stunning features include the Hall of Mirrors, a corridor lined with seventeen mirrored arches. In the Queen’s bedchamber, visitors can view a hidden door through which Marie Antionette fled during the March on Versailles. With its seven salons and painted ceilings, the Grand Apartment of King Louis XVI is a sight to behold. A must-see is the palace’s 250-acre formal gardens, which are designed in a geometrical pattern of trees, flowers and pathways.