Movie settings and underground caves: unique castles you can visit in France

Château Haut-Kœnigsbourg - by Florent/stock.adobe.com

Abbeys, palaces, medieval fortresses, and Renaissance gems … France’s offer of gorgeous chateaux is much more than the most renewed castles like Versailles and Fontainebleau.

Many of them are open to the public and offer guided tours and special experiences. Although it is not possible to include them all in just one article, we have selected a few castles that will make the difference to your itinerary.

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1. Chateau de Pierrefonds: Probably one of the more fairytale-like of whole France. Pierrefonds Castle comes complete with a moat, a drawbridge and arrow slits. The building is so iconic that it was chosen by the producers of the TV series Merlin as setting for King Arthur’s Camelot. The highlight is Le Bal des Gisants in the crypt, a collection of royal statues originally displayed in Versailles, made incredibly atmospheric and captivating by a sound-and-light show.

vue aérienne du château de Pierrefonds restauré par Viollet-le-Duc dans l'Oise en France
View of the Chateau de Pierrefonds – by Francois/stock.adobe.com

2. Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg: a unique medieval castle in Alsace that offers a spectacular view from its 800-metres hill. The very special atmosphere and setting of this castle has captured the imagination of many artists during the years. In particular, it was the inspiration behind the famous “Citadel of Minas Tirith” in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the fortress in Hayao Myasaki’s masterpiece Howl’s Moving Castle.

Vue du château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg
Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg – by jojojo07/stock.adobe.com

3. Royal Chateau of Blois: A magnificent castle on the Loire River that will take your breath away. Each one of the four facades is built and decorated in a different style, so that the whole building gives an interesting overview of French architecture history. The visit includes the Royal Apartments that hosted no fewer than ten queens and seven kings of France.

château de Blois, chambre Henri III
One of the rooms of State Apartments at the Chateau de Blois, where Henri III used to sleep – by Sarah DUSAUTOIR/stock.adobe.com

4. Château du Clos Lucé: Once the summer residence of the king of France, the Castle is mainly famous because it was home to Leonardo da Vinci during the last three years of his life. Visitors can still admire the Master’s workshop, still furnished exactly as it was while Leonardo was living in the Castle, the bedroom where he died in 1519 and 40 models reproducing his main inventions, including a 12-meters-wide flying machine.

5. Chateau de Villandry: It is the last of the great chateaux built during the Renaissance in the Loire Valley, with classic elegant furniture and decor. However, the highlights of the visit are the amazing gardens “a la francaise” that are split in separate thematic areas. The best time to visit is from April to September, when all the gardens are blooming.

Jardins du château de Villandry
View on the garden “a la francaise” of the Chateau de Villandry – by Open Mind Pictures/stock.adobe.com

6. Chateau Cardinale – Villemaurine: The visit to this beautiful family owned chateau in the hearth of Saint-Emilion would be totally unexpected, as an expert guide with a lamp leads the visitors on an entertaining walk to explore the underground wine cellars. They stretch over 17 acres on four different levels beneath the Chateau’s vines and are carved out from lime stone rocks. The tour is combined with a tasting of two of the most exceptional wines in the region.

7. Chateau de Ferrand: Tasting amazing red wine in the region of Bordeaux is one of the most typical experiences you can have in France. But at the Chateau Ferrand, just a few kilometres from Saint-Emilion, you will be able to understand the different grape varieties and discover the best way to combine them into your own perfect blend. Book the workshop with the chateau expert sommelier and taste the exclusive Ferrand vintage wine.

Château de Flaugergues à Montpellier, France
Château de Flaugergues – By Picturereflex/stock.adobe.com

8. Chateau de Flaugergues: located in the Montpellier countryside, in the beautiful Occitanie region, this 18th century mansion house is well known among the locals for its staircase of rare elegance and unique design (with a hanging keystone and no pillars over three floors) and for the impressive 17th century Flemish tapestries. After exploring the castle, the guests can enjoy a visit to the cellar and taste the wine produced by the owners. For a full experience, book the lunch in the restaurant located in the beautiful park of the Castle and taste some regional specialities.

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