Chateau de Chillon is a romantic castle in Lake Geneva near Montreux. Chillon Castle is the most-visited historic monument in Switzerland and a great family-friendly destination. It is a fine day-trip excursion from Geneva, Lausanne, and ski resorts in the nearby Alps.
Chateau de Chillon has a beautiful location on a small island in the far western end of Lake Geneva between Montreux and Villeneuve. This romantic castle was long of strategic importance in controlling trade in the Lake Geneva region. The dungeons inspired Lord Byron. Chateau de Chillon is family-friendly destination and kids of all ages will enjoy exploring the dungeons, endless staircases, sentries walk, and donjon.
Transportation to Chateau de Chillon is easy by car, train, bus or boat making the castle a great day-trip destination for travelers in the Lake Geneva region as well as for skiers in the nearby Alpine resorts in both Switzerland and France. Chateau de Chillon is welcoming destination in all weather – even on cold and rainy days the castle is easy to enjoy.
Brief History of Chateau de Chillon in Lac Léman
Chateau de Chillon’s history goes back to the twelfth century when a castle was built on a small rocky island in Lake Geneva by the rulers of Savoy. From here, Savoy could control trade and traffic in the Lake Geneva region, as well as very important trade routes to Italy.
In 1536, the Bernese took the castle by force and kept it until the Vaud revolution (1798). By then the castle had lost strategic importance and served as storage space and gaol before becoming the most popular historic monument in Switzerland. From the nineteenth century onwards, the Chateau de Chillon has been a major tourist attraction for visitors to the Lac Léman region as well as for skiers in the Valais Alps in the Rhone Valley and the Chablais Alps in France.
Lord Byron and The Prisoner of Chillon
The most famous historical figure associated with the Chateau de Chillon is François Bonivard, a Genevan monk who was imprisoned here from 1532 to 1536. Bonivard preached the message of the Protestant Reformation in the lands ruled by the Roman Catholic House of Savoy. Bonivard was only set free when the Protestants Bernese forced the Duke of Savoy out of western Switzerland. (Neutral, peace-loving Switzerland is a more recent concept.)
Bonivard, and to a large extend Chillon itself, was made famous in the English-speaking world by Lord Byron. In 1816, following a visit to Chillon Castle, Byron penned the epic, 392-line poem The Prisoner of Chillon. Byron used poetic license with the facts, as was reflected in the inclusion of “a fable” in the original title.
Lord Byron also defaced the historic monument by carving Byron into the pillar that he (incorrectly) thought Bonivard was chained to. “Byron” is now protected by a Perspex screen and an attraction in itself – however, be very famous before attempting something similar.
Visiting Chateau de Chillon Castle near Montreux
Chateau de Chillon is visited at leisure and without a formal guided tour. A free pamphlet gives suggestions for a route that winds in and out of the building and can easily be adapted to make the tour shorter if wished. Audio guides are also available in various languages.
The main attraction of visiting Chateau de Chillon is the castle building itself and the location. Most rooms are fairly bare with few art works or furniture.
Around 50 rooms are open to visitors. Although sufficient information is available on the history of the castle, as well as historic events, no one needs to experience a history overload here. Even if paying scant attention to the information boards, it will be difficult to move through the castle in less than two hours.
Highlights of Visiting Chateau de Chillon Castle
The most popular parts of touring Chateau de Chillon are arguably the dungeons where Bonivard was imprisoned, the wooden sentries walk, and the views, especially from the top of the donjon. Don’t miss the toilets in the chambers of the Duke of Savoy and later Castellans of Bern – some are decorated with typically crude medieval art and humor.
Wonderful views can be enjoyed from many windows, guard towers, and the sentries walk. However, the best views are from the top of the 25-m high donjon. From here visitors can see much of Lake Geneva, Montreux, the Alps, and the modern transportation infrastructure that make Chillon easy to reach but also take some of the romantic out of the castle’s location.
Family-Friendly Touring Historic Chateau de Chillon Castle
The Chateau de Chillon is a great destination for families with children. There are many nooks and crannies, rooms, and multiple levels to explore. It is fun to walk on the wooden sentries walk and especially to scale the narrow, steep wooden stairs to the top of the donjon.
Families receive discounted admission tickets while children get an exploration map (available in several languages) with which to explore the castle and castle myths.
Due to the huge number of stairs and uneven paths, the castle is not suitable for strollers (buggies) or wheelchairs at all.
Opening Hours of Chillon Castle on Lac Léman
Chateau de Chillon Castle’s opening hours are:
- 10 am to 4 pm from November to February
- 9:30 am to 5 pm in October and March
- 9 am to 6 pm from April to September
Tickets for Chateau de Chillon near Montreux
Tickets for Chateau de Chillon are sold only at the draw bridge leading to the island-based castle. Admission for adults is CHF12.50 and CHF6 for children aged 6 to 16. Family tickets are CHF29 for a couple with own children under 16. The Swiss Museum Pass is accepted.
Chateau de Chillon is a great family-friendly destination and a great castle to visit in any weather. It is very popular with travelers in the Lake Geneva region as well as skiers holidaying in the Alps. Transportation to Chateau de Chillon Castle is very easy whether using public transportation (boats, trains, or buses) or by private car.