Part of the reason Americans love to travel to Europe is to see castles. Because the United States never had a royal family, Americans are fascinated with these powerful symbols of royalty. Castles with their immense size, grand architecture, ornate furnishings and artwork and the household needed to maintain them capture the American imagination. Visitors to Europe should include the following on their travel itineraries:
Palace of Versailles, France – Originally a modest hunting lodge, after its expansion by Louis XIV the French court and government were moved there in 1682. The flamboyant Hall of Mirrors was designed as a symbol of the absolute power of the royals. The garden, so precise and formal, reflects the strict etiquette of the French court.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany – People who have visited Disneyland will have a sense of déjà vu when they approach this castle as the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disney was modeled after it. Built in the Gothic Romantic style by Louis II, who was sometimes called Mad King Ludwig, the inside of the castle had conveniences which were cutting edge for the time. These include running water on all floors and an air heating system for the whole building.
Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland – This iconic castle is on an island where three lochs meet creating an enigmatic atmosphere that attracted the filmmakers of the movie “Highlander.” Crossing the footbridge gives visitors the sense of journeying into another age where brawny men in kilts roamed the heather covered hills.
Schönbrunn Palace, Austria – Built in the Baroque style this palace’s name means ‘beautiful spring.’ It was the home of the Habsburgs and the childhood home of Marie Antoinette before she moved to France to become Queen. Visitors also enjoy the formal gardens and getting lost in the Maze originally created in the 1600’s and since recreated.
Pena National Palace, Portugal – The palace perches dramatically on a rocky peak above the town of Sintra. Site of a former monastery, the ruins were absorbed into a palace built in the Romantic style, with touches of Moorish and Gothic influences. Constructed to serve as the summer residence for the Portuguese royal family, the forested park surrounding the palace is also popular with visitors.
Windsor Castle, England – A medieval castle, Windsor is also the largest occupied castle in the world. The flag is hoisted when the Queen is in residence, usually on the weekends. The Queen’s guard chamber hosts state banquets where 162 people can fit at the 175 foot dining table. Ten British monarchs are buried in the chapel.
Queluz Palace, Portugal – What other European country can boast that it has a pink palace? Constructed in the Rococo style it’s hard to believe that this exquisite confection of a palace was once filled with the shrieks of Queen Maria of Portugal. Having lost many members of her family and advisors in short succession she went mad from grief. In happier times the family went boating along the nearby canal which is lined with azulejos, the iconic Portuguese ceramic tiles which can also be admired in many of the interior rooms of the palace.