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When we were visiting Switzerland a few days before Christmas we were mainly based in Geneva but we knew that we wanted to see some other parts of the country and having read about the Montreux Christmas Market we decided to get the train from Montreux to Geneva and make an entire day out of it. The only thing about Montreux that really knew about was the Jazz festival but I had a look on the internet to see what other sights the city had to visit and was immediately drawn to the Chateau de Chillon. I am a huge fan of visiting castles and this one looked like it was really well preserved so it went on the list and we made plans to visit it before we went to the Christmas Markets in the evening.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Location ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Chillon Castle has an amazing location on the banks of Lake Geneva right at the end of the lake. You can get a bus from Montreux to Castle Chillon but because it was such a nice day the day we visited we decided to walk the lake shore to the castle. We could see the castle the whole way and it really didn't look very far but it was deceptive and it took us about an hour to walk to the castle from Montreux. The walk is well worth it though as the views along the lake are gorgeous and there is so much to see that honestly take your breath away.
When you get closer to the castle you can really appreciate its location and it is situated on a rocky outcrop and looks as though it is actually floating on the lake. Behind it are the snow covered Alps and I can honestly say that it is one of the most dramatic and beautiful locations of any castle I have ever visited and I have visited quite a few.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ A little bit of history ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The site of the castle has been occupied since the Bronze Age and although no one seems to know when exactly the castle was built there have been documents found which mention the castle already being in its current location in the 12th century.
The current castle is a collection of over 100 buildings which have been expanded and joined together over the years to create the castle how it stands today. It has never been taken by siege but has changed hands from one power family to another several times over the years.
Today it is Switzerland's most visited historic landmark and has fame outside of Switzerland thanks to the Lord Byron poem The Prisoner of Chillon and for being one of the settings in the Henry James novella Daisy Miller.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Visiting the Chateau ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The outside of the chateau gives a great first impression and I was really looking forward to getting inside and seeing what is on offer. The entry fee for going inside is 12CHF for adults and 6CHF for children. This is around about £8 and £4 which isn't bad for Switzerland. There is the option of renting an ipod with an audio tour but you need to leave your passports as security and as we didn't have them with us we couldn't do this but to be honest there is no need unless you are desperate to know all the history behind the castle as there is so much to see inside without the tour.
You enter through a medieval drawbridge which really sets the scene off and gives you a good impression of what the inside is going to be like.
You go through the main gates and come into a small cobbled courtyard. When you pay to go in you are given a small map and you can start the tour from the courtyard. The recommended tour is signposted in numbers and it is pretty easy to find your way about and go from one number to the next.
The castle is much more extensive than it looks from the outside and there is everything from underground dungeons to staterooms and bedchambers. The dungeons were fascinating as you could see where prisoners were chained up and the information inside told us of how when they were chained up the small windows would allow them to hear the water lapping outside but because of the positioning of the windows they would never be able to actually see the water or the outside while being imprisoned.
We were pretty much allowed to go everywhere within the castle and I didn't see too many parts of it that were shut off from tourists and something else I liked was that they didn't seem to have the health and safety fanaticism that we have in the UK so you could actually get up close and personal with a lot of the rooms and even lean out windows as they weren't screened off.
The architecture was of course stunning and although you could see that it was being well cared for it still felt and looked authentic and not like some Disney version of how a medieval castle should look.
One disappointing aspect of the castle was in the state rooms which were very sparsely decorated. Now for me I didn't have a major problem with this as I much prefer seeing the architecture and how the rooms were originally designed but I did hear some people complain that they had removed most of the ornamental decoration that must have been there in later years the castle was occupied.
I loved the courtyards of which there were three. They were quite small but it was easy to imagine how they must have been used in medieval times. The ramparts which twisted round the top of the castle which could be walked on gave a really good view of the courtyards and the atmosphere was excellent which probably had something to do with the castle not being very busy when we visited.
You could go right to the top of the castle to the very highest room which offered spectacular views over Lake Geneva and all the way to Montreux. On the way up here there was a room that had a weapons exhibit. While this was an interesting diversion I personally would have preferred more exhibits on what life in the castle must have been like for the people living there.
Once you have finished exploring the castle there is a small gift shop where you can buy souvenirs. We had a look round but a lot of what was on offer was the usual tourist tat. One thing which it did sell was the castle wine. The castle produces its own wine made on the grounds using traditional methods. We bought some red and some white and it really was delicious and something that would make a lovely present to take home.
We spent a good couple of hours visiting the castle and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even the people in our party who were not history buffs declared it a fascinating place and well worth the detour of coming to. We visited in December so this might have had something to do with it not being as busy as anticipated but I think this really added to the trip and I can imagine in summer when the castle is thronging with tourists that it wouldn't have been as magical or as fascinating as the quietness really helped us get in the spirit of the place.
After coming out of the castle we spent another half hour just looking around the outside of it and appreciating both the location and the imposingness of the castle itself. It really is beautiful to look at and the location just makes it even more special and there are plenty of quiet spots where you can just sit and look at the castle and appreciate its splendour.
We decided as we had taken so long to get to the castle and had spent so long inside that we would get the bus back to Montreux and this was a little bit of a hike to find the bus stop. It is not very well signposted but we found it eventually and it was a quick 10 minutes back to the centre of Montreux with the bus.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Recommendation ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I would highly recommend that you visit the Chateau de Chillion if you are anywhere near Montreux or even in Geneva as it was well worth it and to me personally it was the highlight of my trip. I am a huge fan of Medieval architecture and the Chateau de Chillion is one of the best preserved and most fascinating castles that I have visited. It isn't ostentatious but this really adds to the atmosphere and you get a really good feel of what life must have been like in the middle ages. Even for those people who aren't big fans of Medieval history the location and beauty of the castle can't fail to impress.
Chateau de Chillon is open every day of the year with the exception of Christmas Day and News Years Day.
Opening times are: April to December: 09:00am to 19:00pm
October: 09:30am to 18:00pm
November to February: 10:00am to 17:00pm
March: 09:30am to 18:00pm
Every December the castle also has a Christmas fayre where there are stalls and people dress in traditional costume. It sounds a little tacky but I personally would love to go back and visit while this is happening an soak up the atmosphere.