Chateaux Tourist Information
French châteaux come in all shapes and sizes. The image most often conjured by the term 'château' is of the Renaissance royal pleasure-palaces built in the sixteenth century; Blois, Amboise, Chenonceau in the Loire valley, and Fontinebleau and Versailles on the outskirts of Paris. Some of the Renaissance châteaux of course have a much older history. Many of the Loire châteaux are situated at strategic points along the river, on commanding promontories or overlooking fords or crossings, and evidence has been found of much earlier fortifications, Medieval, Roman and even Bronze Age. Some Renaissance châteaux retain part of their earlier heritage, whilst at others, the sixteenth-century builders got rid of all that old-fashioned nonsense and started from scratch.
Medieval châteaux in more remote parts of France generally escaped the decorative excesses of the Renaissance. Francis I and Henri II had no interest in travelling all the way to the wild lands of Languedoc or Provence for their refined pleasures. Carcassonne, in the deep South-West remains the most perfectly-preserved example in the world of a medieval fortified city. Until you've been there, you'll look at photos and say, "That can't be real." Sisteron, meanwhile, sits broodingly on its windswept crag in the mountains of Provence, as forbidding as anything you'll find in Wales, the Highlands of Scotland or Transsylvania.
The French are much freer in their application of the term 'château' than we would be about 'castle'. In many small communes, the château can be either the oldest or simply the largest dwelling. There's one in a tiny village near Manosque in Provence, which is actually a copy of the railway station. When the engineer built the railway line in the 1860s, he liked the village so much that he decided to build a house there, and rather than draw up new plans, he used the same plans he'd used for the village station. His new house was, at the time, the largest in the village, so it became 'Le Château'.
Then there's the bastide. The word 'bastide' signifies something fortified, which can mean anything from a farmhouse to a small town. Unlike England, which has been largely war-free (with a few interruptions) since 1066, you could reasonably argue that France was in a state of civil war from the Roman occupation up to the Paris Commune of 1871. Whilst the kings of France held nominal sway in Paris, regional Dukes battled for supremacy in the rest of the kingdom. Whether you were a Duke, a town mayor or just a farmer, this called for some serious fortification. Thus there are châteaux which are basically high-security medieval farms. The farmhouse and courtyard were protected by high stone walls, so that the livestock could be brought in and the vast courtyard doors bolted every night.every night.
You have to use the word 'château' if you're serious about producing wine. The vineyard house can be relatively modest, what counts is getting the 'château' appellation. I'm not sure how you do that, you'll have to ask. There's also the 'Maison de Maître', roughly equivalent to the English 'Manor House', i.e. the oldest or largest house in the area, i.e. 'château'. In France, a Frenchman's home is his château. Enjoy.