Chillon is said to be unique both in location and style -- one side a fortress facing the ancient road towards Italy, the other a princely residence facing the lake. It’s certainly a most imposing sight, as well as being gloriously located so as to give great views across the water with the Alps in the distance.
The castle has a long and distinguished history -- the earliest written reference dates from 1160 (though it’s believed that the rock on which the castle was built was inhabited in antiquity), and Roman coins and debris were found during excavations in 1896.
Over the gatehouse (on stilts, replacing the drawbridge) to buy tickets and into a courtyard (if you’re lucky, there are medieval dance performances at weekends) with various chambers containing exhibitions of old landscapes and some portraits. The signposted tour (you get a map with your ticket) takes you into the dungeons where the Savoyard dukes imprisoned François Bonivard -- look for the ring and chain on the fifth pillar along. The dungeon is, spookily, still complete with barred window looking out over the water, which these days laps below floor level (Byron wrote about the damp and that the room was often flooded -- the inscription of his name on the third pillar can be seen).
Next, upstairs, you go into the remarkably grand knights’ halls, follow secret twisting passages between lavish bedchambers, look through Gothic windows (often open for the views), and see the 14th-century frescoed chapel (which cheats, cleverly, with modern trompe-l’oeil slide projections of coloured images on the back walls where the decorations have faded).
Top sights are the Bernese bedchamber, which still has its original 1580s bird-and-ribbon decorations; and the Hall of Arms, which is covered with escutcheons of the Bernese bailiffs. The Lords' Chamber is also well preserved, with original 13th- and 14th-century paintings and a fabulous chimneypiece with rustic scenes of animals in an orchard with St. George slaying a dragon; the adjacent Great Hall of the Count enjoys chequered walls, a 15th-century wooden ceiling, and quite breathtaking views over the lake. Lastly, there is a ramp up to the clock tower for a bird's-eye view of the castle interior and the surrounding areas.
Open Jan./Feb. and Nov./Dec. 10am-4pm; March & Oct. 9:30am-5pm; April to Sept. 9am-6pm. Accessible by train (stop of the same name) and car (recommended drive of about 2 hours round the lake from Geneva for some gorgeous views, plus stop-offs in Vevey (for a well-preserved medieval village) and Evian, for the waters - bring your passport to cross into and back out of France en route).