Southern France has many wonders waiting for you, like its hazy lavender fields and idyllic vineyards. Whilst prominent cities like Toulouse and Nice will no doubt catch your attention, it’s worth venturing into the smaller towns and villages to discover the south’s hidden mysteries.
Castles have always been one of those places that are capable of ticking all the boxes you could want from a landmark – architecture, history, great views, and more often than not stunning surroundings. French castles are some of the best-known in Europe, and there are many to be explored!
From castles that housed the richest aristocrats to those that played roles in resistance and rebellion, here is a list of some of the best castles in the South of France.
- 1 12 Best Castles in Southern France
- 2 Plan Your French Itinerary
- 3 More Castles Around Europe
12 Best Castles in Southern France
Palais Des Papes
Located in Avignon’s beautiful old town, this castle and palace is one of the largest and most significant pieces of Gothic architecture. In fact it’s considered to be so not just in France but across Europe. If you’re a fan of collecting UNESCO World Heritage Sites, then this is a chance to tick another off your list!
The name translates to the “Palace of the Popes” and that’s because it was built under the instruction of two popes, Benedict XII and Clement VI respectively, in the 14th century (between 1335 and 1364 to be precise). Of course, bits and pieces were added on as time went by.
This grand and imposing palace housed the popes after they were exiled from Rome. Its precarious connection to religion makes it a unique and one-of-a-kind castle. Walk up from the Rhone River through the Jardin des Doms to make your journey there spectacular! And be sure to visit the Chapel of the Popes and the Great Audience Chamber before you leave.
This medieval castle in the city of Carcassonne was once the home of the Counts of Carcassonne. It was built in the 12th century within the fortified walls of the medieval Cite de Carcassonne, which is beautifully preserved even today.
It has housed countless aristocrats, and in the 13th century, it became a royal fortress. The castle is now run as a museum, and there’s a lot of information about the city’s history within its walls.
The château was influential until the 17th century, but by the 19th century it was in need of some serious restoration. Whilst you can get into the Cite de Carcassonne for free, it’s an additional 8.50 euros to enter the Château Comtal.
Chateau de Foix
Once you’re in the town of Foix, follow the winding cobblestone path up to the castle and immerse yourself in this 10th century château, which was the seat of the Comtes de Foix during the medieval era.
Once it had lost its prominent role in politics the castle became a prison, which left its own marks and terrible tales waiting to be discovered by those passing through. Aside from all the other things the castle has been, it was significantly also a shelter for the Cathars who were on the run during the crusade against the Albigensians.
Though the rooms of the castle themselves are empty, there’s a fantastic museum within, where you can explore artillery exhibits and learn all about the Counts of Foix, from the personal to the political aspects of their lives. They occasionally host workshops where you can learn about life in the Middle Ages hands-on too! Entry is around 11.50 euros for adults, and some 8 euros for children.
Though the Château Borély doesn’t much resemble a castle, it’s definitely worth adding to the list of things to do in southern France. It was constructed in the 18th century by the Borély family, who were rich and influential at the time, and it sits in Marseille’s famous Parc Borély.
If you’re not a huge castle fan but you’re traveling with someone who is, you’ll be pleased to know that three super cool museums, the Museum of Decorative Arts, Earthenware and Fashion, await you inside the Château!
Explore the different period decorated rooms of the Château Borély free of charge (but bear in mind the museums may have their own entry costs). Bring a picnic along and combine your visit with a lazy afternoon in the park, the perfect outing for a slow, sunny Sunday.
Chateau des Baux de Provence
Whilst no longer in its original condition, the Château Des Baux De Provence is still worth a visit. The ruins of the ancient castle sit atop the plateau of Les Baux, and it was strategically positioned here to offer a military vantage point with views over the town of Baux.
Its history goes back to the 10th century and on a clear day you can see the rugged Alpilles mountains and the Camargue delta in the distance. As well as the fantastic views from the top there are also replicas of siege engines and the biggest trebuchet in Europe on-site!
It’s 10 euros to get in, but it’ll take you a good few hours to explore the whole château and there’s a lot of hidden history to be uncovered so it’s worth every penny.
Chateau de la Napoule
This charming little castle along the coast of the Mediterranean, in Mandelieu-la-Napoule near the city of Nice, has a unique past and a quintessentially fairy-tale-like appearance. It was built in 1387 by the Count of Villeneuve. It was later bought by a rich American billionaire and his wife. Henry, who was himself a sculptor and landscape architect, and Marie Clews restored the castle and brought it back to life. It was also occupied during the Second World War by the Germans, which left a mark on the castle’s history.
Today, the interior is riddled with period decor and old-fashioned charm, as well as Henry’s gorgeous sculptures. They also did wonders with the gardens. There are now three Italian-style gardens, a French formal garden, and an English landscape garden. They’re so fabulous they were added to the Notable Gardens of France by the French Ministry of Culture!
Inside the castle, you can also visit the La Napoule Art Foundation, and there’s a restaurant worth dining at on the terrace. You can go on a tour of the castle and gardens for only six euros.
Chateau de Gordes
The first parts of the Château De Gordes fortress were constructed in the 11th century, but it was slowly expanded to resist enemy attacks. In the late 15th century and early 16th century, it underwent a huge renovation under the ownership of a nobleman, converting the old medieval fortress into a luxurious Renaissance home. Since then it has been many things, from a granary to military barracks and later a prison.
It sits atop a high hill in the heart of Gordes, a village of the same name, in Provence. There are splendid views of the Coulon Valley from the castle and entry costs are only five euros per adult and kids under 12 can visit for free.
Chateau de Bonaguil
Majestic and rundown, the Bonaguil Castle was first built in the 13th century, then expanded and fortified with extra defense structures around the end of the 15th century.
It stood, ready for battle, throughout the Middle Ages but it was never attacked! If you’re interested in the military role of castles then the moats, turrets, towers, and drawbridges will keep you busy!
You’ll find the castle above the little village of Saint-Front-Sur-Lemance. Entrance fees are 9.50 euros for adults, and 3.50 euros for children 6 to 12.
Chateau de Tarascon
Wander into the sleepy town of Tarascon and along the Rhone River to the elegant Château De Tarascon. The castle is surrounded by an epic moat, and boasts the classic round towers one always pictures when conjuring up an imaginary castle.
Sadly the structure you see today isn’t the original 13th century building as that was completely destroyed, and the new chateau was built in its place in the 15th century.
When you’re there, catch some sun strolling the inner courtyard, take in the stunning views from the castle’s rooftop, then end your visit in the cute chapel. Entry prices are 7.50 euros for adults and less for students and children.
Chateau de Castelnaud
Found in a village of the same name, the Château De Castelnaud is one of the most visited French castles. The 12th century fortress overlooks the Dordogne River and it’s known for the stunning panoramic views it offers over the surrounding valley and for the artillery and artifacts from the medieval period on show inside.
The castle played a prominent role in the Hundred Year’s War between England and France between the 14th and 15th centuries, and has a history intricately woven with military conflict.
Tickets cost just under 12 euros for adults, and 6 euros for kids over 10, with little ones going for free.
Chateau de Vauvenargues
The Château of Vauvenargues is the former home of the 13th century Archbishop of Aix. Much of the original chateau is still standing today, though it was modified extensively in the 17th century.
It housed various noble and royal families in its prime, and in 1958 it was bought by Pablo Picasso! Did you know some of the artist’s finest pieces were painted here? He was later buried on the site too.
The castle is still in the Picasso family and it’s currently private property so you can only visit during certain months when the Cezanne and Picasso exhibits are going on.
Chateau des Milandes
Situated in Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, this stunning castle brings children’s books to life. It was built in the 15th century as a residence for the noble wife of Francois de Caumont (who owned more than one castle!) in a Renaissance style.
Sadly it was abandoned after the French Revolution and its condition deteriorated significantly, until Josephine Baker (an American musician, dancer, and activist) purchased and restored it in 1947, living there with her 12 adopted children. Using her creativity she brought the Château des Milandes to life with stained glass windows and other pretty features. The traditional exterior contrasts beautifully with the castle’s unique Art Deco interior. The gardens are spectacular too!
Josephine named it her “Sleeping beauty castle” and she lived there with her gorgeous “Rainbow Tribe” as she liked to call their family. This incredible woman also used the castle as a hiding place for Jewish refugees and weapons for the Resistance during the Second World War. Few castles have housed such awesome women in recent times.
There you have it, 12 awesome castles in the south of France you should visit while traveling around France. Which will you visit first?
Plan Your French Itinerary
Looking for more inspiration to help plan your trip around France? These may help!
- Beautiful Towns and Villages in Dordogne
- Best Places to Visit in Northern France
- Provins: A Great Day Trip From Paris
- Wine Tasting in Corsica
- The Best Books Set in France
More Castles Around Europe
Looking for more castles in Europe? Try these!
- Beautiful Castles in Spain
- The Best Castles in Latvia
- Awesome Castles in Poland
- The Best Castles in Hampshire, England
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