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Castles in Europe

  • Submitted by: Elizabeth Schwartz
  • Submission Date: 10th Feb 2005

Well, it has been a week or two of FASCINATING reading! Finally, the results:

Well, this was a lot of fun! The mail is still coming in and the stories have been great! I am sorting out this list by country and just listing the contributors at the bottom.

First , the winner is: (with more entries than appear here):

Easy -- Neuschwanstein in southern Germany. Certainly not the oldest castle around, but rather good ol' King Ludwig's romanticized idea of what a castle should look like. Has a beautiful singer's hall, too.

Mad King Ludwig's castle in Bavaria, called Neushwanstein (New Swan castle), is outside the town of Fussen. It was the model for Disney's Cinderella's Castle in Disneyland. The King ate dinner with his horse at the other end of the banquet table (thats why he is called 'Mad'). Its on one of the 1st hills in thew foothills of the Alps and can be seen >from the valley below.

Yes, Walt Disney modeled Sleeping Beauty's castle at Disneyland (probably at Walt Disney World, too - haven't been there) after Neuschwanstein, but after you see the real thing there's really no comparison. It's a wonderful place. Ludwig was fond of swans ('schwan' is swan in German, if you didn't already know that) so the swan motif is repeated over and over throughout the castle, in his bedchamber even the handles on the water faucets are swans heads. Ludwig was also very enamored of Wagner's operas, to the point of having some of his favorite scenes from different operas painted on the walls of the rooms.
The castle was never completed, because Ludwig inconveniently died (he drowned in six inches of water, or something like that).

There's another Ludwig castle not too far from Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau, that is supposed to be beautiful as well, but I haven't been there.

I think Neuschwanstein is my favorite--very fairy tale like. Inside is lots of wood, which gives it a rich but warm look, unlike the gaudier palaces dripping in gold. King Ludwig seemed to know what he was doing on this one.
Basically, castles are palaces (homes where royalty lived) or fortresses (up on the hill and generally not furnished, just a big stone thing). Neuschwanstein seems to be a bit of both.

The best fairy tale, just like you have always thought it would be castle is Neuschwenstein (sp?) castle in Germany, which is a day trip >from Munich. Built in the 1800s by Mad king Ludwig who was friends with Wagner. This is the castle that Disney used as the inspiration for the Castles in Disneyland.

Went to Europe in 1985 and did the Castle tour. As the San Francisco Chronicle said in an article printed in the summer of 1985. There are only two type of castles that you must see. Ludwigs castles in Germany. The rest are in France.
Ludwig II of Bavaria built three castles which are magnificant. Two are must sees. Neuschwanstein (sp) which translates to new swans rock and Linderhof are two classics. Newschwanstein was the castle Walt Disney modled his Fantasyland castle after. These are located in Southern Germany, Bavaria.

One is the Royal Castles (of Ludwig II?) in southern Germany, within a day's drive of Munich. There are 4 (I only saw 2), including the famous Neuschwanstein (on which the Disney castle was modeled). This castle was not completely finished, but the rooms that were, including a throne room and ballroom, are quite impressive. Also, the scenery is beautiful around there (edge of the mountains).
Neuschwanstein (sp?) is the ultimate fairyland castle, in Bavaria near Austrian border. One of Prince Ludwig's group of castles (he was a little mad). This is reputed to be the one after which Disney modelled his fairyland castles. Ludwig was into Wagner, and there is a big Wagner festival at the castle each year. Michelin rates it ***.
Oh, one of the great things about Mad Ludwig's castle is that it is high on a hill that overlooks a gorgeous valley. With each floor up, the view gets better.


The castle in Salzburg, Austria is another castle that is quite impressive. Not sure of the date, but it is similar to Carcasonne, and salzburg is a beautiful Town.


Gravensteen - The Castle of Counts


Karlstejn - This country's most famous castle.

That's a great question. I'd have to say that my favorite castle is Prague Castle. It dominates the whole city - it's actually more like an entire district than a castle.


Chateau Gaillard - built by Richard Coeur-de-Lion Mont St. Michel - Impressive!
Josselin - home of Olivier de Clisson, constable of France Carcassone - must see
Albi - fortress cathedral (of Albigensian crusade fame) Avignon - Palace of the Popes
Tarascon - similar to the Bastille

The city/fortress of Carcasonne in France is a wonderful castle, very much like a medieval town with narrow cobblestone streets, etc. Really nice Youth hostel in the city as well.
If you are in Paris, you should visit the famous castles in the Loire valley, e.g. Chambord, but others are also worth a visit, and the cities Blois and Tours.

Maybe it is the golden glow of nostalgia, but there is a restored castle near Strasbourg in Alsace that knocked my socks off about 30 years ago. It was restored by the Hohenzollern's during the 1870-1918 period when Germany held Alsace and has been kept up by the French since. It has great battlements and a spectacular view over a beautiful valley. Can't remember the name, but any guide to Alsace or the Strasbourg area should provide it.

The rest are in France and the majority are located in the Lorie Valley about 70 to 150 miles west of Paris. I would also include a visit to Versilles which is about 20 miles west of Paris. After seeing these you understand why there was a French revolution.
Visit Chaumont in the fog and Asay-le-Rideau in clear weather. Both are in the Loire valley.

I think my favorite traditional castle is the small chateau at La Petite-Pierre in the North Vosges region of France. It's not spectacular, but it's got a beautiful setting.

Second favorite walled town is Wissembourg in Alsace, with gardens on the walls.

Impressing castles, mystery,.. don't miss the 'Chateaux Cathares' near Toulouse and Perpignan, France.
Between the Pyrenees and the Mediterannee Sea, the ruins (about 12th century) are on the top of cliffs.
But you won't even see them because they have the same color as the rocks and you can't imagine how the Cathares built them there!

Each castle has its own story:
The enemy was around the castle and just waiting until the people into the castle were out of food and water. The end seemed to be close because it was the last day they could hold without food and water. Tomorow they will have to surrender and they will probably be burned as the other cathares (judged as heretics). Fortunatly, during the night, it rained and the tanks in the castle were now full of water. The winter coming soon, the ennemy will probably have to leave the place. Thats a miracle! But you never can predict the History: Dead rats were left in the bottom of the tanks, so the unexpected water became poluted and all the people in the castle died by drinking this 'saving' water.

Of course there is more about secret passages, hided gold, etc. You will learn more about the 'cathares' people, on how this area became part of France instead of Spain.

Be carefull! It is so windy some days that if you through a small rock from the top of the highest tower,
it will come back to your face. And you have to hold you very carefully on the ruins because in some
passages the wind will simply blow you in the air (that is true !).

Just keep in mind some famous names of these 'Cathare' castles: Perpertuse, Queribus, Monsegur.

I tried to do my best with my english to describe shortly my favorite castles. I am just hoping that you realise how interesting they are. If you like countryside, history, archeology, mystery, and even good food ('cassoulet and foie gras'), hiking (Yes, you have to climb rather steeply to reach these castles), you will, I am sure, emjoyed this area (fortunatly not too much touristic yet!).


(more castles per square mile than anywhere else in Europe) Marksburg - accurate 13/14th century restoration Bug Eltz
Heidelburg (obligatory, but impressive) Rothenburg and Dinkelsbuhl - fortress towns Wurzburg
Frankenstein (the real one; small, but impress your friends 8-) Zitadelle Spandau - Berlin's big castle (not the prison; it was torn down when Hess died. There's a British Forces shopping mall there now.) But my actual favorite is Meersburg castle on Bodensee in Southern Germany. It has walls that were built in the year 900 (or 1000 - something very old). It's not a fairy tale type castle - just old and very small. They have an exhibit of armor and it's amazing how small it is. It has a nice setting overlooking the Lake.

The other area for castles that I liked is the Rhine Valley between Cologne and Bingen. There seems to be a castle at every bend in the river - some converted into hotels, some into youth hostels, and some for touring. Most of them sit high above the river, so be prepared for a climb, but once you get there, the views are marvelous! I was most impressed with Marksburg castle (south of Koblenz - don't know how you get to it by car - I got off the boat at the nearby village), because it seemed authentic, right down to the torture chamber :-)! I also stayed in the youth hostel at Braubach - the castle looks nice from the outside and provides a nice view, but the hostel isn't much. -
When I looked at my photo album, I realized that I had made a mistake in what I told you - Braubach is actually the village below Marksburg castle, and the youth hostel that I stayed at was at Bacharach.
Just for a laugh, we have Castle Frankenstein here in Darmstadt (actually outside the town, at Eberstadt). It's pathetically small but the name gets a laugh.

If you go to Germany, take a trip up the Rhine. Lot's of castles. Very pretty too.

If you do tour the Rhine, the best way is by boat. My German rail pass included the Rhine tour boats, but I don't know that all passes would.
I toured Germany in 1987, but only really spent about 6 days on my own, out of 4 weeks (the rest was with friends or relatives). I stayed at youth hostels in Nurenburg (which is actually also part of a rebuilt castle), Hamelin (the youth hostel there wasn't much), a fairly new hostel in Bad Godesburg (a suburb of Bonn), Ehrenbreitstein in Koblenz (this one is in a fort instead of a castle, and is quite the experience!), Bacharach as mentioned, and a fairly new one in Heidleberg.

Speaking of Heidleberg, that is another interesting castle, although some of it is ruins now. But the tour really shows the life that the courtiers led.

I found Germany quite convenient with a rail map and list of youth hostels! I was there in April, so didn't have any problem getting a bed. I didn't find any problem travelling on my own either (mind you, I wasn't on my own in the bigger cities). If you are older than 25, check that some of the more popular youth hostels aren't restricted (for instance, I think Ehrenbreitstein is restricted, at least during peak periods).


I'd have to say Windsor Castle in England is one of my favorites... and the Tower of London, of course. :-)

If you'll be in Great Britain, there are of course many castles to see. The Jan/Feb 1992 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine had an article on castles to visit in England, Scotland, and Wales, you might want to check it out.

I was also partial to Warwick Castle, in England, up a little north of Stratford-upon-Avon and the Cotswolds. Half the castle feels Medieval, half is very modern, verry British. --
What's a half-modern castle?
Part of Warwick Castle is kept in a medieval way, lots of rough bunks and skins, etc. The rest of it is 'royal apartments,' as it was used by high-up British royalty in the summers until fairly recently. Pretty opulent, with all the modern comforts. The grounds are really nice too, though nothing compared with, say, Versailles.

2. Tower of London (in London, a great tour and the crown jewels too)
3. ??? I can't remember the name... it's just outside
of London and is most impressive because of its
HUGE walls and HUGE moat.

Can't tell you much about other parts of Europe/Britain now. This year I'll get the chance to see some of England/Scotland/Wales. My travel book tells me that Windsor castle, just outside London, is a must-see. Apparently, the best castles otherwise in the UK are in Scotland. BTW, the youth hostel at Hamstead Heath in London looks really nice (a little out of the way I think, but pretty accessible by the Underground).

My knowledge is confined mainly to the UK. I hope this will help though:
In the UK: Leeds Castle (in Kent from memory). Warwick Castle, Warwickshire. Kenilworth Castle, a ruin in red sandstone, Warks. Bodiam Castle, also a ruin but everyones idea of what a castle should be, Kent.

Also: there are several castles along the Eng./Welsh border (Powys and Chirk spring to mind).

These are a good selection of different types and the ones I liked most. Scottish castles are also worth looking at (I hear) but I won't be able to say anything about them until my trip there in Sept. !
Castles are not everything - I find many historic houses are great too. You can get a list from the National Trust (in UK). I believe you are in America, so try the Royal Oak society.


I would say that my favorite walled town is the town of Glurns/Glorenza in the Sud Tirol/Alto Adige section of Italy. Again, it's not the most spectacular walled town (Nuremburg or Carcassonne would qualify), but the approach is just so surprising - you're driving down a country road and turn a corner, and all of a sudden you see in front of you a tiny jewel of a walled town


If you like the idea of a castle that still has a ruling prince still living in it, check out Schloss Vaduz in Liechtenstein. Not the most spectacular castle, but still inhabited by royalty. A friend of mine once was there and said that he saw someone come out and empty the garbage. He said he likes to think it was the Prince.


Vianden - great scenery, very good restoration


Muiderslot - home of the Counts of Holland (great tour guides)


Braganca Castle in north-east Portugal. Sprawls over a huge area, has a small village inside, a weird Romanesque treasury building, and the most head-spinning climb to the top of the keep you're likely to find in any building. Open and unmilitaristic atmosphere, with a great view over the surrounding countryside as far as Spain.


The Alhambra in Grenada, Spain is really fascinating because it is left over from the Moorish occupation and contains many Islamic influences. It is from about the late 1600s.

Segovia, in Spain. There's also a Roman aqueduct in town, a cathredal and many old churches.


Chillon - Lake Geneva, immense history
Gee, Betsey, that's a nice question. My favorite is the Castle of Chillon on Lake Geneva, Swizerland, where Lord Byron was imprisoned (or something like that !). It's far bigger inside than it looks, very photographical (I can't spell photogenic !) and to get there go to Montreaux on the eastern end of the lake.


Other castles you might find interesting include the Schloss in Heidelberg, Harlech Castle (in Harlech, of course) and Canarvan (sp?) Castle in Wales, the various 'castles' in the Loire valley (really more gigantic country estates), Schloss Neuschwannsteinin in Bavaria (built by Ludwig,the mad king of Bavaria, and model for Disney's fake castles) and Castle Howard near York in England (where Brideshead Revisited was filmed). There are also supposed to be some great castles on the Adriatic coast built by the Venetians to protect their monopoly on the spice trade, but I have never visited them.

I guess Hearst Castle isn't in the running?? hahaha I have seen a few castles in Europe - Schoenbrunn was exciting because it was my first Palace.

However there are ZILLIONS of castles in Europe - drive down the valley of the Rhone in France and look to your right (or left) every ten minutes, so picking out one or the other is difficult - and wait 'till you get to Scotland, Och Aye......

The best castles in the world are in the Middle East; Krak des Chevaliers (Syria) and the Assasin Castles in Iran (Alamut, etc.). Probably not on your route!
However, the Welsh castles built by Edward I are pretty good, and The Loire Valley has some beautiful ones (more comfortable, less military). Southern Spain is dotted with Moorish castles. Here in Scotland, there are a fair number.

Fortress castles offer nice views of the town below: Salzburg, Heidelberg, and Edinburgh are three that come to mind. Apparently most towns with 'burg' in the name have a castle.
Hope this helps. Also, consider some of the cathdrals as well. Notre Dame, St. Dennis (Paris), Chartres, Reims, Aachen, Trier, Frankfurt, Utrecht. If you need more info, you might try asking in; the folks there are big into medieval history, and have lots of good source and stories.


CONTRIBUTORS -- thanks again to all!!! It's been a great week of reading!

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Betsy Schwartz


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