A very brief History of French Castles over time

Bandeau Bref Historique - Carcassonne ChateauBandeau Bref Historique - Carcassonne Chateau

 

As far back as the 9th century, lords built wooden castles to protect themselves from the Vikings. Wooden lookout towers were built on a hill and surrounded by wooden fencing. It didn’t take them long to realise that wood wasn’t the most resistant of materials, especially when attacked by fire, and they soon opted for stone structures instead.

 

Mediaeval castles

The 11th century heralded the arrival of mediaeval fortresses whose watchword was defence. The lord would live in the main tower which was surrounded by high crenelated walls with arrow slits. They were either built on a hilltop vantage point with clear views of the horizon to see an imminent attack coming, or on flat ground, protected by a moat. In either case, dungeons and drawbridges were the order of the day and living was rustic.

 

Chateau medieval - Castelnaud modif

 

Renaissance castles

As the centuries passed and times became slightly less barbaric, the purpose of castles began to shift away from military defence and more towards comfort. The 15th century marked the beginning of the Renaissance era: Kings and Queens took centre stage while plumed and paintbrush-wielding artists like Da Vinci and Michelangelo enjoyed their heyday. Castles were less about keeping out and more about showing off. Ornamental mouldings, decorative sculptures and decadent gardens swathed royal residences in elegance and prestige, and interiors were decked out with plush, gilded furnishings.

 

Chateau Renaissance - Chenonceau

 

The French Revolution in 1789 put paid to the monarchy and ended the era of royal residences. However, captains of industry kept the country’s chateau-building reputation alive well into the 19th century with palatial palaces designed to flaunt their newly-made wealth.

Centuries of architecture are still standing strong and just waiting to be admired. If you like the idea of delving into the stories of times gone by, then here are a handful of addresses where you can do just that. Whichever corner of France you’re headed to, we’ve got you covered.

Before we set off, here’s a quick timeline of French dynasties to help you navigate the tales you’ll hear along the way!

The Capetians: 987 to 1328. Rewind back to the Middle Ages. This mediaeval dynasty counted 15 kings and spanned more than three centuries.

The Valois: Reigned from 1328 to 1589. This period saw a succession of 13 kings on the throne, some of whom were dubbed the good, the wise, the mad, the cautious and the builder. Henri II lived from 1519-1559 and was married to Catherine de Medicis.

The Bourbons: Reigned from 1589 to 1795. Six kings, including Henri 4th and a string of Louis’ including Louis 14th, the Sun King who built the Palais de Versailles, and Louis 16th who was guillotined in the wake of the French Revolution. His wife, Marie-Antoinette, came to the same grizzly end a few years later.

 

Castle gardens

 

Chateau Villandry

 

The reputation of a castle often depended not only on the architecture but also its gardens, which, even today, are sometimes the main attraction. The Gardens of Villandry in the Loire Valley are a perfect example; although Villandry castle is suitably impressive, the reputation of its intricately designed gardens far surpasses the castle itself.

Initially no more than a place to grow food and feed animals, castle gardens became more creative and aesthetic in the 16th century. Some chateaux landscapers are just as eminent as architects – André Lenôtre, who designed the gardens of Versailles, for example.

 

Chateau jardin Francaise Lenotre Versailles

 

Estate gardens might include vegetable gardens, rose gardens and water features, and are often split into two styles; French and English.

French gardens are formal, set out in neat, symmetrical lines with military precision. The layout usually creates a visual “lead up” to the castle to highlight the architecture. Trees are dotted along the alleys and low-lying plants are used around the building, sheared and shaped to within an inch of their existence. Water features may be used to enhance the effect.

English gardens are more informal - less orderly and more spontaneous with the emphasis on nature rather than architecture. Filled with bursts of colour and irregular lines, they generally require less maintenance.

 

Jardin a langlaise

Repères

Sélection

  • Spirit of Loire Valley

    Spirit of Loire Valley

    Uniquely situated in a vast park bordering the Loire and the Vienne rivers, the "Spirit of Loire Valley" chateau overlooks a charming village and dominates the Loire. This historic building provides sumptuous views overlooking the terraces

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  • Un Chateau de Reve

    Un Chateau de Reve

    In a pastoral country setting in the heart of an estate comprised of meadows and woodland, "Un Château de Rêve" looks forward to welcoming you for an outstanding stay between La Baule and Nantes. This is a superb classical chateau dating from the 18th century, located in grounds surrounded by moats which have today been filled in and planted. Brimming with character, this building recently underwent extensive conversion work and the result is very successful. The orangery has been transformed into a bright kitchen opening out onto the grounds and leading out onto a summer kitchen area. The suites and bedrooms have been tastefully and individually decorated and almost all feature en suite bathrooms or shower rooms

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  • Un Chateau Secret

    Un Chateau Secret

    Words cannot describe this fabulous chateau the in Charente-Maritime area, 12 km from La Rochelle. This beautiful, authentic property has been thoughtfully renovated to turn it into a luxury haven in an enchanting setting.

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  • Pure Luxury Normandy

    Pure Luxury Normandy

    Enjoy the grandeur and noble elegance of this French castle for a very special Normandy experience! This immense chateau is set in 50 hectares of immaculate grounds and offers premium amenities. With Pure Luxury Normandy, ChicVillas offers you the promise of an unforgettable stay in a region steeped in history.

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  • Pearl of Provence

    Pearl of Provence

    This sumptuous turreted chateau is the last word in luxury. Set against the undulating landscape of sunny, slow-paced Provence, it offers a magical backdrop for a luxury stay and promises uncompromising serenity and indulgence.

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  • Exquisite Provence

    Exquisite Provence

    As its name suggests, this luxury chateau in Provence is simply exquisite. Intricate architecture and ornamental chandeliers hallmark the property's prestigious heritage, perfectly offset by a welcoming interior and up-to-minute facilities to make the discerning modern guest feel right at home.

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  • Un Domaine en Provence

    Un Domaine en Provence

    "Un Domaine en Provence" : This magnificent 14th-century priory is a secluded retreat surrounded by lavender fields, rolling hillside and vineyards that stretch as far as the eye can see. A quintessentially French luxury rental property that promises sophisticated, slow-paced living at its finest.

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  • Chateau Heart of Dordogne

    Chateau Heart of Dordogne

    This alluring chateau in France's Perigord region is infused with history and promises an enchanting setting for your holiday. Chateau Heart of Dordogne is listed as a historical monument and comes with an illustrious past - you will even have the opportunity to sit in Napoleon Bonaparte's chair!

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  • Chateau Heart of Gascony

    Chateau Heart of Gascony

    Chateau Heart of Gascony is for anyone who has ever dreamed of renting a castle in France. This 14th-century chateau is everything a castle should be, combining historical features such as turrets, towers and grand fireplaces with modern-day luxury so that guests can live like royalty.

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  • Spirit of Dordogne

    Spirit of Dordogne

    This exquisite castle is the stuff that dreams are made of. Enjoy a slice of the ultimate French lifestyle at this impeccably preserved luxury chateau among fine furnishings, turreted towers and a carefully curated interior that will make you feel right at home. Not to mention stunning views and a riverside location - perfect for exploring the Dordogne.

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