When I was a little girl my favorite time of the day was bedtime stories. I couldn’t wait for my mom to sit next to me and open those books: “Once upon a time…” Immediately I was plunged by her words in a fantasy world of beautiful princesses, fearless kings, brave knights, and enchanted castles. Later, when she took me to visit a real castle, I couldn’t believe my eyes…all that imaginary world suddenly came to life, and it was more beautiful than a fairytale.
A castle was a fortified structure used as the residence of the king and his court, which became very popular in Europe after the fall of the Carolingian Empire. Initially, they were used mainly for public defense – a fortress – while later they transformed more and more as the private residence of a lord or a noble, or the church – palace – Today those magnificent structures are still there for us to explore, some are museums, some are even luxurious hotels. So, let’s take a journey among the most amazing European castles, sometimes glorious and romantic, sometimes mysterious and spooky, but always fascinating. Who knows, maybe you can even find prince charming in one of those…
Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany
If you imagine a fairytale castle is this one to dream about. No wonder that Walt Disney took it as a model for his Sleeping Beauty. Nestled among the breathtaking Bavarian Alps, Neuschwanstein Castle was built in the 19th century commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria – Mad King Ludwig – as his personal retreat but above all as a homage to the legends of the famous German composer Richard Wagner. It’s considered the essence of the German Romanticism and its opulence is impressive. It was open to the public shortly after the king died in 1886 and still more than a million people visit it every year making it one of the most popular destinations in Germany.
Bran Castle, BRAŞOV, ROMANIA
Built in early 1200, this eerie Gothic fortress surrounded by the foggy mountains in Transylvania, Romania, is one of the most famous castles in the world. It was erroneously believed to be the home of Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula because he was confused with Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) a prince of Wallachia. Even if it was a confusion and Stoker never actually visited Romania, what’s most interesting is that Bran Castle fits the description of Dracula’s Castle perfectly. Nonetheless, the myth still lives in its candlelight passages and brings thousands of Dracula’s fans to visit it every year.
Prague Castle, Prague, Czech Republic
The city of Prague itself is a real-life fairytale and Prague Castle is the central jewel of its crown. Looking from a hill the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle is considered the largest ancient castle in the world (750,000 s.f.). Czech’s most famous fairy tales were set here, including Dalibor Tower where the Knight Dalibor of Kozojedy was imprisoned. In the 14th century, under the reign of Charles IV the royal palace was rebuilt in Gothic style and the castle fortifications were strengthened. You can get lost wandering around the majestic castles gardens, historic buildings, and courtyards. A little curiosity: unlike many other castles, Prague castle still remains the official residence of the current head of state.
Chambord Castle, Loir-et-Cher, France
Chambord Castle is the largest among the group of 42 “chateaux” in the Loire Valley, France. Surrounded by 13,000 acres of lush gardens and a swan-filled moat. It is the symbol of French Renaissance majesty. Built by the young king Francis I in 1519 as a hunting lodge for the royal court, Chambord was rarely lived-in, the French Court was known to move around all the time. Nonetheless, it features 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 84 staircases, including a double helix attributed to Leonardo da Vinci…not bad for a hunting retreat! When you visit, you can still breathe all the court-life drama of that time through its intricate backstairs and hidden passages.
Windsor Castle, Berkshire, United Kingdom
Ladies and gentlemen, here it is, “Her Majesty” Windsor Castle, the family home to British kings and queens for over 1,000 years. With its impressive 13 acres, is the is the largest and oldest occupied Castle in the world and where The Queen chooses to spend most of her private weekends.
Windsor Castle was originally built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. At that time, it was just a motte-and-bailey, with three wards surrounding a central mound designed to protect Norman dominance around the outskirts of London and oversee a strategically important part of the River Thames. But was Henry III to build a luxurious royal palace within the castle during the middle of the century, and Edward III went further, rebuilding the palace to make an even grander set of buildings. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I made increasing use of the castle as a royal court and center for diplomatic entertainment. Windsor was Queen Victoria’s favorite and it’s the finest example of English Gothic architecture.
Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland
One of the most beautiful Scottish castles, Glamis has been the home of the Lyon family since the 14th century, though the present building dates largely from the 17th century. Glamis was the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, wife of King George VI. But Its wide fame comes from the mysterious and exciting history surrounding it. In fact, Legends and myths have grown around the castle through the centuries. In 1034 King Malcolm II was murdered at Glamis where there was a Royal Hunting Lodge. Lady Janet Douglas, the widow of Lord Glamis, was burned at the stake as a witch in 1540. It is the setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth and today, the castle is still renowned as one of the most haunted locations across the British Isles. After spending the night at Glamis, young author Walter Scott reported in an account published in 1830, “as I heard door after door shut after my conductor had retired, I began to consider myself as too far from the living and somewhat too near to the dead.”
Would you dare to spend the night in one of these incredible or possibly haunted castles?