As I’ve said a few times, my parents and I often find occasion to visit my mom’s best friend and her husband on our annual Europe trip. They work for the State Department, so are posted in a new country every few years. Last spring was their final one in Geneva, so my mom asked that we work Switzerland into our annual Europe trip.
As I began doing research on the Geneva area, I quickly stumbled across photos of Chateau Chillon clinging to the edge of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman), and made it a “must-do” in our itinerary. And apparently I wasn’t alone—Chateau Chillon is the most-visited historical building in Switzerland! That is…bananas.
ISN’T THIS DREAMY????
(also, what is it about Europeans and swans???)
Chateau Chillon is an easy day trip from Geneva, so we left in the late morning and it was about an hour’s drive to Veytaux, where Chateau Chillon is located. The castle is perched on the shores of Lake Geneva, with a gorgeous view of the mountains across the lake and of cool mountainside town on either side.
The history of Chateau Chillon
The castle first appeared on the record in the 12th century under the leaders/nobility of Savoy, and it occupied a really strategic and well-defended location. The Savoy dudes extended their domination during the next few centuries, eventually occupying a good chunk of modern French-speaking Switzerland (though not always ruling from Chillon).
The Swiss—specifically the Bernese—conquered the area in the 1500s and once again brought Chateau Chillon to prominence as a governmental center. This continued for over 250 years, until they apparently realized that sitting on all that hard stone is super uncomfortable and abandoned it for a more modern residence nearby.
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The signs and the audioguide both do a really great job of giving an in-depth history of the castle and the area, but also everyday life for people in that time. And something that really struck me as I was going through and reading all the signs was that I know almost nothing about Swiss history. I’ve always loved European history, and certainly there were bits and people within Chateau Chillon’s story that I recognized (the name/title of Savoy, for instance), but most of it had been completely off my radar.
Which brings us to our next question…to audioguide, or not to audioguide??
To audioguide or not to audioguide?
We sprung for one audioguide (6 Swiss francs a.k.a. CHF) between the three of us, and my mom occasionally gave us the downlow on different rooms we walked through. There were lots of detailed signs throughout that gave a ton of info, though. They cover not only the history of the castle, the counts of Savoy and everyone else who lived there, but also a ton on the time period and medieval castles in general.
Bottom line: The audioguide is great if you want a in-depth experience and have a lot of time (and like to listen to other people talk), but otherwise the signs are your friend.
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Oh hey, Evian! Also, Fribourg…I think I love their cheese.
The castle’s dungeons were a pretty cool architectural feat, as they were carved directly into the castle’s rock base. They even inspired Byron to write a poem (and scratch his name into one of the columns).
Look at that majestic billy goat in the window…
Even though it was a gloomy, stony-skied day, I enjoyed the moodiness that the weather lent Lake Geneva and the surrounding foothills. But man, imagine this place on a sunny day—I bet it’s glorious!
Lunch in tiny Yvoire
After we finished up at the castle, we got back in the car and drove around the lake, across the border into France and stopped at the adorable, tiny medieval town of Yvoire. As the sign below says, it’s an on-foot experience only.
We walked around the town even though the weather was kind of gray and chilly. It also sits right on the lake, so we got to enjoy the pretty dark teal water. I especially loved the church, which has a bright silver spire, stainless steel and gold leaf so it shines brightly all of the time.
Also, the Whomping Willow lives here…
I was obsessed with these odd trees that were all over the place throughout Switzerland’s cities.
We grabbed a spot of lunch before heading back to Geneva (where we made ourselves raclette, or delicious melty cheese) for dinner.
Chateau Chillon and Yvoire are a perfect day trip from the Geneva, and you could easily add wine in Vevey or other stops onto your day without it feeling rushed.
Info for planning your visit to Chateau Chillon
- Adult entry tickets are 12.50 CHF (about $13 USD), and the audioguide rental is 6 CHF
- You can check the hours based on time of year at the official website
- Yvoire is an easy drive from the chateau, and the border of France and Switzerland isn’t a problem
- Other great towns in the area would be Montreaux, Vevey (wine!), and Lausaunne
- If it’s summertime you could also take a boat trip across from Chillon to Lausanne, or go over to Nyon and take the boat across to Yvoire (we were there a little too early in the year)
- I’ve already written about one of the other day trips we made, to Gruyères in the morning and Cailler chocolate factory in the afternoon
What’s your favorite medieval castle that you’ve visited? Are you an audioguide person or not? I tend not to be, don’t have the attention span…
Other castle adventures:
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