Perched high upon clifftops, overlooking the lavender fields of Provence, the dreamy seascapes of the Mediterranean, or the patchwork green landscapes of the Pyrenees, the fairytale castles of southern France are a sight to behold.
These centuries-old structures are rooted in stories of famous seers and knights, many were home to artists, popes, and royalty, and whether the stone structures have been well-preserved over time or are in crumbling ruins, there are plenty of interesting tales to uncover.
Many southern France castles are open to the public at certain times of the year – some even allow guests to stay, or to sample local wines, and others tempt with interactive games, hidden passageways, beautiful gardens and historic frescoes.
Wherever you decide to visit – the French Pyrenees, along the glamorous Riviera, or in picturesque villages where the ancient language of the d’oc is still spoken, you’ll discover majestic castles at every turn.
Looking for a castle you can sleep in? Check out these dreamy Chateau Hotels.
Chateau de Montauban
Once home to the Ambroy family, Chateau de Montauban in Fontvielle near Arles, also became known as a place of refuge and inspiration for the French novelist and poet Alphonse Daudet.
Daudet, who wrote short sentimental stories about the south of France, spent many months here with his wife, and the grand residence was catalogued in his works “Lettres de mon moulin”.
Today, visitors can explore the 19th-century chateau in southern France with its gabled façade and stunning gardens, or even attend a summer festival here. The museum inside is dedicated to the history and archaeology of the village and can be enjoyed on a guided or self-guided tour during the summer season.
Chateaux de Lastours
The four royal castles of Lastours sit atop a mountain ridge punctuated by cypress trees, overlooking the village. These buildings, or what remains of them, are known as the ‘Castles of the Cathars’ said to date to the 11th century.
During this time, the south of France was shared between lords, and the Aude was known for its prosperous economy and mining industry. Simon de Montfort, a French nobleman besieged the area, attempting to take the castles – he succeeded, but the lords continued to resist for many months after.
In addition to discovering the rich history, visitors will enjoy exploring the flora and fauna exhibition and walking through underground caves, said to link the historic castles to the nearby cities.
An opposite viewpoint (the Belvedere) also offers spectacular vistas of the watch towers and during summer a mesmerising light and sound event takes place.
Chateau de Flaugergues
In the 1700s, many French châteaux built near Montpellier were referred to as ‘folies’. They were constructed by wealthy merchants who served the king of France. Chateau de Flaugergues was the first to be built in the area, acting as a blueprint for others to follow. The structure, built on a site of vines dating to the Roman era, took 40 years to complete.
The historic monument is interesting to visit, not only for the ornate sweeping staircase with hanging key vaults and rich coloured tapestries, but also because of the ancient traditions the owners continued here.
Today, the chateau produces Flaugergues wine, and in the four hectares of sculpted and curated gardens, they teach the art of permaculture through a series of workshops which can be booked in advance.
Chateau Comtal sits in the heart of the fairytale walled city of Carcassonne – a 12th century masterpiece, and one of the best-preserved castles in the world. It was the main seat of power for the Trencavel family who ruled here when Carcassonne was independent from much of France.
When Carcassonne defined itself as a ‘Cathar citadel’ – rejecting the teachings of the Catholic church, Pope Innocent III, with the backing of the French king, launched a crusade against the city and Carcassonne was eventually taken by royal forces.
As you wander along the ramparts, past 52 towers and through ancient city gates, imagine inhabitants of days gone by watching lands across the river for incoming invaders.
To learn what happened next in the city’s history, consider taking a guided tour of Carcassonne, Chateau Comtal and Basilica Saint Nazaire – it’s a memorable, informative tour that history enthusiasts won’t want to miss.
Castle of Saissac
The brooding and bewitching Castle of Saissac is enveloped in stories from the Albigensian crusades to the Wars of Religion. The crumbling structure sits on a hilltop amidst the beautiful Black Mountains northwest of Carcassonne and is worth visiting for the views alone.
It’s the largest and oldest of the Cathar castles, dating to the 900s – built as a strategic stronghold and surrounded by a walled settlement.
Following the French Revolution, the castle fell into disrepair, however in recent years it has been undergoing restoration and several rooms have been rebuilt in a 16th century style. Today, it’s accessible to visitors and easy to reach by foot or car from Saissac.
Chateau de la Napoule
Chateau de la Napoule hugs the Mediterranean shoreline of Mandelieu-la-Napoule in the bay of Cannes. This striking medieval castle features a backdrop of verdant hillsides and a shimmering blue seaside location that makes it a popular venue for weddings and artist residencies.
The castle was built in the 14th century by the Countess of Villeneuve and was reconstructed on several occasions throughout the centuries – once even becoming a glass-making factory. By the late 19th century, it was acquired by an American couple – Henry and Marie Clews – artists who nurtured the structure and its grounds and brought it back to its former glory.
Nowadays, it’s still owned by the La Napoule Art Foundation, and for a small fee, you can visit the castle grounds and the interior from April through to September.
Wander through the secret oasis, inhaling aromas of fresh rosemary blended with hints of sea salt and try to uncover more of the history of this fascinating chateau by the sea.
Chateau de Vauvenargues
Set in the foothills of Mont Saint-Victoire, a few kilometres from Aix-en-Provence, Chateau de Vauvenargues can be glimpsed through a cluster of trees.
The 13th century chateau – one of the most famous castles in Provence, has been the home of archbishops, counts and kings, and following the French Revolution, it was even turned into a holiday home for maritime personnel and their children.
Pablo Picasso fell in love with the historic building in 1958 and decided to buy it. The painter was captivated by the landscapes, unassuming turrets and brick-coloured shutters, and the following year he moved his art collection from Paris to be displayed in his home here.
Many say his finest works were produced while living in Chateau de Vauvenargues with his wife, and both are laid to rest in the grounds beneath canopies of umbrella pines, oaks and spruce trees.
Unfortunately, this French chateau isn’t currently open to the public, so you’ll have to admire it during a walk through the village.
The 14th-century castle in the Aquitaine region of France is an impressive Renaissance structure with six towers and a large keep – commanding in stature and steeped in history.
It is said that Charlemagne, on his way to the Pyrenees, built the first wooden fortification on the site, and later Cardinal de la Mothe (nephew of Pope Clement V) built the version that’s still standing today.
Castle Roquetaillade was later restored by renowned architect Viollet-le-Duc (who also helped to bring Chateau Comtal back to life) and it’s the most visited castle in the region.
The historical monument is filled with treasures, beautiful rooms, and Moresque décor, and you can have a guided tour of the castle every afternoon (during the tourist season) at 3 or 4 pm. In addition, the castle also produces its own delicious wines, Chateaufort de Roquetaillade – perhaps the perfect souvenir to mark your time at the castle.
Chateau de Tarascon
On the banks of the Rhône River, Chateau de Tarascon is a spectacular example of 15th-century architecture. The impressive structure, built by the Princes of Anjou, is one of the most beautiful medieval castles in France. The well-preserved structure contains 30 rooms and boasts panoramic vistas from the upper terraces.
Over the years King Rene I undertook works to enhance the fortified castle to ensure the safety and security of Provence, and during the 18th century it became a state prison – remnants of which can be seen on a tour today.
You can visit the castle year-round, or plan your visit to align with one of the family-friendly events, animations, meditations and thematic visits hosted there to mark special dates and seasons.
Chateau des Baux-de-Provence
One of the most popular Provence castles, Chateau des Baux-de-Provence cuts a striking image as it sits high on a rocky outcrop overlooking the olive groves and villages of les Alpilles.
Dating back to the 10th century, the medieval castle came under attack multiple times during its history, and today, the abandoned castle is mainly in ruins. But what remains gives a hint of the impressive scale of the citadel it once was.
During a visit, you can read about the history of the castle, explore the rooms, and take in the views from various vantage points. There are siege machines on the grounds, and you can even watch catapults in action.
It’s a fantastic place to take kids in Provence, as during the holidays there are workshops, demonstrations and even easter egg or treasure hunts for families to partake in together.
Just outside the castle gates, the village of Les Baux-de-Provence is considered one of the most beautiful in France and has a plethora of boutiques, ice cream shops, and cafes to discover between the delightful cobbled lanes.
Chateau de Peyrepertuse
Chateau de Peyrepertuse in Languedoc-Roussillon is one of five structures known as the ‘Five Sons of Carcassonne’ which also include the Chateaux of Puilaurens, Termes, Quéribus and Aguilar – all built at the time to defend the region from unfriendly invaders and neighbouring Spain.
The castle survived the Albigensian crusade but was given over to forces in the early 1200s, before being returned to Guillaume de Peyrepertuse, and becoming property of the crown.
Shortly after the border between France and Spain changed, the castle was abandoned as it was no longer required for military purposes. Visitors today can see the ruins and spectacular views of the countryside – it’s open year-round except for the month of January.
Chateau de Bonaguil
This attractive 13th century chateau, flanked by dense forests in Lot-et-Garonne, is one of the most beautiful castles in the region. It was the last of the fortified castles in the country, built upon a hillside overlooking the village and river.
Chateau de Bonaguil has an intriguing history – it took the side of the English during the Hundred Years War and because of this stance, it was burned and abandoned many times. In later years – towards the end of the 15th century, it was restructured to boast innovative new defences – work undertaken by Berenger de Roquefeuill.
It’s an interesting and picturesque place to visit year-round (although check opening hours in the winter), with a barbican, hidden storage tunnels, rooms with period costumes, and the castle boasts a medieval garden and ramparts with panoramic views across the countryside.
Chateau de Montségur
The Chateau de Montségur we see today was constructed around the end of the 13th century. The castle that stood before was a strategic stronghold – seat of the Cathar church which housed around 500 people within its walls. Montségur, which means “safe hill” in Occitan, is one of the most famous castles in southern France.
It fell after a long siege and the village inside the walls was destroyed. During this time over 200 Cathars who refused to renounce their religion were punished nearby.
Ask locals, and they will tell you that one of the most important times to visit is during the summer solstice as the sun passes through the arches. Legend also states that several Cathars escaped during the siege, leading to speculation that the Montségur held ancient treasures and secrets connected to the Holy Grail…
Palais des Papes
Although not technically a chateau, Avignon’s Palais des Papes deserves a mention on this list due to its sheer stature. One of the largest and most prominent religious structures in Europe, the gothic-inspired Palais des Papes was the seat of the Pope during the 14th century.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most well-preserved and visited monuments in France and was occupied by seven popes prior to the seat of the church being transferred back to Rome.
Surprisingly, the grand and ornate alabaster structure was completed in under 20 years, and over the centuries, it has evolved into a site for themed tours, exhibitions, concerts, and sensorial experiences.
Around 25 rooms are open to the public on a guided tour, including fresco-filled chapels, ceremonial halls and the private apartments of the popes. A must-visit for anyone interested in religion, European history, and architecture, and one of the top things to do in Avignon.
Chateau Royal de Collioure
One of the most revered southern France castles, Chateau Royal de Collioure sits near the Spanish border on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
The castle is set on a former Roman site which was first mentioned by the Visigoths in 673 when it was said to have been under siege. During the 12th century, the chateau was bequeathed to the King of Aragon and Count of Barcelona and much later, a second castle was constructed by the Kings of Majorca, before it became a Habsburgs fortress and Bourbon citadel.
With such a storied history spanning several centuries and cultures, it’s no surprise that this place is one of the tourist hotspots in the area. It now serves as an exhibition and cultural centre and can be accessed by visitors. Don’t miss the wonderful views of Collioure from the ramparts – it’s a highlight of the tour.
One of the most unique chateaux in southern France, Chateau d’If sits on an island just off the coast of Marseille, a location where history and legends combine.
Île d’If is the smallest island of the archipelago and the French castle was built in the 16th century, serving as a prison until the late 19th century. It became famous as the setting of the novel ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ written by Alexandre Dumas. However, the original castle was built as a strategic location to ward off military attacks on Marseille from the sea.
The prison, then one of the most notorious in France, served as a holding place for 3500 Huguenots and it was a place where the prisoners were treated according to class.
Today it’s open to the public and accessible from Marseille’s Vieux Port by boat on a day trip.
Chateau Grimaldi in Cagnes-sur-Mer is said to be constructed on the site of an ancient Greek fortress. The castle we see today dates back to 1309 and was built by Rainier Grimaldi, an ancestor of the current ruler of Monaco.
The castle, created from locally quarried stone, sits on a hilltop overlooking the city. It served as a barracks and hospital in its former life, and now it houses the Grimaldi Castle and Museum, showcasing collections of intricately painted frescoes, contemporary artworks from around the world and an olive tree exhibit.
It is open daily except for Tuesdays and there’s a shuttle available from the central bus station for easy access. Combine the visit with a double ticket to visit the nearby Renoir Museum on the same day.
Chateau de l’Empéri
This historical monument overlooking Salon-de-Provence was once the residence of Holy Roman emperors and archbishops of Arles. The oldest fortress in Provence, Chateau de l’Empéri hosted several French kings and queens, including Catherine de Medici who came here to consult the famous astrologer Nostradamus in 1660.
After the French Revolution, as with most castles in France, it became a jail and barracks, before being converted into a fascinating Art and Military History Museum in the 1900s.
It attracts tourists in their thousands each year, with many timing their visit to coincide with the annual summer festival of chamber music and Nostradamus re-enactments.
Chateau de Gordes
Perched at the summit of Gordes in the heart of the village is 11th-century Chateau de Gordes. Once a typical medieval fortress, the chateau has had many incarnations.
In the early 1500s it was rebuilt to enhance the façade, and since then it has served as a granary, barracks, and prison. The medieval/Renaissance structure is a Historic Monument of France, and although it eventually housed a school, town hall and even a bar, today, it focuses on art exhibitions held throughout the year.
Visitors can take in the panoramic exterior views or discover some of the rooms on pre-reserved guided tours available from March until October.
Castle of Foix
Set atop a rock, overlooking the town of Foix, this castle was once known as impenetrable, as the walls were so strong it could not be taken by enemies.
Although the architectural design dates to around the 7th century, the first details of the Foix Castle didn’t emerge until the year 987, and later it became the home of counts and kings of France and Spain. Many would stay here to direct their defence during turbulent times and it also became a refuge for Cathars fleeing persecution. In later years it became a garrison, prison, and a museum.
Today, visitors to the castle are greeted by costumed characters, who bring these stories to life. Families can search for Cathar treasures, watch forging, and stone cutting or learn about former residents in the museum. The tour takes four hours, but there’s so much to see and do, the time just flies by!
Chateau de Roquebrune
In the year 970, the Count of Ventimiglia built this fortress along the Côte d’Azur to defend the area from invaders approaching from the Mediterranean Sea. It’s one of the only remaining examples of Carolingian architecture in France and offers incredible views of Roquebrune, Cap Martin and Monaco.
Even today, the Chateau de Roquebrune retains its grandeur, as 15th century renovations from the Grimaldi family brought it back to its former glory. Pick up an audio guide and step inside to see hidden passageways, beautifully decorated rooms set across five floors, and stand on the ramparts to admire the vistas and gain incredible photo opportunities.
There are many more beautiful chateaux in the south of France, but hopefully this list inspires you to uncover the unique stories behind each place and discover more of the French history that shaped the land we see today.
Whether you’re interested in learning about architecture and history, or simply want to experience incredible views from a hilltop, there’s a castle in France to suit.
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