“Before me I had a man who made history,” said Hollande adding that Castro, who wore a black and white sweatsuit over a checked shirt, “had a lot to say” despite his age and failing health.
Hollande called Fidel a figure of historic stature. Castro, aged 88, makes few public appearances.
The French president has urged the US Congress to lift the full embargo with Cuba, in place since 1962.
Cuba says that what it calls “the blockade” has cost more than 89 billion euros.
Hollande later met with President Raul Castro, 83, and “they raised the idea of boosting the French-Cuban partnership with respect for the pace and identity of each,” an aide to the French president said.
Castro also said that France could play a key role in strengthening relations between Cuba and Europe.