Known for its First World War beachheads and white cliffs, any visit to Normandy is enriched by its fantastic local culture, food, and history. Many of its historical sites dotted across the region date back to when Normandy was a powerful Dukedom during the Middle Ages which, like Burgundy, rivalled in power and prestige to the kingdom of France. The Hundred Years’ War ravaged the region, and left behind it a number of castles which are now popular visitor attractions.
From the picturesque Falaise Castle and the imposing Mont Saint-Michel to the historic Gaillard Castle, the Castles of Normandy are absolutely mind-blowing places to discover. Here’s our pick of 10 of the best castles to jumpstart any adventure in Normandy.
What are the best Castles in Normandy?
1. Falaise Castle
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.
Construction was started on the site of the 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.
2. Mont Saint-Michel
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 its ancient streets. 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.
3. Chateau de Pirou
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, which provides excellent views.
4. Gaillard Castle
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.
5. Creully Castle
The Château de Creully is an 11th-century castle in Normandy. The castle has been modified throughout its history. In around 1050 it did not resemble a defensive fortress but a large agricultural domain. In around 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.
At 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.
6. Châteauneuf-sur-Epte Castle
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.
7. Caen Castle
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.
8. Château de Courcy
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.
9. Château de Conches-en-Ouche
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.
10. Colombières Castle
The Château de Colombières is a medieval castle built during the 14th century in Colombières, Calvados, Normandy. Located between Bayeux and Isigny-sur-Mer, near the Landing Beaches, the Château de Colombières is one of the most notable of Normandy at the time of the feudal military fortresses.
Today, Count Etienne de Maupeou d’Ableiges and his children will tour you around their prestigious residence.