A château (plural châteaux) is a manor house or residence of the lord of the manor or a country house of nobility or gentry, with or without fortifications, originally - and still most frequently - in French-speaking regions. Where clarification is needed, a fortified château (that is, a castle) is called a château fort , such as Château fort de Roquetaillade. Care should be taken when translating the word château into English: it is not used in the same way as "castle" is in English, and most châteaux are more appropriately described as "palaces" or "country houses" in English than as "castles". For example, the Château de Versailles is so called because it was located in the countryside when it was built, but it does not bear any resemblance to a castle, so it is usually known in English as the Palace of Versailles.
The urban counterpart of château is palais, which in French is applied only to grand houses in a city. This usage is again different from that of the term "palace" in English, where there is no requirement that a palace must be in a city, but the word is rarely used for buildings other than the grandest royal residences. The expression hôtel particulier is used for an urban "private house" of a grand sort.
A château is supported by its lands (terres), comprising a demesne that renders the society of the château largely self-sufficient, in the manner of the historic villa system of Rome and the Early Middle Ages. (Compare manorialism and hacienda.) The open Roman villas of the time of Pliny the Elder, Maecenas or emperor Tiberius began to be walled in, then fortified in the 3rd century, and evolved into castellar "châteaux." Even in modern use a château still retains some enclosures that are the distant descendants of these outworks: its fenced-off forecourt, with gates that could be closed and perhaps with a gatehouse or keeper's lodge, and its supporting outbuildings, like stables, kitchens, breweries, bakehouses, and lodgings for menservants in the garçonnière. Aside from the entrance cour d'honneur, the château may have an inner cour ("court"). Beyond, on the private inner side, the château faces a park that is enclosed, no matter how simply or discreetly.
In Paris, the original châteaux of the Louvre (originally fortified) and Luxembourg (originally in the suburbs) have lost their château name and have becomes "palaces" as the growing city enclosed them.
In the United States, the term château took root selectively. In the Gilded Age resort of Newport, Rhode Island, even the châteaux were always "cottages". But north of Wilmington, Delaware, in upscale rural "Château Country" centred on the powerful Du Pont family.
In Canada, especially in English, "château" more often refers to a hotel than a house. It applies only to the largest and most elaborate of the railway hotels built during the golden age of Canadian rail, such as the Château Lake Louise in Lake Louise, Alberta, the Château Laurier in Ottawa, Ontario, the Château Montebello in Montebello, Quebec, and most famously the Château Frontenac in Quebec City.
In other French speaking regions in Europe such as Wallonia in Belgium the word Château is also widely used and has the same significance. There was a strong French influence on the architecture of these noble dwellings in Belgium. Fine examples are the 17th century Château des Comtes de Marchin and the 18th century Château de Seneffe.