Fortifications dot the strategic Burgundian landscape, ranging from well-defended manor houses to romantic castles bristling with mosaic-roofed towers. Some remain in private hands, having been owned by the same family for hundreds of years. Many of these châteaux, which cost a fortune to maintain, exhibit a rather romantic state of disrepair. We visited three dramatic châteaux on this latest trip, each of which I recommend exploring yourself.
This castle in the Parc naturel régional du Morvan, between Vézelay and Saulieu along the ancient Roman Via Agrippa, has been occupied by the same family for 10 generations (aside from a brief interruption during the French Revolution). The guided tour of the interior, offered three times daily, is only in French, but pages in English describe the rooms well. I was especially taken with the huge, if faded, 17th-century tapestries in the guard room; the grand but cozy wood-paneled library; and the cheerful Palm Bedroom, which retains much of its 1620s décor.
Château de Chastellux
Tel. (33) 6-76-75-83-71
We visited this family-owned château as an excursion from the Hirondelle, and we had the impressive 12th-century fortification entirely to ourselves. Its towers rise up from the vineyards of the Côte Chalonnaise, and the ornate interiors display a large portion of their pre-Revolution furnishings. Our barge’s guide did an excellent job illuminating the castle’s history, but anyone can make advance reservations for a private tour with a member of the family. Official tours can even be followed by a wine tasting.
Château de Rully
Tel. (33) 3-85-87-20-89
Perched on a hillside with panoramic views, this 13th-century castle looks straight out of a fairy tale. An array of spire-topped turrets surrounds a flower-filled courtyard, and much of the roof is covered in multicolored tiles. A brochure in English describes the salient features of the Gothic and Renaissance interiors, including the heroic dining room and an exotic “Chinese Room” furnished with gifts from the Empress Dowager Cixi. Be sure to take the unmarked path up the hill behind the ticket office: Turn left at the end of the wall and take the high trail, which leads to a splendid overlook of the château.
Château de La Rochepot
Tel. (33) 6-80-64-76-52