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10 European Castles to Visit This Summer
Admire iconic architecture steeped in history and postcard-worthy vantage points at enchanting castles.
Discover awe-inspiring architecture across the pond, from Portugal to Germany.(Getty Images).
With their storied stone walls, graceful bridges and ornate towers, Europe's fairytale castles offer plenty of charm and romantic allure. Today, at opulent castles across the continent, you'll find fascinating architecture and even royal jewels on display. If you're yearning to visit majestic castles steeped in history and filled with impressive art, architecture and dramatic views, these 10 fascinating castles across the pond and well worth a visit.
Château de Chambord
While Versailles is one (if not the) most famous castle in France, the Château de Chambord, located in the lovely Loire Valley, is one the country's most impressive and regal landmarks, with its instantly recognizable exterior facade. Built to serve as a hunting lodge for King Francis I, the castle, in the ensuing 28 years it took to complete, was considerably altered from its original Renaissance architecture design. For a period of time after the French Revolution, the building was left abandoned, and it wasn't until after WWII that a real attempt was made at restoration. Today, more than 700,000 visitors come to visit Château de Chambord.
One of the most visited castles in Europe with over 1.4 million visitors each year, the "castle of the fairy tale king," otherwise known as Neuschwanstein Castle, is actually one of the newest castles in Europe. The castle's construction began in 1868 under King Ludwig II. Over 200 craftsmen played a part to bring the white limestone building to life, which literally stretches to the edges of the rugged and dramatic cliff line. And today, this castle is renowned among Disney fans as the inspiration for the picturesque palace in Cinderella and its stark resemblance to Sleeping Beauty's castle in Disneyland.
The film location for Hogwarts Castle in the movie "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," as well as "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," Alnwick Castle is the current home of the Duke of Northumberland who established the building following the Norman conquest in 1096. Today, more than 800,000 people visit the castle annually.
Fortress of Segovia
A UNESCO World Heritage Site located in beautiful Segovia, Spain, the Fortress of Segovia was the former home of the Alcázar of Segovia. He created the castle at the merging of two famous rivers, about 50 miles northwest of Madrid. Like many other castles, this fortress-turned-royal palace exchanged hands among numerous kings, before its final renovation took place at the end of the 19th century. Today, the Fortress of Segovia operates as a military college and museum.
This pretty castle in western Ireland dates back to around 1228. The process of building and connecting the various parts of the castle included the 15th-century addition of a fortified enclave; the 17th-century addition of a French chateau hunting lodge and the 19th-century addition of two large Victorian extensions. Finally, in 1868, the east and west wings became connected. Today, the Ashford Castle operates as a hotel; after undergoing a $75 million renovation, today, the castle features a spa, a rooftop cigar terrace and a wine cellar containing more than 600 bottles.
This 12th-century castle stretches across 8,000 acres and was once the residence of the Bishop of Caithness. The most famous resident of the property was Andrew Carnegie, who bought it in 1898. Carnegie spent more than 2 million British pounds to refurbish the castle, and tripled the acreage of the castle. Skibo remained in the Carnegie family until 1982, when it turned into a private club and 20 million British pounds was spent to refurbish it. And if you consider yourself a pop culture aficionado, you might recall this castle served as the backdrop for Madonna and Guy Ritchie's wedding.
The Pena Palace's construction began in the Middle Ages, but was not complete until 1854, having been left for ruins for almost a 100 years. Young King Ferdinand – of Christopher Columbus's Isabel and Ferdinand – refurbished the ruins as the Portuguese royal family home. Today, it is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On a clear day, its colorful red-and-yellow exterior can be seen from Lisbon.
Chateau de Cheverny
Another spectacular castle built in France's Loire Valley, Château de Cheverny is one of the few European castles that still today operates as a residence. Over six centuries, the castle was built by Henri Hurault who obtained the lands from King Louix XIII. In the subsequent 150 years, the castle frequently changed hands, before a private family bought the castle in 1914. Today, the castles is known for having the best restored interiors of any castle in Loire Valley.
Castello di Castelfalfi
Restored by the Tui Blue Hotel Group, the Castello di Castelfalfi is the crown jewel of the Toscana Resort Castelfalfi. Built in 700 A.D., Castello di Castelfalfi has a storied history with ties to 12th-century bishops and the Medici family. Today, the most distinctive landmark in the Montaione region of Tuscany, the Castello di Castelfalfi, has been modernized with spectacular views over Toscana Resort Castelfalfi's 27-hole golf course, 865-acre natural reserve, 57 acres of vineyards and 10,000-plus olive trees.
Palacio das Cardosas
In the 15th-century palace, set in the heart of Porto's Old Town, just north of the Douro River, monks built the Palacio das Cardosas as a testament to their faith. Over time, the property fell into disrepair before being purchased by a businessman for a private palace. Subsequently, the castle was purchased by IHG to become the InterContinental Porto and was restored to its former glory. In fact, the entire neoclassical exterior of the 11,000-square-meter castle was required to remain exactly the same size. In 1996, the castle was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.
Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.
Edited by Liz Weiss.
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