Everything you ever needed to know about French Châteaux!
Welcome to frenchchateau.net - the site that specializes in detailed information about French Châteaux - written in English.
Our online database of the châteaux of France now lists 9,500 châteaux - of which we have pages (with photographs, maps and information) for 2,882. Our "château directory" has individual pages dedicated to each château - with brief historical information, location and links to further information. Our work on this site has just begun - more info coming soon!
If you have additional château information or photographs that you would like to donate to this site, we would very much welcome your contribution (as far as permitted by copyright).
If you are an owner or an estate agent representing French châteaux, we would be delighted to add your information to the relevant page and to assist you thereby in promoting your château.
Come, explore the fascinating world of the French château with us! Thank you for your interest in the beautiful heritage of France and we hope you enjoy your stay.
Alex Newman - FrenchChateau.net
French Chateaux - a brief introduction
From the palatial châteaux of the Loire valley to the petits châteaux ("little chateaux") of rural France, the French château is at once a glimpse into a bygone era, an art form of its own and a window into the "grand style" of old France.
What is a Château?
The word "château" is essentially the French word for "castle" - yet the diversity of the French châteaux in size and style shows that the word has a greater meaning than simply a castle. Chateaux now include palaces, medieval forts, manor houses and mansions. A better meaning might be "fortified building"; however, the exact meaning of the word has shifted slightly throughout the ages.
The early château: Prior to the 15th century, a château was the exact equivalent to the English castle. These buildings were fortresses, designed to withstand attack or siege - with very thick stone walls, a donjon (keep), towers, arrow slits and all the other classic design features of the medieval fortress. Often placed strategically on hilltops or in other important locations, these châteaux were the administrative center of the nobleman of the region and contained a home, barracks, prison, armory, storehouse and treasury.
Later châteaux: The advent of the large cannon changed the face of château building: After 1494, when the cannons of Charles VIII destroyed numerous castles and proved beyond dispute that the construction of massive fortifications was now essentially futile, the meaning of the word château gradually shifted. The older castle-style chateau came to be known as the "château fort" ("strong château") - and the word château came to encompass mansions, stately homes, palaces and manor-houses. The Renaissance chateau was an upscale residence, and the association of the word shifted gradually towards meaning an architectural style than a denotation of an administrative function.
Chateau, Manoir, Maison Forte, Belle Demeure and more - a brief glossary of terms:
Investigating châteaux and other French properties, one will quickly discover that there are many terms used for different types of dwelling in France - and this can be confusing at first. Here are some terms for the explorer:
Château fort: "Strong Château" - a term used to denote the old "castle" style chateau built before 1500.
Petit Château: "Little Château" - as the name suggests; modest in size yet still with architectural features of the château such as one or more towers.
Ruines: "Ruins". This term means that the building is uninhabited, typically with timbers gone - however ruins may often be a complete "shell" of an abandoned building.
Vestiges: "Vestiges". This term means that there is very little left of the place. The building is in ruins, with only a small part of the ruin still existing - a broken tower, a couple of crumbled or overgrown walls etc.
Manoir: There is some blurring of boundaries between the terms château and manoir, with the two terms being used somewhat interchangeably: A manoir is essentially the equivalent term to the english manor-house - and may denote a fortified manor. Looking at photographs of some of the smaller chateaux and some manoirs, one may be uncertain as to the difference. According to http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manoir - the difference is not architectural but functional - the manoir denoting a farming profession, whereas the lord of the chateau exercised honorary, military or administrative functions. In old times, a château was the residence of a nobleman, who may have been permitted to create dungeons and other features of a person of status. The manoir was the property of the non-nobleman who could still afford a sizeable property. The old manoir might thus include some defensive features such as round towers with arrow slits.
Maison-forte: "Fortified house".
Belle Demeure: An upscale home or stately home - literal meaning "beautiful dwelling".
Domaine: An "estate" - complete with main residence, large amount of land and outbuildings.
Maison de Maître: "Master's house". A larger, bourgeois town house of a certain style, typically with high ceilings and four main rooms on each floor.
Mas: A medium to large country house in the South of France, particularly in Provence.
Gîte: Originally meaning "cottage", the gîte now denotes a holiday home available for rent. May be an old converted farmworker's cottage, but could be any other building, but separate to the main residence of the owner.
Chambre d'Hôtes: Literal meaning "Bedroom of the Host" - this is the classic French "bed and breakfast" where one stays in the main house. Numerous château owners offer chambres d'hôtes and this is a common means for the visitor to experience the château and the culture of the region.
How Many Châteaux are there in France?
There are, astonishingly, several thousand chateaux in France - possibly over ten thousand if one includes all the ruins, sites of ancient castles, manoirs and palaces. In some places there are so many that from one hilltop château one can see others on the surrounding hills! Some are wonderfully preserved and have been transformed into luxurious residences or accomodations, whereas others are in ruins. In some cases the location of the original château has even been lost in the mists of time!