4 Swiss Castles That Will Make You Feel Like a Princess
Swiss castles, Swiss lakes, Swiss Alps and Swiss cheese — without a doubt, the four best parts of a vacation in Switzerland. What’s even better? Combining as many of these lovely ingredients as possible into one. Start with a castle, place it on a lake, drop some mountains into the panorama and add a picnic of bread and cheese.
The castles below fit the bill perfectly, most on sparkling turquoise lakes, all with Alps views and some even atop hills themselves. Conveniently, they’re all within 80 miles or so of each other, to the west of Bern and in perfect daytripping distance from resort towns like Interlaken, Montreux and even Zermatt.
So grab a snack (because I know the thought of cheese made you hungry) and get ready to drool over these four Swiss castles that will give you all the wanderlust.
Chateau de Chillon
Floating on a little rock island along the banks of Lac Leman (or Lake Geneva as you probably know it), Chateau de Chillon bears the outward marks of its centuries-long legacy — well-worn and a little dingy in places, but strong and spectacular nonetheless. The castle’s roots stretch to medieval times, its legacy immortalized by Lord Byron in a heart-wrenching poem about a monk imprisoned there.
One of the most popular castles in Switzerland, Chillon is open to visitors throughout the year for a fee (check current rates and opening hours here). Before touring the castle, stop to watch a few of the short films that tell of its military and prison past, dating back to the Bronze Age, and discuss the centuries of construction and restoration that have influenced the architecture here.
Walking the storied castle, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of large, formal halls with lake views, underground rooms that held both weapons and prisoners, and a chapel with paintings from the 14th century.
Chillon is just a couple of miles from Montreux, where flower-lined walkways trace the lakeside and shops and eateries fill blocks leading up to an older, hilltop district. Backed by the Alps, the town isn’t short on breathtaking views, and has come to be known as the Montreux Riviera, a popular vacation spot since the days that Byron and his artistic counterparts sought inspiration from the glistening blue waters here.
Tourbillon Castle and Basilique de Valère
Two hills rise from the Old Town of Sion. Atop each, a chateau centuries old. Tourbillon Castle is but ruins, due to fiery destruction in the 1700s, but strong walls still ring the complex, and inside, Gothic frescoes adorning a 15th-century chapel remain intact. Gazing upon its neighbor from the opposite hilltop, Basilique de Valère displays a blend of Romanesque and Gothic styles, dating back more than 1,000 years. Inside is one of the oldest playable organs in the world.
Both historic structures can be explored, but first, you have to tackle the long run of stairs winding up each hill. The climb to Tourbillon is the longest, so if you only have time for one, Valère takes a little less effort and offers panoramic views of the castle and the town below.
At the foot of the chateaus, the town of Sion is one of Switzerland’s oldest, located in the southwestern part of the country. Stone streets here are lined with lampposts, open-air cafes and tons of monuments and museums.
Oberhofen am Thunersee
Boats bob in the teal waters of Lake Thun in front of Oberhofen Castle, a scene so perfect it’s surely been captured in a painting or two. With roots to the early 13th century, Oberhofen has changed shapes over the centuries as it changed hands, but a medieval keep remains intact, and the pointy spires and surrounding gardens give the property a romantic feel.
With a ticket, you can tour the inside to see a mural-filled chapel and rooms decorated to different eras of previous owners. In the old keep, a restored smoking room has lake and mountain views from the highest point in the castle.
Perhaps the most impressive scenes, though, are in the surrounding park, where flowers bloom in bright pinks, reds and yellows, and a shady arched walkway of hornbeams runs parallel to a sun-soaked lakeside path with benches overlooking the sparkling ripples. No entrance fee is required to enjoy the outdoor area.
Oberhofen am Thunersee, the municipality surrounding the castle, is only about 20 miles from the capital city of Bern and even closer to Interlaken. With a pier and ferries to other locales on Lake Thun, it’s easy to get around and explore the area from here.
Thun Castle watches over its eponymous town from atop a hill, drawing eyes upward with its white walls and pointy turrets. The 12th-century structure holds one of the best preserved grand halls from the middle ages, where concerts and events sometimes take place.
Upon entering the castle, you’ll find displays and relics from the cellar all the way to the 5th floor that tell tales from the castle’s early years, and the centuries that followed. Keep climbing to the top for vistas of Lake Thun and the Alps from the four turrets that corner the building.
The Aare river flows through here, carrying alpine waters from Lake Thun and diverting around a little island in town that is packed with shops and restaurants. With blue-green waters flowing under a covered wooden bridge, colorful facades lining the shore, and the white castle and tower of the Stadtkirche Thun church rising above it all, the scene could not be more fairytalesque.