4 Haunted Castles to Visit in France

4 Haunted Castles to Visit in France

Brave the ghosts and ghouls and discover the hair-raising splendour of some of the spookiest places in France.

Ghosts, it seems, do not need passports. They stay rooted in their territory, refusing to forsake it for centuries and centuries, sending a chill down the spine of all those who dare to trespass on their domain.

Whilst countries such as England and Scotland are renowned for their imposing castles full of ghoulish legends, French châteaux and abbeys are more known for their majestic beauty and charm. Here, however, are four French landmarks which will leave you trembling with fear.

Abbaye de Mortemer

Any location with the French word for ‘death’ in its title should come with a government health warning. This abbey, in the department of Eure, is no place for the faint of heart. A former Cistercian monastery founded in 1134, it is a daytime mix of picturesque parks and crumbling ruins. But at night, the landscape takes on a chilly and sombre tone.

Tales of ghostly sightings and paranormal activity date back over a century and an exorcism took place here in 1921. But did it work? Judging by witness accounts, it seems unlikely as there are still multiple sightings a year of various ghosts and ghouls. In 1985, the monastery even opened a museum, appropriately located in the depths of its basement, dedicated to the legends of its nightly visitors. Amongst these accounts are numerous sightings of monks in the forests surrounding the monastery, thought to be four monks who were murdered in the vicinity during the French Revolution. The ghost of Matilda of England, often referred to as The White Lady, is also thought to be present in the abbey. Matilda was forced to stay in one room of the monastery for five years by her father, Henry I, and apparently she was so unhappy that she is said to return frequently to haunt the place. The legend states that if you see The White Lady wearing black gloves, you will die within a year, but if you see her wearing white gloves, she is foretelling a happy occasion.

If you wish to face the fear head on, the monastery holds Les Nuits des Fantômes events throughout the summer. You can participate in a guided tour of the abbey by candlelight, but be sure to watch your back the main theme of this nocturnal show is based on a Cistercian monk’s text… on death!

The Abbaye de Mortemer hosts the atmospheric Nuits des Fantômes; the abbey ruins in daylight, © Shutterstock

Château du Puymartin

Nestled in the heart of Dordogne, not far from the spectacular medieval town of Sarlat-la-Canéda, this stunning castle dates back to the 13th century, and its magnitude and sheer beauty wouldn’t look out of place in a book of fairy tales. But appearances are often deceptive, as this majestic stronghold is frequently described as the most haunted castle in France.

Legend states that in the 16th century, Thérèse de Saint-Clar was enjoying an amorous encounter with her lover, when her husband unexpectedly returned from war. In his fury at this betrayal, he killed his wife’s lover instantly and imprisoned Thérèse in one of the castle’s towers for 16 years. Locked inside a tiny room, with only a small hatch to receive her food, Thérèse finally met a gruesome end here and the walls remained sealed with her body inside. Nowadays, the ghostly figure of Thérèse, The White Lady, is said to leave her room at midnight every night to wander up and down the foreboding staircase and roam freely along the heights of the ramparts, before returning to her tiny prison. Sightings of The White Lady have been reported not just by the owners of the castle but by many visitors too.

If you want to see her for yourself, the castle organises an evening event every Tuesday during the summer months, with a Hallowe’en special at the end of October. You can take a tour of the castle by candlelight to check out any paranormal activity for yourself, whilst enjoying the sights and sounds on offer – an illuminated château in all its glory, local entertainers (fire- breathers and circus acts) and delicious food and drink, all culminating in a spectacular firework display. You may not get to see any ghosts, but you’ll be entertained all the same.

Château de Panloy

As you cautiously climb the creaking wooden steps into the attic, a cobweb brushes against your face sending a chill down your spine, almost paralysing you from continuing onwards. A musty smell lingers in the chilly evening air and you frantically wave your torch around trying to decide if the deep, hearty chuckle you hear is someone in your group or another presence entirely. Then, silence… followed by a terrifying scream which jolts every bone in your body. Where did that come from? The rest of the group pushes onwards into the endless, narrow corridor and your heart races as you try desperately to keep up.

This is what it feels like to participate in a Haunted Evening at the castle. Although Panloy isn’t renowned for its ghosts and ghouls, the owners have created an exceptional night-time experience, whereby you roam the castle, its attic and its grounds in small groups to try to reconstruct the family tree by talking to the ‘ghosts’ you come across on your visit if you are – brave enough to try!

Château de Panloy is not a particularly fearsome castle. At night, however, the huge hunting trophies lining the narrow corridors seem to come alive and the mist from the adjacent river settles over the surrounding fields and forests, creating an eerie ambience. The corridors are seemingly endless, with creaking floors which are splintered and worn, and the attic is a dark, foreboding place which sends a chill down the spine, even in daylight hours. Everything is oversized in this castle – the tapestries, the huge bookcases and the deers’ heads on the hunting trophies – and in the dusky evening light, this all adds to the fear factor. Even if the ghosts in this castle are only there for entertainment purposes, you will leave here after your haunted evening having serious doubts as to whether they were real or not.

© Château de Panloy

Château de Fougeret

This is a castle which takes its ghosts seriously. Since purchasing the property, the current owners have experienced so much paranormal activity, they have opened up the castle to investigators and mediums to try to uncover the turbulent history of their abode. Bordering the Vienne River and surrounded by fields, forests and little else, Château de Fougeret is an imposing structure and everything you would expect from a haunted castle with its towers, striking façade, winding stone staircase and narrow corridors. It’s easy to imagine seeing a ghostly silhouette appearing at the dusty windows and, even in daylight, the place appears solemn. The immense surrounding forest adds to the mystery of this haunted domain, which is another contender for the most haunted castle in France. Far from a large town or population, who will hear you when you scream?
The tales of the dozen or so ghosts who still inhabit the castle will send a chill down the most sceptical spine – that of a girl called Alice who tragically died of kidney disease at just 22 years old; a former nanny who is unaware she is dead and is waiting in vain for her husband; and a bailiff from the 18th century brutally killed by an axe to the chest.

If you are brave enough to pass a night in this eerie castle, you can also participate in workshops, such as numerology, and spend time with a medium. Paranormal investigators and mediums have spent over a decade trying to document the unusual activity in the castle: countless tape recordings of ghostly voices, unexplained silhouettes and presences in photos, and multiple accounts of objects simply being moved or even passing through walls. Château de Fougeret invites you to spend a night in this extraordinary setting, but don’t expect to get much sleep. Was that a cobweb lightly touching your hair or the whisper of a phantom passing through the room?

The corridors of Château de Fougeret, © Chateau Fougeret


These magnificent buildings are open for most of the year, but for exact opening hours and reservations, contact the sites directly:

From France Today Magazine

Lead photo credit : Chateau Fougeret © Chateau Fougeret

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