Dungeons & towers: Chateau de Chillon

Spring finally arrived in April, and my parents came to stay over the Easter holidays. The plan was to take a road trip through Italy, but before that, we had time for some sightseeing around home.

And who doesn’t love a trip to a castle?

At the top of Lac Leman, in Montreux, there’s a real honest-to-goodness chateau – Chillon castle. I had heard it was a fun family trip, with a bit of something for everyone: secret passageways, history and art, princess towers, dungeons… So we were excited! Ok, I was excited. We packed the kids into the car and drove up the coast.

All the other times we had been in the area, it was covered in fog. Honestly, I questioned whether there was actually anything to see. But this time, it was clear day and the views were incredible! You really can see all across the water to huge alpine slopes and glacier-capped peaks, and the lake was a vivid blue in the sun. Finally, Switzerland!

The castle is adorable, too, rising up from the edge of the water with spires and arches just like a fairy tale. We walked along the water, enjoying the view.

Inside, the castle is exactly how you imagine: lofty ceilings, stately rooms, twisty passageways, hidden courtyards, tower peaks. And cold. So very cold. No wonder the fireplaces were as big as my living room.

The main rooms had window bays looking out over the water, the perfect place to sit and pretend to be a princess or a page, daydreaming away the afternoon of stuffy lessons. And a rickety ladder took us up to the highest tower, which of course J freaked out on halfway up and I had to coax her back down, backwards, through the streams of people coming up. LittleB and Grandpa said it was cool at the top, but I’ve convinced myself it wasn’t worth it, right, right?

As for the kids, I think their highlights were, obviously, the dungeon and the latrines. There was a fancy outhouse for the royals, way at the top of the castle, so their leavings could fall farther than the commoners, I guess. And I can check off my bucket list another amazing phrase spoken in earnest: LittleB, don’t drop your camera down the king’s poop hole. Also, the room was filled with poop jokes. Ok, maybe that was my highlight too.

The dungeon was dark and damp and creepy and (nowadays) filled with wine. So basically it was the best place ever! Actually, it turned out there was a famous story I didn’t know about before: “Chillon’s most famous prisoner was François de Bonivard, a Genevois monk, who was imprisoned there in 1530 for defending his homeland from the dukes of Savoy. Over his six-year term, de Bonivard paced as far as his chain would allow, and the chain and rut are still visible. Lord Byron wrote the poem The Prisoner Of Chillon (1816) about him.” We totally saw that spot.

Too soon, we had cranky hungry kids and it was time to go. But of course, not before we stopped in the gift shop to tell the kids they couldn’t buy all the kitschy magnets, books about medieval recipes (in French), or 15th century antique armor. Note to self: Gotta stop going into gift shops.

We stopped to take some lovely family photos along the water, which ended as you can imagine, with some more whining and blurry final images. And then we got back to the car before LittleB realized he lost his camera somewhere (probably in the king’s poop hole, seriously), so he and I had to go all the way back to look around. No luck. So I carted a devastated, crying kid back to the car, only to get there and see that he had put it in the trunk already and just somehow forgotten within 2 seconds of doing it. Sigh.

Blurry family
Blurry family

Anyway, the castle was fun, you should go!

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