Think tall towers, walls of glass, picturesque courtyards and elegant throne rooms are solely the domain of fairy tales? Think again. It turns out that fiction has borrowed from reality when it comes to designing beautiful castles. So don’t go asking Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming for architectural tips; just read this list of the top 10 most beautiful castles (in real life).
When you look at the grand Château de Chambord, it’s a little hard to believe that it spent literally centuries as a crumbling, half-finished and disregarded mess; but, that’s the truth. It was originally commissioned by the once upon a time king of France, Francois I, so that he could be closer to his mistress (she was married, you see). Still, love is fickle and when war tore the king’s attention away from his libido, the castle was mostly forgotten. The chateau – with its giant hallways and ornate decorations – was picked apart and left to crumble until the Post WWII-era, when it was finally restored. A bit of trivia: this sprawling castle helped inspire that famous Disney film about a beauty and a – well, you know.
It seems human nature to want to hold onto something as beautiful and bold as an honest-to-goodness castle, but in truth, they frequently change hands. That said, the Rochefoucauld Castle is a lovely exception, having been owned by the same family for more than a thousand years (that’s longer than most countries have formally existed). Originally, it was a simple castle, meant to protect its residents. But over time, its beauty has unfolded, in many forms – including a sprawling staircase (which may be the work of one Leonardo da Vinci), sky-piercing towers and large, wide balconies.
Alcatraz, eat your heart out: the Château de Saumur is fortified and beautiful at the same time. It was originally used as a military barrier between Norman aggressors and the families that would eventually give birth to England’s most famous monarchs. It changed hands numerous times over the centuries; however, the French have owned it for a while now. Given that the city around it, Saumur, has a long history with horses, it should come as no surprise that the castle is also known as the Museum of the Horse. Having been rightfully declared a natural treasure by the French government, it has one more thing in common with Alcatraz: it also functioned as a prison, during the rule of Bonaparte.
Image Credits: Standa
This castle, which is located in the Czech Republic, has a long history: commonly visited by Charles IV (that’s Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, who established the method of succession within Church and fought off the Black Death while he was at it), stolen away from its rightful owner by Nazis invading the then-sovereign nation of Czechoslovakia, re-vamped and opened to the public since the 1950s. Still, you might best recognize this beautiful castle a prop in the movie Shanghai Knights (and yes, you should be just a little ashamed).
Proving the adage, you can’t keep a good castle down is the Dutch Castle de Haar (that’s Kasteel de Haar if you want to be precise), which has been rebuilt and torn down multiple times since its conception in 1391. It features literally hundreds of rooms and dozens of bathrooms. But once you get over how large everything is, taking a look at the small stuff: the intricate woodwork in the interior of the castle is on par with the great Roman Catholic cathedrals in the same region. And when you’re done with that, take a stroll through the castle’s park which, despite having temporarily been uprooted (literally) during the Second World War, currently retains all of its former glory.
Meow! This famous castle once inspired a royal catfight. After passing through several indebted hands, the Chateau Chenonceau finally found a long-term caretaker in the king’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers. It was under her direction that the famous arch-over-the-river was built, along with numerous gardens and orchards. But when the king passed away, his widow (Catherine de Medici) forced out the mistress and made the chateau her own place of residence. Shortly thereafter, her daughter-in-law would add a touch of Goth to the castle, when – in mourning – she had skulls stitched into the tapestries. During World War II, it also served as a barrier between the German-controlled puppet government in France and the actual free world.
Maybe no man is an island, but at least one castle is: the Trakai Island Castle. The castle sits on a little Lithuanian island and is heavily fortified, having been built for defensive purposes. Along with the fact that’s on an island, it was made with thick, brick walls, firing galleries galore and is surrounded by a series of locking gates. It once housed great treasures and men, then became a lesser concern, until modern day interest revived it. It now serves as a prominent tourist magnet.
Image Credits: bbandak
Also known as Eltz Castle, this structure is well-known, if only because it used to be a visible presence on Germany’s currency. Built in the middle ages, it now acts as a kind of beautiful, intricate apartment complex, housing a large number of families who all have some small ownership claim (likely due to old inheritance laws which necessitated that owners divide their property evenly among heirs). This current habitation keeps it in contrast to other famous castles which are mostly maintained as tourist attractions. It is situated in the hills of Germany.
You wouldn’t think of solid stone as being ‘romantic,’ but it’s the romantic, fairy tale aura of this castle which gives it its nickname “Württemberg´s fairytale castle.” (Never said it was an inventive nickname). The specific location has long housed a castle (since 1200 AD, even), though not always this one. Instead, it is a relatively modern creation, having been designed and built in the 1800’s as a tribute to a bygone era. But there’s more to this castle than just a pretty face: it also houses a large collection of weapons, on display to curious tourists.
This castle was, quite literally, a work of art. Designed in the 19th century, its creators built this castle (which was intended for famed composer Richard Wagner) with one word in mind: drama. Neuschwanstein Castle was considered an architectural translation of Wagner’s music, which can explain some of the high peaks, asymmetrical outlines, the presence of the Rectangular Tower (which provides an epic view of the land) and multiple references to the mystic Holy Grail. Lest it ever be forgotten, the castle has made its way into numerous forms of media: it has its own German stamp and served as the primary inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle, as built in the Happiest Place on Earth — Disneyland.