The word chateau is often translated as castle in English, but that’s usually not correct. A French chateau is almost always a palace or manor house without any major defensive features—except maybe a moat. Instead, they have turrets, sculptures, huge halls and ornate windows. Some of the most beautiful chateaux in France, built centuries ago for wealthy aristocrats, are still among the world’s most spectacular buildings.
Most Beautiful Chateaux in France
The most famous France chateaux region is definitely the Loire Valley. Boasting nicknames such as ‘Garden of France’ and ‘Cradle of the French’, this UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts several royal palaces, numerous wineries and orchards. This is where you’ll find several spectacular French chateaux, while a few others dot the area around Paris.
1. Chateau de Chambord
One of the most sensational chateaux in France—and in Europe—the Chateau de Chambord is one of the Loire Valley’s star attractions. Constructed by King Francis I, the palace is remarkable because of its distinctive French Renaissance architecture. Even though it is the largest chateau in the Loire Valley, it was merely a hunting lodge for the king, indicating the massive wealth of the former French kings.
2. Chateau de Versailles
The main royal residence in France from the late-17th century of Louise XIV to the French Revolution, the Palace of Versailles is one of the world’s most phenomenal palaces. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is famous for many things. Major highlights are the Hall of Mirrors, Marie Antoinette’s Hameau, the Royal Opera and Royal Apartments, and the enormous Gardens of Versailles. Versailles is one of Europe’s premier cultural treasures.
3. Chateau de Chantilly
The photogenic Château de Chantilly lies in the town of Chantilly, just north of Paris. The original mansion was entirely destroyed during the French Revolution, but completely rebuilt in the late-1800s. Nowadays, it houses the Musée Condé, regarded as one of France’s finest art galleries.
4. Chateau de Villandry
Garden lovers will delight in the superbly manicured gardens of Chateau de Villandry in the Loire Valley. This is a huge manor house once owned by a French aristocrat family and even by Napoleon Bonaparte. After Spanish medical researcher and doctor Joaquin Carvallo acquired the grounds in the early 1900s, he commissioned the creation of the gorgeous Renaissance gardens.
5. Chateau de Chenonceau
One of the best-known chateaux in France is Chateau de Chenonceau. Located in the heart of the Loire Valley, it spans a bridge across the Cher River. The chateau became the property of the French royal family and 1535 and King Henry II give it to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. She was the one who extended the building to span the entire river. Additionally, she also commissioned the creation vegetable and flower gardens as well as a fruit orchard. After Henry II’s death, his wife, Catherine de Medici, forced Diane out and made it her new favorite residence.
6. Chateau de Fontainebleau
In the Paris metropolitan area, Fontainebleau is home to a large forest, which is a popular weekend destination among Parisian. This is also the location of the majestic Chateau of Fontainebleau. One of the largest chateaux in France, the building is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses a history museum. This is, in fact, the only of the imperial and royal chateaux in France that has been continuously inhabited for 700 years. Much of it is also open to the public.
7. Chateau de Pierrefonds
First constructed in the 14th century by Duke Louis of Orleans, the Chateau de Pierrefonds was ruined at the time Napoleon III commissioned famed architect Viollet-le-Duc (renowned for restoring sites like Notre Dame Cathedral and Mont Saint-Michel and the medieval city walls of Carcassonne) to restore the chateau. The talented architect went on to create the perfect castle, resembling one that might have existed in the Middle Ages.