My favorite place in France has to be Chateau Pierrefonds! I just absolutely adored visiting this fairytale castle! It costs a pretty penny to get there, but it is well worth it to see one of the best castles in France. Situated on the southeast edge of the Forest of Compiègne, just northeast of Paris makes it a great day trip out of the city.
Getting to Pierrefonds Castle
There is no train directly to Chateau de Pierrefonds so you’ll have to take a train to the closest station which is Compiegne, then take a taxi to the Chateau. I’m told there is a bus from the station, but at the time, I didn’t find any solid information on the times it was running. I’ve seen online that it’s bus Ligne 27 Compiègne- Pierrefonds but doesn’t operate on Sundays or public holidays. Also, it appears that it only runs once a day. I found out later that it would have been cheaper to rent a car and drive there, as between my Aunt and myself we spent more on the train and taxi fare than the price of a rental. Live and learn!
Chateau Pierrefonds is included in the Paris Museum Pass so no need to fork out extra money to gain entrance. Upon arriving, you’ll find a quaint little town surrounding this gorgeous French castle. I can’t imagine growing up there; having a castle in town? Crazy!
History of a French Castle
Château de Pierrefonds was built on the site of an ancient manor overlooking the town. The original castle on this site was built in the 12th century. Then in between 1393 and 1407, the castle was rebuilt by the French court architect, Jean le Noir. Fast forward two centuries more and it was besieged and taken by troops sent by Richelieu during Louis XIII’s reign to stop his enemies from using it as a refuge. They began to demolish it but didn’t finish since it was such a large task. The exterior was razed, roofs destroyed, and holes made in the towers and curtain walls.
Chateau for Renovation
Remaining a ruin for two centuries, Napoleon I bought it in 1810 for less than 3,000 francs. It was classified a historic monument by the French Ministry of Culture in 1848. Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (later Napoleon III of France) visited the Pierrefonds Castle in 1850. He asked that the castle be restored and the “picturesque” ruins in front be kept for decor. However, plans changed in 1861, as he now wanted it to be an imperial residence so the entire castle was rebuilt. The death of Napoléon III had halted the reconstruction as well as lack of money. This in effect left the decoration of the rooms unfinished.
The work that was done, was more of invention than restoration. It was imagined by Viollet-le-Duc, a French architect, and author who restored many prominent medieval landmarks in France. He rebuilt it upon what the castle ought to have been, rather than basing his work on the history of the building. However, his work on the exterior showed his excellent knowledge of the military architecture of the 14th century.
One of the Best Castles in France
The detail in this place is insane! I found craftsmanship in every corner! The inside is mildly decorated because of the historic lack of funds, but you can still feel the aura of it. The castle has eight towers adorned with “statues of worthy” knights:
- David, Judas Maccabeus and Joshua, biblical warrior kings
- Caesar, Alexander the Great and Hector, kings of great empires and heroes of Antiquity
- Charlemagne, King Arthur and Godfrey of Bouillon, Christian heroes of the Middle Ages
Chateau de Pierrefonds with Merlin
For those TV and Film buffs out there, you’ll probably recognize it from Merlin, Narnia, Man in the Iron Mask, and more! Since filming has ceased for Merlin at the Chateau, the traffic has slowed down. There were probably 10 other people in the whole place while I was there. We really had free reign! You’re handed a map upon entering by one of their wonderful staff and that’s about all the guide you’re going to get. Unless you speak French, you’re on your own. And honestly, the map of this French castle alone was perfectly sufficient to take a tour.
Knights of the Round Table
The large room pictured above was used to house the round table for the knights in Merlin. It has also been used for many other films. The room has two levels and is very very long. There’s a huge fireplace that was taller than my Aunt! A lot of the decorations were wood carved if I remember right. The other cool thing was that the furniture in there is original.
Tales of the Crypt
Just when I thought this place couldn’t get any better it did! I was warned not to miss the crypt below Pierrefonds Castle. They have it set up with all these lights and music. There are also spirits whispering in French. Sorry, my French is nowhere near good enough to translate. It felt like the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland but better since it was real!
The exhibition is made up of casts of “Le Bal des Gisants” which are funerary sculptures commissioned by King Louis Philippe to pay tribute to the great figures of history that brought glory to France. Originally displayed at the Palace of Versailles, this collection is today kept at Pierrefonds. Just another reason Chateau de Pierrefonds should be on your list of the best castles in France to visit!