Top 10 Most Beautiful Overlooked French Castles near Paris
I’ve always been endlessly fascinated with the history of Europe and the physical structures that years of tyranny, war and monarchies left behind.
Throughout Europe, visitors enjoy the presence of hundreds of beautiful, old castles. Some left to ruins, some renovated into an alternate form of space, and others preserved as they are to live on as the opulent housing they were intended to be.
When visiting Paris it is easy to get swallowed into the tourism bubble and just focus on the two most well known castles just an hour out of the city centre. The castles of Versailles and Fontainebleau are two of the most beautiful architectural wonders that you’ll likely see in your life — but they are not all there is to see in France.
Throughout France there are castles fit for royalty. Some of which you’ll recognize from establishing shots of Hollywood blockbusters — many of them not too far from Paris.
There are a total of 5450 castles scattered around the country. Near impossible to see them all but worth a shot to see at least one or two! Here are ten of the most beautiful overlooked French castles near Paris:
1. Mont Saint-Michel near Paris
The region of Normandy is littered with castles and makes for the most incredible day trip out of Paris. By purchasing a roundtrip bus ticket destines for Mont Saint-Michel you can head out of almost all Paris bus stations to get here.
Mont Saint-Michel is a vision. As you approach the grand “castle” you’ll likely start seeing it in a completely different light. This is because Mont Saint-Michel isn’t actually solely a castle per say, it’s and old walled city built around an 8th century abbey that makes for a castle-like appearance.
Exploring this bit of Normandy is fascinating. Inside of Mont Saint-Michel you’ll be able to wind through the narrow streets and take a series of guided walking tours. When the nearby tide comes in, the city becomes an island that is only accessible by boat — incredible! You can go on your own or you can join a very popular day trip with a professional guide.
One of the most understated day trips to be had outside of Paris; make a note not to miss this one when you’re in town.
2. Château de Chantilly near Paris
Another wonderful day trip option just 40km north of Paris is the Château de Chantilly; a landmark comprised of not one, but two castles.
In the 15th century the area saw the founding of the Petit Château. Centuries later, in the 19th, the Grand Château came to be.
The castles share a vast piece of land surrounded by lakes, ponds, villages and formal gardens. It is French countryside at its finest and one of the best escapes out of Paris when one needs a place to calm the mind.
On the land visitors will also find Chantilly Racecourse, the Great Stables and the Condé Museum. On certain days there are shows and events held between the racecourse and the stables.
The Condé Musume is an impressive attraction on its own. It happens to hold one of the largest collections of French painting after the Louvre Museum back in Paris.
3. Château de Chambord near Paris
For our next castle we come to the lands of Loire Valley, 15 km northeast of Blois, France.
The Château de Chambord was built during the 16th century and is the largest castle in the whole valley. The castle was built 5km from the main river and boasts an impressive moat around the property that makes for a great tourist photograph when in its presence.
The castle is a Renaissance- style dream. It is said that much of the influence for the aesthetic of this castle was taken from Leonardo da Vinci and the works he had produced across Europe.
The castle is open to visitors year round and runs off of a museum style system. I recommend using one of the audio-assistants so that you get an encompassing history of the space as you move through it. You can also join a day's round trip from Paris to visit 3 Loire Valleys Castle, first stop being le Chateau de Chambord.
4. Roquetaillade near Paris
During your time in Paris you’ll likely become increasingly familiar with the Bordeaux wines that the city holds so near and dear to its heart. A plate of French cheese and glass of fine Bordeaux — doesn’t get much more authentic than that.
The Roquetaillade is the most well known castle in the Bordeaux region of France. The foundations of the castle were first laid down over 1200 years ago.
In the 19th century, the castle was fully renovated and then in 1956 it was made open to public viewing due to popular demand. Interestingly enough the castle is still owned by the same family who has owned it for the last 700 years — with no intent of giving it up any time soon.
Take note that Roquetaillade is only open for public viewing on Sundays between 2:30pm and 5pm. Limited little time window but a once in a lifetime experience nonetheless.
5. Carcassonne near Paris
You’ll visit Carcassone to see both the castle (tickets available online) and the town. This is a Medieval gem in the heart of France that holds history better than most vicinities of this age range.
In the early 13th century, this area played a key role in the Albigensian Crusade that took place in the Languedoc region. The town was known for being the most tolerant when it came to religious diversity in the country, and this caused it to fall under attack of the crusader army by order of the pope.
Carcassone also holds an interesting position geographically. It is the central point between France and Spain, and as a result underwent years of neglect due to the extended peace between the two countries.
It was restored and refurbished in the 19th century and is open to the public to this day. A beautiful little town at the top of a hill, resembling something out a children’s fairytale book.
6. Château de Cheverny near Paris
While the Château de Cheverny will simply never compete with the likes of Versailles or Fontainbleau, I still believe this to be one of the most overlooked and necessary castles near Paris.
The word ‘castle’ is used here loosely. The chateau is more of a grand, 17th century country mansion with exquisite grounds and attention to detail around every corner.
If you’re a comic lover, you may recognize this building from the famous range of Tintin comics by Hergé. It is said that the artist used Château de Cheverny as a life-size inspiration to draw Marlinspike Hall.
While this castle is no showstopper, it is light, subtle and exquisite in its own way.
Small castles in France have this stigma of simply being the sensationalized mansions of the French elite — with no significant history or relevance to offer. When you consider the history of Bloise, France (where the castle is found) you’ll understand why this structure is still so impressive to this day.
The Château de Cheverny is open for visitation year round, seven days a week.
7. Château de Joux near Paris
The Château de Joux was first erected aback in the 11th century and was a castle made entirely out of wood; which at the time wasn’t so astounding.
The design of the castle is what makes it so interesting. It is a multi-faceted space built up and around the rolling hills that make up the land mass. For this reason, there are a number of interesting grass spaces all around the exterior; some of which appear totally inaccessible or out of bounds.
Later in 1454, the wooden castle was expanded into a boarder fort and was then used as a prison throughout the 17th and 19th centuries. The castle’s claim to fame being that it once held the leader of the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint Louverture, as an inmate.
Considering that this revolution happens to have been the only successful salve revolt in history, the castle stays on the map in France. Today it houses a wonderful arms museum that centers around the ideals of war and the instruments that have been preserved through time.
The space is only open to visitors on Mondays.
8. Château de la Roche Courbon near Paris
Our next castle calls the west of France home, in a region known as Poitou-Charentes.
The Château de la Roche Courbon is today one of the most important, preserved medieval castles in France, however this was not always the case. The castle itself suffered rough decay and mistreatment as the centuries turned through France, with no one ever taking the time to restore it.
It wasn’t until the late 19th century that France identified these grounds as some of the most important to this history of the time and put some change in order.
Today, visitors to the Château de la Roche Courbon enjoy a series of curated events and activities year round. The one to attend is undoubtably the fête médiévale. As the name suggests, the fête médiévale is a festival celebrating all things Medieval; from drinks, to food and even games.
The castle is currently inhabited by the family of Paul Chénereau, the man who is responsible for saving the castle from its demise back in the day. Visitors are welcome to the space at set times throughout the week. There is also a museum on the property that is entirely free to enjoy.
9. Château des Milandes near Paris
South west of France, in the Dordogne area, the Château des Milandes is one of the countries best kept secrets.
This is a gothic style castle and it is incredibly beautiful. The region of Dorgodne is known for being the source of honeycomb stone. The castle itself was built from this rock entirely.
The castle itself dates back to 1400, but the date that most people associate to it would be the 1940s. This was the time when the property came under ownership of the renowned dancer and singer Josephine Baker.
The performer lived here with her 12 adopted children from around the world. The castle pays homage to this and upon visiting you’ll learn about the life they enjoyed here as well as her role in the resistance of World War II.
While the castle is exquisite, the gardens are what you’ll write home about. They are actually listed as an official historic monument in France. This is thanks to a man named Jules Vacherot who took the grounds under his wing in the 1900s. Jules Vacherot was the head gardener for the city of Paris for many years.
10. Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant near Paris
Sleeping Beauty’s castle can be found right at the bottom of Main Road once inside of the park. Regardless of its intention, it is a wonder to behold and an impressive structure reaching a height of 167ft.
This is the only castle in the park to feature a full dungeon space as well as stained glass windows. As you walk through the space, make your way up to the balcony terrace where you can enjoy a magnificent view of the rest of the park and the landscape adjacent to it.
What’s Paris without a bit of a fairytale ending, right?