You’ll find a host of fine castles scattered across the Alpine lands of Switzerland.
Switzerland’s incredible snow-capped mountains and deep blue glacial lakes have inspired thousands of travellers – alongside famous poets, artists and writers.
In fact, some of Switzerland’s greatest castles – including Chillon Castle – have inspired the writings of Byron and the art of Turner.
Let’s discover some of the greatest castles in the country.
Switzerland: A Land of Castles
Even by European standards, Switzerland is a small country – in land mass, the UK is around six times bigger. In fact, the entire country of Switzerland is only a touch bit bigger than the US state of Maryland.
Nonetheless, there are hundreds of ruined castles and fortresses scattered across Switzerland, alongside a selection of grand, long-standing fortresses.
Why so many castles? Well, Switzerland is land-locked country, bordering many other European nations. Medieval castles played a crucial role in holding power over contested lands.
Many castles were built adjacent to trade routes, or along mountain passes, to hold control over key trade routes.
Chillon Castle, on the Shores of Lac Leman
Chillon Castle is the most famous of all castles in Switzerland. It’s the most visited historic site in the country.
Chillon is a beautiful looking fortress, and is all the more impressive when reflected in the crystal waters of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman in French).
The castle is located on an little island, poking out into the cool lake. It’s strategically situated- guarding the access to a trading route through the thin Alpine valleys. The site was first used by the Romans; and a castle emerged from about 1150 onwards.
Visiting the castle nowadays, you can’t fail to be impressed at the plethora of grand rooms and impressive chambers.
However, the most evocative part of the castle is the network of vaulted, underground passageways, buried deep in the bedrock.
Strolling through these is rather like walking through a lofty, cool, subterranean cathedral.
They’re so impressive that Lord Byron was inspired to write a famous poem about a man kept captor in these dungeons – ‘The Prisoner of Chillon’. Byron even scratched is name into the walls of the castle: and you can see his graffiti today!
Oberhofen is another spectacular Medieval castle, built on the shores of a calm lake and with spectacular views of the Alps. (Notice a theme here?!).
It’s a common stop for pleasure-boats cruising the Lake Thun.
The oldest part of the castle is the 41ft tall keep, which was built in the 1200s. The walls are more than six-foot thick, and helped defend the fortress during the Medieval period.
A moat encircled the original parts of the castle, and the fortress passed between members of the Hapsburg dynasty during the 1300s. Further residential buildings were added in the 1500s.
Nowadays, most tourists stop to take a photo of the fairy-tale Lake Tower (also known as the Water Tower) – a beautiful turret perched over the lake Thun.
The existing Lake Tower is relatively modern – it was built during the 1849 remodelling of the castle, by the Pourtàles family. (In fact, they extensively rebuilt the castle, meaning its modern appearance isn’t authentically Medieval in any sense).
However the modern appearance was loosely based on the remnants of an old Lake Tower, seen in images from the 1600s.
Nonetheless, the Lake Tower delights most modern visitors: and makes for a beautiful photo.