There is something magical about a fairytale castle. We visited some beautiful castles in eastern France, while travelling around the Burgundy region.
Some are crumbling ruins while others have been faithfully restored. The same families have lived in some castles for over 1000 years. All are centuries older than any man-made structure we see here in Australia. We could soak in so much history within a very small area when visiting Burgundy.
Visiting French Chateaux
Each of the Chateaux we visited during our time in France were unique in their own special way. Some told their story through tours of the ancient rooms, others through displays of artifacts and artworks. Family homes were opened to the public to assist with the massive upkeep costs.
A number are owned by historic societies, serving as museums, interactive displays or educational resources which show construction and restoration methods used throughout the ages.
Yet all of them have withstood countless wars, rebellions and revolutions across the ages to tell their story.
Here are some of the beautiful chateaux we explored during our time in France.
We came across Chateau Commarin between Beaune and Dijon. The same family has owned the castle for 26 generations. Original sections of the building date back to the 12th century.
Passing through the castle walls, the castle now encircles a central courtyard, set in beautiful gardens with views across Burgundy, which we enjoyed exploring after our tour.
Our French-speaking tour-guide showed us through the original “west wing”, starting with the 14th century chapel, to the upstairs apartments still retaining original 18th century furnishings.
Walls are hung with heraldic tapestries and the daily accoutrements of life on display is if their owners had momentarily stepped into the next room.
After our formal tour, we were free to explore the gardens, including the surrounding carp-filled moats.
Our tour began in the ornate 14th Century chapel, before removing our shoes and donning protective slippers to access the rooms above which are open to the public.
A former Lord loved his hunting dog so much, he had him stuffed for posterity. He now stands on the marble landing, guarding the entry to the castle.
Wander through the elaborate gardens surrounding the original moat. The carp surface excitedly as you near the footbridge in the hope of a feed.
Visiting Chateau Commarin
Chateau Commarin is open from April to November
Entry is 7.90E adults and 4.40E children
The castle is near Pouilly en Auxois, 40 kilometres from Dijon
While you are there: Visit Chateau Neuf
Chateau du Chateau Neuf.
High on a rocky hill near Dijon, in the fortified village of Chateauneuf you can still see houses with pediments and stair turrets dating back to the 14th century, when wealthy Burgundy merchants made their homes here. It is one of the last remaining examples of 14th Century Burgundian military architecture.
We arrived at Chateauneuf in time for the traditional lunchtime siesta. Finding a shady umbrella at local restaurant we enjoyed a relaxing authentic French lunch. Roaming the the narrow streets, we admired the many ancient stone buildings until the castle re-opened to visitors at 3pm so we could begin our tour.
The Chateau Commarin family once owned the castle, which is now a heritage building. The large square tower dates back to the 12th century.
During the 14th century, towers and defensive walls were added and it was also “modernised” during the 15th century. We took a self guided tour around the stone buildings, the knights hall, and the stone chambers upstairs with their “long drop” gardeloos, which would have been icy in winter.
An interactive display in the stone keep showed the various layers of restoration over the centuries.
The ancient courtyard
Visiting Chateau Neuf
Chateau de Chateauneuf is open Tuesday to Sunday all year
Entry is 3.5E
It is 43 kilometres fromDijon near Pouilly en Auxois
While you are there: Visit Chateau Commarin
Chateau d’Ancy le Franc
This imposing renaissance castle Ancy-le-Franc holds the oldest mural collection in France.
Set on acres of landscaped gardens, we first enjoyed a contemporary sculpture display in the gardens before taking a recorded self guided tour (in English).
The oldest section of the building explains the extensive restoration work which has gone into many of the murals, the oldest dating back to 1540. The display enables you to see the various layers of paint and wallpaper which have been applied during “modernisation” over the years.
The massive arched windows in the great hall shows you the genealogy of the families over the generations through uniformly painted murals.
Spectacular views across the canal can be seen, including a purpose built “folly” on the man made lake.
Visiting Chateau d’Ancy Le Franc
The Chateau is open from March to November
Entry is E10 adults E6 children
Chateau d’Ancy le Franc is located a short drive from Tonerre
While you are there: Visit Noyers sur Serein
Chateau Tanlay was one of the more unusual French Chateau we visited. The exterior may have been a little on the sombre side, but once inside, the luxurious interior has been well preserved.
Entering Chateau Tanlay from the village, two towering obelisks sit each side of the bridge across the moat, drawing you through the two ornate towers which frame the courtyard.
The same family has been in residence for over 300 years and offer limited tours of the castle.
The upstairs apartments are sumptuously appointed, with marble fireplaces, original artworks and collections of antiquities. Photos are not allowed, except for in the Grand Gallery overlooking the moat and gardens. These are decorated with an unbelievably realistic trompe l’oeil suggesting a Roman courtyard.
This was the one privately owned castle in France where the guide made a particular effort to give us an English translation of his narrative.
Visiting Chateau Tanlay
Is open from April to November. Closed Sunday, Tuesday and public holidays.
Tours operate from 10am -12.30 and from 2pm to 6
Adults E10 Children E6
Tanlay is 20 minutes from Chablis, in close proximity to Tonerre and Ancy le Franc
While you are there: Visit Chablis
Castle of Montrottier, Lovagny
Set on a rocky outcrop near Annecy, the 14th century fortress told a sombre story against the backdrop of leaden, grey clouds on the day we visited.
The Castle of Montrottier at Lovagny was built between the 13th and 16th centuries. The French castle now houses an extensive collection of weapons, armory, porcelain and pottery which were bequeathed to the state along with the castle.
Climbing the narrow, spiral stone stairs of the 13th century tower provides magnificent views over the surrounding regions.
Guides were dressed in period costume. Knights and ladies, ambassadors and pages delighted groups of children with their medieval tales, adding an authentic touch to the fortified castle.
Because the tours were in French only, we saw little point in paying for a guided tour, strolling around taking in the exhibits instead.
Visiting Castle Montrottier, Lovagny
Castle Montrottier is open from April to September from 10 to 6 Wednesday to Sunday
The castle is open 7 days in July and August
Entry E8 Adults, E6 children.
Lovagny is a 15 minute drive from Annecy
While you are there: Visit the Gorge du Fier
Chateau de Menthon
Set high above Mt Annecy the French Chateau de Menthon was once home to St Bernard and his rescue dogs, looks like something straight out of a fairytale. The chateau has been home to the same family for over 1000 years.
Limited group tours of parts of the castle are only available on Fridays and Saturdays. So we planned a much anticipated visit on our final afternoon in Annecy.
We arrived on a cold, wet day, negotiating our entry passes in French, then wandered around exploring the ramparts. We then waited with the other “peasants” for the porticullis to raise allowing entrance to the next group of tourists.
The history of St Bernard
Because the tour was exclusively in French, we relied on an English leaflet to explain the features of each room.Once inside, we found ourselves in an inner courtyard surrounded by three medieval square towers. This was adjacent to the chapel dedicated to St Bernard,which we passed through to the former kitchen, which was used until 1945.
Climbing the narrow stone spiral stairs to the first floor, we were in the library, which also once formed the main room of the fortress. The Library now contains a collection of richly illuminated books and a carved 15th century mantlepiece depicting the life of St Bernard.
The grand sitting room and chamber are lined with tapestries and sumptuously furnished with pieces from the Louis XIII era, Venetian and Florentine pieces.
Downstairs in the former kitchen, lords received pilgrims on their voyages, with a display of ancient weapons including a Celtic bronze sword dating back to 900BC.
Visiting Chateau du Menthon
Chateau du Menthon is open from April to October from 2pm to 6pm on Friday Saturday and Sunday.
Open 7 days during July and August
The castle is located 10km from Annecy
While you are there: Visit the old town of Annecy
Climb the hill from the canal side old Annecy to Chateau Annecy, seat of the Counts of Geneva from the 12th to 16th century. Climb the tower and enjoy the displays of the Natural History Museum. From local fishing history and aquaculture, to fossils and artifacts, you can spend hours browsing the exhibits.
The adjacent chateau now houses an art gallery and cultural museum. Temporary exhibitions and animated film displays are featured throughout the year. Browse also through an exhibit of historic local furniture, cultural artifacts and illuminated texts. From the castle ramparts you will have panoramic views across the lake.
Visiting Chateau Annecy
Chateau Annecy is open year round.
Adults E5.50 Children E3
Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy
Dijon was the home of the Dukes of Burgundy, whose extensive landholdings at one stage made them wealthier than the King of France. Their estates became a seat of learning and fine arts, many noblemen making their homes alongside the imposing ducal palace. Phillipe le Bon began construction of the palace in 1450 on the grounds of a Roman Fortress.
Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy
The limestone hewn buildings, extended over the centuries are heavily embellished with gargoyles. The Place de la Liberation, still a bustling city square today, leads us to the palace which is now a fine arts museum and serves as the cities’ government and administrative offices.
Only a small fraction of the palace is open to the public. Entering from the tourist office and through the original
chapel, you can see the remains of ancient 14th century murals.
The Salle des Gardes contains the tombs of Philip the Bold and John the Fearless. The ornate tombs are embellished with carved marble cheribum and gold finishings, showing that the Dukes were as wealthy in death as in life. Climbing to the gallery gives you a spectacular view down at the tombs below.
The remaining rooms feature displays of artwork and artefacts from the middle ages and renaissance periods.
Like many museums in France, entry to the Musee de Beaux Arts is free. For a small charge we were given a tour of the Tower of Phillipe le Bon, or terrace tower. Climbing some 316 stone, spiral stairs to the roof terrace we had spectacular views across Dijon.
Visiting the Ducal Palace Dijon
The Fine Arts museum within the Ducal Palace is open every day except Tuesday
Entry is Free
Entry to the Tower of Phillip le Bon is E5
While you are there: Take the Dijon “Owl Trail”
Before you go:
If planning a visit to a French Castle or museum, do check their website when planning your itinerary.
- Many of the smaller, family owned castles will have limited opening hours. They are sometimes also closed for private functions.
- Not all of the castles provide an English guide. You may need to rely on a printed leaflet
- Smaller castles may be closed during the winter months.
- With the exception of the larger museums, be mindful that you are visiting someone’s home.