I found a lovely book at the library about the castles of the Haute-Savoie area around Geneva, each with a photo, a brief description and its often troubled history. Here are a few favourites – maybe I need to start a To Be Seen pile to go with my To Be Read pile.
Château de Coudrée
Formerly accessible only by boat, this chateau was of strategic importance in the long-lasting battle for dominance in the area between the Duke of Savoy and the Counts of Geneva and Faucigny. It has a literary connection too. In the 18th century, the Italian poet and dramatist Vittorio Alfieri was a guest here, together with his mistress, the Duchess of Albany (wife of Bonnie Prince Charlie).
Chateau de Ripaille
The initial settlement here dates from the Bronze Age. Then, turn by turn, this spectacular natural setting became the site for a Roman villa, a medieval hunting pavilion, the preferred residence of the Dukes of Savoy, a priory, a battleground between the Bernese army and the Savoyard, a chartreuse monastery and the prize given to one of Napoleon’s general for years of faithful service.
Chateau de Thuyset
Well hidden from the main road by the trees and parkland surrounding it, this fortified mansion dates from the 15th century and has been inhabited continuously by the same family, the de Foras, since 1688. It also houses a rich collection of heraldic documents.
Chateau de Thorens
Just to the north of Annecy lies this beautiful castle, which is sometimes mistaken with the Chateau de Sales (which belonged to the same family and was situated only a few hundred metres further). Sales was destroyed by Louis XIII in 1630, but this castle has remained in the possession of the Sales family (who boasts a number of bishops and even a Saint Francis of Sales within its ranks) ever since. It was actually considered a hotbed of intrigue, abuses and betrayal back in the 15th century, so it was seized from its original owners by the Duke of Savoy and given to the Prince of Luxembourg instead. The Sales family were vassals of the Luxembourgeois princes.
I hope this has given you a taste for the complicated and often bloody history of this region, plus a feel for its magnificent landscapes and architecture. Myself, I am surprised that quite a few chateaux still seem to be privately owned (all of the above except the first one, which is now a hotel/restaurant) – surely they cost a bomb to maintain! And they are not even all open to seasonal visitors to make ends meet, as many English palaces are.
As for me, well, you know I’d be content with a simple little gatehouse, such as this at Chateau de Nacqueville (not in my region, unfortunately):