But what about seeing some of the most famous castles still standing in the country? Some of these are must-see destinations if you are planning an extended tour of the French countryside while visiting there. The many tales of storied battles and knights in shining armor hold a great deal of allure for both French citizens and the international traveler as well.
The history of some of these structures is not only exciting to learn but fascinating as well, and there are some that local area residents will tell you are haunted. Stages for the filming of renowned movies, such as Chocolat and Jeanne d’Arc have taken place in a couple of French castles, and there are over 1,000 of them still in existence today. So you will have a serious challenge which ones to visit and explore. This guide to 5 of the best French castles to visit should help you in your decision making.
1. Palace of the Popes – Avignon, Provence
One of the most heavily fortified castles ever constructed, this 14th century palace was built during a time in history that saw Popes who were exiled use these storied castles as a safe harbor. Balanced asymmetrically, yet ordered to exacting architectural standards, Avignon is a classic mixture of both French and Italian design and style. You will stand in awe as you gaze upon the ornate gargoyles that adorn the exterior of the castle walls.
2. The Castle of Foix – French Pyrenees
This overly fortified castle was constructed early on during the Middle Ages on the Pyrenees northern slope which offered its residents the comfort of protection and security from attackers and invaders of the region. During ensuing centuries after it was built in 987, towers were continually added in order to create a strong keep with all of the towers and walls were adorned and topped off with merlons, the solid portion of a parapet that sees a lot of battle action.
3. Mont-Saint-Michel – Normandy
Truly one of the most picturesque structures in all of France and quite possibly Europe in general, the fortress of Mont-Saint-Michel is like its own city. Daily incoming tides would create a water barrier between this castle and the mainland, and at one time, it housed a Benedictine abbey that was established in 966 by the Duke of Normandy.
4. The Medieval Castle of Tarascon – Provence
Constructed between the late 1300’s and the early 1400’s, the medieval castle of Tarascon is amazingly compact architecturally. It sits completely surrounded by the waters of the Rhone River, having been built on one of its banks. The foreboding yet unarticulated walls of this structure are a stark, striking contrast considering it is surrounded by a lush landscape and water.
5. The Château de Vincennes – Surroundings of Paris
Once a residence for several French kings (Charles IV, Louis X, Philippe III, Philippe IV, and Philippe V), the Castle of Vincennes was constructed in the 1300’s from what was once the hunting lodge frequented by Louis VII and originally set up around 1150. The structure is amazingly spacious and consists of a strong keep adorned with corners made with rounded towers and then surrounded by the thickest of perimeters – truly a magnificent sight.
Photo of Mont Saint-Michel Castle, France, by Djof