From the incredible Falaise Castle and the eye-opening Mont Saint-Michel to the astonishing Gaillard Castle, the Castles of Normandy are absolutely mind-blowing places to discover. There are other fabulous Normandy castles and chateaus including Creully Castle, Caen Castle and Château de Courcy, which is one of the best known castles in Normandy. Here are the best 10 things to see and do while exploring the Normandy’s forts and fortresses, with a few additional picks thrown in for good measure.
What are the best Castles in Normandy?
Falaise Castle is a fortress located in the south of the commune of Falaise in Normandy, France. William the Conqueror, the son of Duke Robert of Normandy, was born at an earlier castle on the same site in about 1028. The construction was started on the site of this earlier castle in 1123 by Henry I of England. In about 1207, after having conquered Normandy, King Philip II of France ordered the building of a new cylindrical keep. Possession of the castle changed hands several times during the Hundred Years’ War. The castle was abandoned during the 17th century. Since 1840 it has been protected as a monument historique.
Mont Saint-Michel is an imposing historic village in Normandy, France which dominates the skyline from its position atop a small rocky island. Joined to the coast via a causeway, Mont Saint-Michel is best known for its Benedictine Abbey and Parish Church. Today visitors flock to Mont Saint-Michel to view the remarkable Abbey and Church and to stroll through the ancient streets. Be warned however that the climb to Abbey is demanding. Many other sites remain including the medieval ramparts, the Mont Saint-Michel Museum of History, a Maritime Museum and the 14th century Tiphaine’s house.
The picturesque Chateau de Pirou in Normandy is one of the oldest Norman castles in existence and is now a popular attraction. The site has been occupied since the 9th century, although at that time it was a wooden construction and was updated to stone in the 12th century. It was built to defend the nearby harbour. Surrounded by a moat, with granite towers and turrets, and defended by five gates, Chateau de Pirou is simply a wonderful building, constructed just as we might imagine a fortified castle would be built. It was built by the Lords of Pirou, one of whom found favour with William the Conqueror during the Battle of Hastings, and was rewarded with an estate in Somerset. During the Hundred Years War, Pirou came under siege numerous times, and ownership of the castle changed on many occasions. It is possible to walk up to the ramparts and walk along the castle walls, and this provides excellent views.
Gaillard Castle is a ruined medieval castle, located above the commune of Les Andelys in Normandy, France. Construction began in 1196 under the auspices of Richard the Lionheart. It has a complex design, and uses early principles of concentric fortification; it was also one of the earliest European castles to use machicolations. The castle changed hands several times in the Hundred Years’ War, but in 1449 the French captured the castle from the English king definitively, and from then on it remained in French hands. The inner bailey is open to the public from March to November, and the outer baileys are open all year.
The Château de Creully is an 11th-century castle in Normandy. The castle has been modified throughout its history. Around 1050, it did not resemble a defensive fortress but a large agricultural domain. In about 1360, during the Hundred Years War, it was modified into a fortress. During this period, its architecture was demolished and reconstructed with each occupation by the English and the French. With the end of the war ownership of the castle returned to baron de Creully. Twenty two barons of the same family had succeeded to the castle between 1035 and 1682. In 1682, the last baron of Creully, Antoine V de Sillans, heavily indebted, sold the castle to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, minister of Louis XIV, who died the following year without living there. Descendants of Colbert occupied Creully until the French Revolution in 1789, when it was confiscated. The castle’s large halls are used today for various events, including weddings, concerts, exhibitions and conferences.
The ruined castle of Châteauneuf-sur-Epte is in the commune of Château-sur-Epte in Normandy, France. Construction started around 1097 by William Rufus, King of England, to reinforce the frontier along the Epte river. The castle occupied a site on the border between the Duchy of Normandy and the Kingdom of France. The castle’s role declined in the 16th century and it was ordered to be dismantled in 1647. Today the ruins are private property.
The Château de Caen is a Norman built around 1060 by William the Conqueror. His son Henry I then built the Saint George’s church, a keep and a large hall for the ducal Court. Today, the castle serves as a museum that houses the Museum of Fine Arts of Caen, the Museum of Normandy and the Exchequer of Normandy.
The Château de Courcy is a ruined castle in Normandy typical of 12th-13th century military architecture. At the start of the 17th century, it was demolished by order of Richelieu and, losing all military function, slowly became an agricultural enterprise. The condition of the site has continued to deteriorate and very little survives today.
The Castle of Conches-en-Ouche is a ruined fortress in Normandy which was largely demolished in the 16th century. Construction dates back to 1034 and the castle was captured by Philip II of France in 1199. Conches-en-Ouche Castle was the target of bitter fighting during the Hundred Years’ War and changed hands several times before being finally taken by the French in 1449. In 1591, members of the Catholic League took refuge there; seen as a potential base for enemies of the monarchy, it was demolished soon afterwards.