Fénis Castle

Fénis, Italy

Fénis Castle is one of the most famous castles in Aosta Valley, and for its architecture and its many towers and battlemented walls has become one of the major tourist attractions of the region.

The castle first appears in a document in 1242 as a property of the Viscounts of Aosta, the Challant family. At that time it probably was a simple keep surrounded by walls. From 1320 to 1420, under the lordship of Aymon of Challant and of his son Boniface I of Challant, the castle was expanded to the actual appearance.

Under Aymon's lordship the castle got its pentagonal layout, the external boundary wall and many of the towers. In 1392 Boniface of Challant began a second building campaign to build the staircase and the balconies in the inner courtyard and the prison. He also commissioned Piedmontese painter Giacomo Jaquerio to paint frescoes on the chapel and on the inner courtyard. Under Boniface I the castle reached its greatest splendor: it was a rich court surrounded by a vegetable plot, a vineyard and a garden where the lord and his guests could relax.

The castle belonged to the lords of Challant until 1716, when Georges-François of Challant had to sell it to Count Baldassarre Castellar of Saluzzo Paesana in order to pay his debts, and for the castle was the beginning of a period of decline. It was turned into a rural dwelling and became a stable and a barn.

In 1895 architect Alfredo d'Andrade purchased it and started a restoration campaign to secure the damaged structures. In 1935 a second campaign by De Vecchi and Mesturino completed the restoration and gave the castle the current appearance. The rooms were also provided with wood period furniture.

The castle is today owned by the Autonomous Region Aosta Valley, which turned it into a museum.

Architecture and interior

The keep has a pentagonal layout, with towers at the corners. It is surrounded by a double boundary wall with battlements and by a series of watchtowers linked by a walkway.

Despite its impressive defensive structure, the castle is situated at the top of a small knoll and not of a promontory or another inaccessible and easily defensible place. In fact it was not built for military purposes, but to serve as a prestigious residence for the Challant family.

The inner courtyard, at the centre of the keep, shows a semi-circular stone staircase and wood balconies. At the top of the staicase a 15th-century fresco features Saint Georgekilling the dragon, while the walls of the balconies are decorated with images of sages and prophets and proverbs in old French. The frescoes are attributed to a painter from the school of Jaquerio.

The interior of the castle is divided into three floors: on the ground floor it is possible to visit the weaponry, the kitchen, the woodshed and the storage tank to collect rainwater. On the first floor there were the rooms of the lords of the castle, the chapel with frescoes by Giacomo Jaquerio and his school and the court. The second floor, in the attic, was dedicated to the servant's quarter and is not visitable.



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Founded: c. 1242
Category: Castles and fortifications in Italy


4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Fraser Mckay (3 months ago)
Really enjoyed the visit with lots of frescos and great views.Although you have to go on a tour of the castle with an Italian speaking guide, there is a lot of Information in English.
P. C. (4 months ago)
I think this castle is good to see if 1) you’ve never seen a castle in person before, or 2) you’re under the age of 10. As English speakers, we took the only tour available which was in Italian (I don’t mind; I’m practicing). There is sufficient signage in English in each room we visited to get a sense of what we were seeing, plus we were handed a pamphlet that was partially in English. Even with all of that, Fenis castle just felt underwhelming—and not really worth the €9 each (castle only, no museum). A lot of what we saw was reproduction, approximately as old (from the period), or not from the original castle. Additionally, after the guided tour (you cannot look independently), we were invited to walk around the outside of the castle, but could not explore the inside any further. That was disappointing. I’ve seen several European castles, and this one felt like a toy in comparison, and lacked rich historical information at the site (I understood most of what was said in Italian—just no ‘juicy’ facts to make the guided tour interesting). The guide was very nice, and didn’t hurry our group so everyone could take pictures. It was just an okay tourist stop.
Toomas Kull (4 months ago)
Beautiful castle from the outside. But if you don’t speak Italian and have young children, it’s not worth visiting inside. You can only visit with an Italian guide, at allocated time slots. You’ll end up staring at empty rooms and reading descriptions of the random bits of furniture collected from random parts of Italy. You’ll wonder: did they ever think about the non-Italian visitor experience? Towards the end your kids will hate you slightly, and you’ll start planning your escape. Like, when is it appropriate to just sneak out so the tour guide doesn’t notice? Walking outside the castle is nice. There is a walking path that goes up towards the mountain through the fields from where you can take awesome photos. Walk further up and through the village above the castle and you’ll get some more nice views. If you’re here just before lunch time, you’re in luck - trattoria de bourg is worth going to for the tasty food.
Kristiina Vuolukka (6 months ago)
Beautiful ancient place and serene surroundings! We did not visit The Castle as it closed for siesta, but enjoyed having a picnic lunch on the park surrounding The Castle. March, week 12.
Jarrod Hunt (10 months ago)
Honestly one of the best castles we've ever been to, including about 100 in England. Amazing furniture, frescoes, rooms, signage and the building itself is gorgeous. The crowning glory though is the courtyard, what a beauty it is!
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