The Most Beautiful Castles to Visit in Normandy, France

Explore the birth site of William the Conqueror with a trip to Château de Falaise
Explore the birth site of William the Conqueror with a trip to Château de Falaise | © Hilke Maunder / Alamy
Konstantina Pyrnokoki

Travel Writer

It doesn’t take much for a castle to look magical. All it really needs is towers, ramparts and maybe a knight or two. But these ‘châteaux’ in Normandy are particularly alluring – some sit on rocky cliffs surrounded by lush valleys and others carry centuries-old history on their weary fortifications. Read on to discover the most beautiful castles to visit in Normandy.

Mont Saint-Michel

The fairytale abbey of Mont Saint-Michel once served as a rather picturesque prison

Technically more a fortified abbey on a rocky island than a castle, Mont Saint-Michel is one of the most impressive sights in Normandy. Dating to the ninth century, it was a Christian pilgrimage site for years, keeping invaders at bay with high ramparts and the high waves crashing onto them. It also served as a prison in the 15th century, detaining opponents to the French monarchy. Now, more than 3m tourists visit Mont Saint-Michel every year to stroll around the grand medieval fortifications and view the abbey.

Château de Gisors

Keep your eyes peeled for treasures hidden by the Knights Templar at Château de Gisors

The construction of this 11th-century fortress was commissioned by King William II of England to protect the Anglo-Norman territory from the French crown. Initially, it was a wooden keep upon a 15m (50ft) motte, but was later reinforced with a circular stone curtain wall. King Philip II of France captured the castle in 1193 and added a prison tower and barbican. Today, the French Ministry of Culture recognises the Château de Gisors as a monument historique, protected status that signifies the importance of the building to the heritage of France. Legend has it, treasures of the Knights Templar are hidden somewhere on the grounds, but they are yet to be unearthed.

Château Gaillard

Look up to see the machicolations once used to protect Château Gaillard from invaders

Château Gaillard has been overlooking the River Seine above the commune of Les Andelys since medieval times – though beautiful ruins are all that remain. Built as a military base for Richard the Lionheart in the 12th century, this chateau is a prime example of an early concentric fortification. It was also one of the first castles in Europe to use machicolations – wall openings that allowed those inside to pour hot oil or boiling water (or drop stones) on attackers. Galliard changed hands several times during the Hundred Years’ War, until the French captured it in 1449. Its destruction was ordered by Henry IV of France in 1599.

Château d’Harcourt

Find original 12th-century structures and more recent additions at Château d’Harcourt

Though only the façade of the old entrance vestibule, the chapel and one of the outbuildings remain from the initial 12th-century structure, several enhancements were added over the years to make Château d’Harcourt habitable – a curtain wall and nine round towers were built in the 13th century and there was another remodelling in the 17th century. In 1944, the SS Das Reich division of the German army set the castle on fire and with it more than 150 precious paintings. Today, Château d’ Harcourt is home to one of the oldest arboretums in France, created back in 1802, and has a botanical collection of more than 200 species.

Château de Creully

The BBC used the square tower at Château de Creully as an HQ during World War II

The lovely Château de Creully was built in the 11th century, but it’s been heavily modified over the years. It consists of a medieval enclosure with vaulted rooms and a square tower, while a Renaissance turret was added later. It wasn’t until about 1360 when it got its fortress design. During the Hundred Years’ War, the castle kept changing hands between the English and the French, with each making modifications to the structure. The chateau also played an important role in the D-Day landings of the Allied troops in Normandy, with the square tower serving as the BBC headquarters until 1944. The castle now holds events such as weddings, exhibitions and conferences.

Château de Falaise

Enjoy an immersive tour at Chateau de Falaise to uncover the history of the castle

Another castle that changed hands multiple times is Château de Falaise. William the Conqueror was born on this very site around 1028, in an earlier castle replaced by the current chateau. This was eventually inherited by William’s descendants, before being captured by King Philip II of France in the 13th century. During the Hundred Years’ War, the chateau had many more occupants before it was abandoned in the 17th century and bombarded during World War II. The castle of today, which stands on a cliff above the town of Falaise, includes many parts from the 12th- and the 13th-century structure. Around 1840, it was designated a monument historique.

Château de Gratot

Magical legends swirl around the ancient rooms and hallways of Château de Gratot

In the Norman countryside a few kilometres from the English Channel, Château de Gratot is among the most picturesque of the bunch. Its four towers were built between the 13th and 18th century and are surrounded by a large moat. The most distinct is the Fairy Tower; legend says it was once the room of a fairy who married the Lord of Argouges. For their peculiar union to work, there was one rule: the lord was never to mention death in front of the fairy. But, eventually, he accidentally did, and so the fairy flew out the window and they never saw each other again. If you visit Gratot, don’t forget to look for the fairy’s handprint in the stone.

Château de Caen

Enjoy magnificent city views from the equally beautiful Chateau de Caen

Built around 1060 by William the Conqueror, Château de Caen is one of the largest medieval enclosure castles in Europe, and offers some of the prettiest city views of Caen. The castle has been at the forefront of many battles over the years, with the English occupying it during the Hundred Years’ War. It now houses St Georges Church, built by Henry I (William’s son) in 1123; an underground area called the Rampart Rooms; a medicinal garden; and two museums, the Museum of Normandy and the Museum of Fine Arts. The chateau was declared a monument historique in 1997.

Château d’Arques-la-Bataille

The ancient walls of Chateau d’Arques-la-Bataille have seen many battles rage

Even though there’s not much left of the 12th-century Château d’Arques-la-Bataille, the ruins of this historic chateau reveal its tormented past. The castle endured several battles before becoming the last Norman castle to surrender to King Philip II of France in 1204, thus uniting Normandy with his growing French territory. Château d’Arques-la-Bataille was also where Joan of Arc was held in 1431, before she was tried and sentenced to death in Rouen. Standing on a rocky outcrop, this historic property is now the ideal spot for vistas across the Varenne Valley and all the way to the sea.

Château de Carrouges

The magnificent Château de Carrouges was built as a residence and played host to a king

This dreamlike chateau made from brick, slate and granite sits within the Normandie-Maine Regional Nature Park and was built as a stately residence between the 14th and 17th centuries. Unlike other medieval castles in Normandy, Carrouges is an example of French Renaissance architecture. It has a decorative wrought iron gate and a rectangular garden designed by Francois Gabriel in the 16th century. He also added two symmetrical wings to the garden borders. The castle belonged to Le Veneur de Tillières family until 1936, when they sold it to the French government. Inside, there’s the Louis XI Chamber (where the king stayed for one night in the 15th century), along with portraits of the chateau’s previous owners.
Looking for a gorgeous place to stay in France? Check out our pick of the best hotels in Honfleur, for every traveller, bookable with Culture Trip.

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