13th-century Château de Chillon is worth seeing. Even if you’re completely castled-out (understandable while touring this region), Chillon warrants a stop if, for nothing else, than to see what Byron was so enraptured by.
Chillon is a well-preserved medieval castle that majestically perches over the lake amidst thick trees and snow-covered, craggy mountains.
The château was constructed in an ideal location. The mountains in front of the castle are unscalable and drop directly into Lake Geneva and the access road is dangerously narrow.
In the Bronze Age, there was no path around the lake like there is today. Instead, travelers climbed the steep slopes up to the village above then dropped back down. The Romans cut a ledge along the lakeshore and opened up the Grand-St-Bernard Pass over the Alps further south, connecting northern and southern Europe. In the Middle Ages, traffic increased so that the road was slightly widened and tolls were established. When the Gotthard Pass (further east) became popular in the 14th century, the military fortress use declined but the prison thrived.
The Counts of Savoy made this into an extravagant residence, their military and naval headquarters and a much-feared prison. The half facing the shore was a fortress and the half facing the water was for the royal apartments.
The most famous prisoner was a scholar named Francois Bonivard for inciting the Genevois to form an alliance with the Swiss against Savoy. He was shackled to a pillar for six years.
Byron and Shelley visited the castle and were enraptured by the prison. Byron wrote his famous poem,The Prisoner of Chillon, from Bonivard’s point of view. This put Chillon on the map for wealthy tourists exploring the Alps and the rest is of course, history.
Byron’s name is carved into the third pillar. Bonivard was shackled to the fifth.
The interior rooms are grand, with wooden ceilings, massive pillars, elaborate decorations, tall fireplaces and windows offering spectacular lake views.
Open daily, times vary depending on season.