Chillon Castle is amongst the Top Monuments and Sights in Switzerland
Romantic Chateau de Chillon in Lake Geneva near Montreux is one of the top castles to see in Switzerland. This Swiss medieval fortress is a great day-trip destination to visit with children.
Chateau de Chillon is a great medieval castle on a small rocky island in Lake Geneva a drawbridge length away from the mainland. It is just south of Montreux and a pleasant day-trip destination from many towns and resorts in the Lac Léman region including Genève, Lausanne, Vevey, Montreux, and the French resort town Evian. Visitors to nearby ski resorts in Switzerland (including cantons Vaud and Wallis), as well as France and Italy may find it a very rewarding bad-weather destination too. Chillon is a top Swiss destination for families and children.
Historic Chateau de Chillon Castle in Lake Geneva near Lausanne
Medieval Chateau de Chillon is beautifully located on a rocky islet just a few feet away from the eastern shores of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman). The castle was first mentioned in the mid-twelfth century when the counts of Savoy erected it to protect the strategic trade route going from Italy through the upper Rhone Valley to Lake Geneva and other destinations north of the Alps.
Romantic Chillon Castle was long a strong hold of the House of Savoy that ruled this part of Switzerland, France, and Italy for centuries. Chillon served the Dukes of Savoy as residence and stronghold but also as storage space and prison.
Lord Byron and the Prisoner of Savoy at Chillon Castle
The most famous prisoner held in Chillon Castle was Francois Bonivard – a monk that was arrested and imprisoned various times by the House of Savoy. His crime was preaching in the territories ruled by the staunchly Roman Catholic Savoys the Protestant Reformation that took hold in the free city of Genève.
Bonivard was still in the dungeons of Chateau de Chillon when the Bernese successfully took the castle by force in 1536. The Savoyards capitulated before any major damage was done to the castle and fled the fortress through one of the dungeon doors at water level and on over the lake to other properties still belonging to the Savoys.
In the post Napoleonic period, Lord Byron visited Chillon while touring the Lake Geneva area. He was inspired by the story of Bonivard and imagined all kinds of things including the pillar he thought Bonivard was chained too. Byron scratched his name on this particular pillar – his defacing of an historical monument is now regarded as a top sight here too.
- Byron subsequently penned the poem The Prisoner of Chillon as an epic tale of the heroic suffering of Bonivard.
During the Napoleonic era, the locals managed to loosen the control of the Bernese and Chillon came into the possession of the newly created Swiss canton Vaud.
Visiting Chateau de Chillon – a Top Swiss Medieval Castle
Chateau de Chillon is a joy to visit. It is seen without a guided tour – free information leaflets provide sufficient details and a recommended tour makes it easy to see all the numbered sights without enforcing the full route.
Visitors can see over 40 rooms of the castle and the touring route literally covers all lengths from the dungeons to the top of the keep. In the dungeons and cellars, visitors can actually see the rock on which Chillon Castle was built, Bonivard’s prison, and Byron’s graffiti. The private and state rooms used by the house of Savoy and later the castellan of Bern are also on the tour route. In general, art and furniture are rather sparse making it easy to enjoy visiting the castle even with small children in tow.
Chateau de Chillon has a surprisingly large number of lavatories – many a medieval castle made do with only one. The first one on the touring route has some crude medieval art and jokes on display too to help confirm that toilet habits in medieval times required little privacy.
The latter parts of the tour route are particular fun for children and include the sentries’ walk, bastions and the keep. Views from most windows are great but the best are from the top of the keep. However, these are not that much better to make it worth scaling the steep wooden staircases during busy periods.
Chillon Castle is a medieval military building and thus not accessible to wheelchairs, buggies or strollers. Uneven floors and many stairs may also be problematic to the walking infirm.
A recent visit on a very quiet day required two-hours to complete the full tour route at a slightly hurried pace – small children prefer running to the next galley or staircase to admiring the carving on the doors.
Restaurants at Chateau de Chillon near Montreux
Food and drink are not available inside Chillon Castle but a small kiosk operates right at the entrance with outdoor seating during summer. Picnic spots are plentiful on the lake shore too. Toilets are available at the kiosk or inside the castle itself.
The Taverne du Chateau de Chillon is a restaurant right across the road from Chillon Castle. It looks typical old-style Swiss tourist restaurant. On a quiet day, service was friendly and fast and prices fairly typical. We only had a cheese fondue – it is hard to mess that up even with a captive audience – so cannot really comment on the quality of the other dishes.
Many more restaurant options are just a few minutes’ drive or bus ride away in Montreux.
Chateau de Chillon is an hours’ drive from Genève but many other transportation options are available. Opening hours are long – Chillon Castle is only closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Admission is fair for what is on show – many lesser Swiss monuments charge the same and many private sites much more. The Swiss Museum Pass is valid.