From the fabled location of King Arthur’s birth to an ornately decorated vacation home for noble families, there’s no question that castles run the gambit of historical significance (not to mention their architectural significance). With that in mind, we put together a list of 8 of our favorite European castles.
1. Château de Chenonceau, Loire & Burgundy - Arguably the most magnificent and romantic of all châteaux, Chenonceau spans the river and has been the home of six great ladies throughout history. Among them are its builder, Catherine Briconnet, who built it as a home rather than a fortification; Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of Henry II, who added the bridge between the house and the banks of the river; and Catherine de Medici, Henry's wife. Madame Dupin, who owned the château during the French Revolution, was so kind to the lower classes who lived around the château that it was allowed to survive free from the destruction suffered by many other wealthy homes.
2. Château de Villandry, Loire & Burgundy - Not far down the Loire River, Villandry is home to spectacular geometric-shaped gardens with their zigzagging hedges, flowerbeds, vegetable plots and a swan-filled lake. The château itself, has a wonderful collection of paintings, lovely rooms and the magnificent gilded ceiling imported from Toledo, Spain.
3. Broughton Grange Castle, Cotswolds – Surrounded by a moat, it dates back to the 1550’s. The grand interiors were featured in the BBC production of Wolf Hall, and the manicured gardens are some of the country’s finest. What better setting to pause for an elegant afternoon tea?
4. Urquhart Castle, Scottish Highlands - Even if the name isn’t familiar, you’ll recognize the distinctive profile of this magnificent ruin on the shores of Loch Ness. Built in the early 13th Century, it sits on a fine headland near the stretch of the loch where many of the reputed Nessie sightings occurred.
5. Tintagel Castle, Cornwall - this is where, according to legend, King Arthur was born. When the conquering Normans reached the westernmost land of England, they heard that the ancient seat of Cornwall’s kings had stood atop this soaring headland, surrounded on three sides by the ceaseless surge of the Atlantic. Earl Richard of Cornwall, younger brother of Henry III, decided to build a castle on the spot where his legendary predecessors had held court.
6. Chambord Castle, Loire & Burgundy – located in the heart of a forest, where the French sovereigns used to hunt, Chateau de Chambord is one of France’s most recognizable castles, with a combination of French medieval and classical Renaissance architecture. The centerpiece of the chateau is the double spiral staircase that spans three floors. It is rumored to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci himself
7. Pena National Palace, Portugal - The Sintra region was long a favorite site for royal retreats, estates and castles. The most stellar example is Pena National Palace. You’ll be delighted by this treasure of the Romanticist style with beautiful exterior views of its soaring jumble of red, ocher and pink towers.
8. Prague Castle, Prague – this UNESCO world heritage site is credited as being the largest coherent castle complex in the world. Its more than 753,000 square feet, is home to palaces, cathedrals, towers, gardens, grand halls, and much more. Dating back to the 9th century, Prague Castle has been the seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Roman emperors, as well as presidents of Czechoslovakia, and most recently the president of the Czech Republic.