Castle of Chillon
Château de Chillon, Montreux, Switzerland
A few jaded cynics might call it a tourist trap, but let's be fair: The Château 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: François 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 Léman, 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 château 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 château 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 Générale de Navigation sur le lac Léman (CGN) offer year-round service to the Château 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 Château 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
Castle of Chillon
The Prisoner of Chillon
Tramp Abroad: Chapter XLII
Lake steamers of the Compagnie Générale de Navigation sur le lac Léman stop at the Château 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.)
The Château 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.
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.
As you explore the Castle of Chillon, you'll climb staircases and walk along the sentries' gallery.
The interior of the Château 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.
A barrel-vaulted wood ceiling, tapestries, and other decorations add warmth and a human touch to the the stone château's otherwise chilly interior.
The 13th Century latrines are for display purposes only.
The dungeons are the best-known feature of the Château de Chillon, thanks to Lord Byron, who wrote:
Photos 1, 2, 3 copyright © ST/Swiss-Image.ch
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