Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Castles & Fortresses in Normandy

The Duchy of Normandy was established in 911, as a result of Viking raids into the area and as far in land as Paris. By 1204 Normandy was part of the Kingdom of France. After the Vikings and from the beginning of the 13th century to the end of the 16th century Normandy was a highly contested region. The French and English fought one series of campaigns after another, from the Normandy Campaigns to the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion. These conflicts had a very noticeable impact on the construction of fortresses and castles in Normandy. As rulers and their supporters attempted to defend their positions, castles were built, destroyed and/or damaged, repaired or reinforced. Today William the Conqueror’s castle in Caen, heavily reinforced by Philip II, and Richard the Lionheart’s castle at Andelys are popular attractions.

Private Guided Tour of Castles & Abbeys in Normandy

Explore some of the finest and most significant medieval sites in Normandy on this private tour. Available in English, French, Italian, Spanish and Polish. Begin the day in the picturesque streets of Rouen with their timber-framed buildings, Rouen cathedral and Le Gros Horloge. Beyond Rouen, visit places associated with the Vikings, William the Conqueror, Joan of Arc and Richard the Lionheart – focussed on some of Normandy’s spectacular historic abbeys and castles.

Fortresses & Castles in Normandy

Château d’Eu

Between 1830 and 1848 the Château d’Eu served as King Louis-Philippe’s summer residence; now the Musée Louis-Philippe. Here the Anglophile king welcomed Britain’s Queen Victoria twice (3 – 7 September 1843 and 8 – 10 September 1845). These State visits were the foundations of what would eventually become ‘Entente cordiale between France and England. Ironic given the older castle (in which Joan of Arc stayed) had been purposefully destroyed to evade capture by the English during the Hundred Years War.

Château de Caen

The Ducal castle in Caen was built in the 11th century as the principal residence for William, Duke of Normandy. As one of the largest fortified enclosures in all of Europe, the castle has also been used as a fort and housed various military barracks. Today the buildings within the fortifications house two of the city’s museums, namely the Musée de Beaux Arts, which has one of the largest collections of 16th and 17th European paintings in France, and the Musée de Normandie, which exhibits the history of Normandy.

Château de Canon

Canon Castle is an 18th century château built in typical Italian style, surrounded by an English garden. Through a series of marriages and rights of inheritance, the land passed through different families. During World War II, the elegant château was used as a hospital by the German SS in the area. And the trees in the garden are said to have provided camouflage for tanks. After the war, the castle housed refugees working on rebuilding the railways. Since then the castle has been lovingly restored, and is open to visitors.

Château de Dieppe

Founded in 1188, the Château de Dieppe was destroyed shortly after in 1195 and not restored until the 14th century. Later in 1694 much of the town was destroyed from an Anglo-Dutch naval attack but the castle remained intact. Up until the beginning of the 20th century the castled served as military barracks. Today, still with its spectacular panoramic views over the coast and seaside town, the castle is home to the Château-Musée de Dieppe. Besides exhibitions of a maritime theme, there is also an extensive collection of ivory objects and Impressionist paintings.

Château de Domfront

Situated on the end of a rocky outcrop, the fortified castle was first built in the early 11th century. Starting out as a square citadel with towers at each corner and surrounded by a deep moat cut into the bed rock. A Romanesque keep and chapel were added in the early 12th century. The castle was demolished in 1610 by order of Henry VI. The ruins are in a park that is freely accessible throughout the year. The local tourist office offers regular guided tours.

Château de Falaise

One of the most striking and important castles in Normandy, the Château de Falaise is the birthplace of William the Conqueror. Although there are very few remains of the castle he lived in, a motte and bailey structure. What we see today are the expansions undertaken by William’s descendants and then completed by King Philip II of France after he took the castle from the English in 1204. A popular tourist attraction in Normandy, the castle has recently been extensively renovated, with state-of-the-art multimedia displays added.

Château de Gacé

A 12th century castle built using both stone and red brick, that was then renovated in the late 16th century following a peasant revolt in Normandy. The western, round tower, known as the Talbot Tower, was constructed during the Hundred Years War. Today the castle houses Gacé’s Mayoral offices, as well as the Musée de la Dame aux Camélias – dedicated to the story and background behind the novel of the same name by Alexandre Dumas (junior). The woman who inspired the novel, Marie Duplessis, was born in Gacé.

Château de Gratot

The castle was in the same family from the 13th to the 18th century. And various architectural features were added during that period. The towers and the postern date to the 13th century, while the eastern tower and the pavilion were added in the 18th century. In 1777 the castle changed hands, and again a few more times into the 20th century, during which time the buildings were badly neglected. Following a dedicated restoration programme, the castle is once again able to receive visitors. Open to the public all year round. During the summer there are temporary exhibitions of work by local artists.

Château Gaillard

A ruined medieval fortress, or château-fort, located high above the town of Le Andelys and overlooking the Seine River. The castle was built for Richard the Lionheart, who was then both King of England and the feudal Duke of Normandy. Construction began in 1196 and was completed within two years. Advanced features common in many later castles were used here. Gaillard, for example, has one of the earliest uses concentric fortifications and one of the first uses of machicolations in the defensive walls

Walled Medieval Towns in Normandy

Domfront Town Walls

The town of Domfront developed after the construction of the castle. With its narrow cobbled streets, covered passageways and inner courtyards, the character is typically medieval. The great strategic value of Domfront lay in its position at the southern border of the Duchy of Normandy. But it was not until the Conquest of Normandy in 1204 by the French king Philippe Auguste that the town’s walls were built. The town passed between English and French control a number of times during the 100 Year’s War.

Falaise Town Walls

Falaise was home to the first Dukes of Normandy, and their first fortified castle, in which William the Conqueror was born. Not only was the castle heavily fortified, so too was the town. The towns fortifications included 2 km of walls with at least 50 towers spread along them. There were six defensive gates, three of these have survived. Falaise was one of the most important strongholds in the Duchy of Normandy, and much of this medieval greatness can still be seen today.

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint Michel is one of the most popular attractions outside of Paris. Many think it is a castle. Mont Saint Michel is not a castle. Rather, it is tidal island on which one of the most spectacular medieval abbeys was built on a conical rock, hence why is its called <em>La Merveille</em> (the wonder). A village developed around the abbey and as the island has immense strategic importance it was heavily fortified in the 14th century against attack from the English during the 100 Years War. The substantial ramparts held off English assaults.