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Castle of Chillon

Château de Chillon, Montreux, Switzerland

Swiss lake steamer at Castle of Chillon

ABOVE: A Swiss lake steamer approaches the Ch�teau de Chillon on Lac L�man near Montreux.

A few jaded cynics might call it a tourist trap, but let's be fair: The Ch�teau de Chillon (a.k.a. Castle of Chillon) is a genuine 13th Century castle just outside Montreux, Switzerland, not a plaster replica at Disney World.

What's more, Lord Byron's famous poem,The Prisoner of Chillon, was about a real person: Fran�ois Bonivard, a lay official at St. Victor's priory in Geneva, who spoke out in favor of the Reformation and was shackled to a stone pillar by the Duke of Savoy from 1530 until the Bernese conquest of Vaud in 1536.

The castle appears to rise out of the waters of Lac L�man, where it occupies a rocky islet and is connected to the mainland by a small wooden bridge. The setting could hardly be more dramatic--and it's certainly beautiful, at least to modern visitors who know they won't be assigned to basement quarters for an indefinite stay.

In the old days, its scenic location had a more practical value: The castle faced the road between Bergundy and Italy, thereby protecting the House of Savoy's military and commercial interests.

A thousand years and counting

No one is sure when the castle was first built. Its site has been occupied since the Bronze Age, but most historians date the oldest parts of the ch�teau to about a thousand years ago and credit Pierre II of Savoy with building the present structure in the 13th Century.

The infamous dungeons were literally carved from the rock that supports the castle's foundations. The visible portions of the castle include some two dozen buildings around three courtyards, all jammed together in a classically crowded medieval style.

For the last 200 years, the ch�teau has been owned by the Canton of Vaud, and it has been a tourist attraction since it was visited (and popularized) by 19th Century poets and authors such as Byron, Shelley, Victor Hugo, Hans Christian Andersen, Flaubert, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens.

Open daily to visitors

The Castle of Chillon is open every day except Christmas and New Year's. Hours vary by season; see the castle's official Web site for hours and admission fees.

How to reach the Castle of Chillon

Lake steamers of the Compagnie G�n�rale de Navigation sur le lac L�man (CGN) offer year-round service to the Ch�teau de Chillon from between Montreux, Vevey, and other locations in the vicinity.

During spring, summer, or fall, boats connect the castle to Lausanne, Geneva, and other cities. Check departure times with the CGN's journey planner.

A less scenic but quicker option is the No. 1 public bus from Montreux. Take the bus toward Villeneuve and get off at the castle.

To reach the Ch�teau de Chillon by car, motorcycle, bicycle, or on foot from Montreux, head toward Villeneuve on the lakeside road or the marked path. The castle is 3 km (2 miles) from Montreux.

Related articles and links

Our illustrated article has practical advice and links. Also see our other articles on Canton Vaud.

Castle of Chillon
Check the ch�teau's official site for current admission hours, ticket prices, and other information.

The Prisoner of Chillon
The castle-inspired poem by George Gordon, Lord Byron, was written in 1816.

A Tramp Abroad: Chapter XLII
Mark Twain takes a contrarian view of Fran�ois de Bonivard's imprisonment with his description of "a nice, roomy dungeon.") From Project Gutenberg.

More photos:

Ship of CGN, or Compagnie G�n�rale de Navigation sur le lac L�man, at the Ch�teau de Chillon

CGN ship at Castle of ChillonLake steamers of the Compagnie G�n�rale de Navigation sur le lac L�man stop at the Ch�teau de Chillon.

Visit the CGN Web site for a journey planner, timetables, and fares. (You can save money with a Swiss Pass or the local Montreux Riviera Card.)

Window boxes at Castle of Chillon, Montreux

The Ch�teau de Chillon is less forbidding than many castles, thanks to the Swiss penchant for hanging flowerboxes in places where one might expect to see archers or cauldrons of boiling oil.

Parapet walk in Castle of Chillon

This view shows a parapet walk inside the castle courtyard, with one of several medieval towers behind.

Most of the current structure was built in the 11th to 13th Centuries.

Staircase at Castle of Chillon, Montreux, Switzerland

Sentries' gallery at Castle of Chillon, Montreux

As you explore the Castle of Chillon, you'll climb staircases and walk along the sentries' gallery.

Interior of Ch�teau de Chillon, Montreux, Switzerland

The interior of the Ch�teau de Chillon has rooms from different eras.

Some are furnished to look as they might have appeared in the castle's heyday; others house collections of antique weapons and pewterware.

Ch�teau de Chillon - barrel-vaulted ceiling

Tapestry in Ch�teau de Chillon

A barrel-vaulted wood ceiling, tapestries, and other decorations add warmth and a human touch to the the stone ch�teau's otherwise chilly interior.

Latrines in Castle of Chillon, Montreux, Switzerland

The 13th Century latrines are for display purposes only.

Ch�teau de Chillon dungeons

The dungeons are the best-known feature of the Ch�teau de Chillon, thanks to Lord Byron, who wrote:

There are seven pillars of Gothic mould,
In Chillon's dungeons deep and old,
There are seven columns, massy and grey,
Dim with a dull imprison'd ray,
A sunbeam which hath lost its way,
And through the crevice and the cleft
Of the thick wall is fallen and left;
Creeping o'er the floor so damp,
Like a marsh's meteor lamp:
And in each pillar there is a ring,
    And in each ring there is a chain;
That iron is a cankering thing,
    For in these limbs its teeth remain,
With marks that will not wear away,
Till I have done with this new day,
Which now is painful to these eyes,
Which have not seen the sun so rise
For years-I cannot count them o'er,
I lost their long and heavy score
When my last brother droop'd and died,
And I lay living by his side.

(From The Prisoner of Chillon
by George Gordon, Lord Byron)

Related article:
Montreux, Switzerland

About the author:

Durant Imboden photo.Durant Imboden is a professional travel writer, book author, and editor who focuses on European cities and transportation.

After 4-1/2 years of covering European travel topics for, Durant and Cheryl Imboden co-founded Europe for Visitors in 2001. The site has earned "Best of the Web" honors from Forbes and The Washington Post.

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