The architects of the Middle Ages were geniuses. They built castles which combined astounding opulence and a rare practicality. The fact that many of them still stand today despite war, the ravages of the elements and the carelessness of their owners says much about their design. At the same time, many of them are astoundingly beautiful, looking as if they appeared on this Earth straight out of an ancient tale of knights and princesses.
Here are the 20 most awe-inspiring castles which have been left to us by our ancestors. You only have to look at them to know you’d happily live in them until the end of your days.
Reichsburg Cochem, Germany
This thousand-year-old castle was originally built as the residence of the German King Konrad III. It was burned down by the French in 1689, and could well have disappeared into history, but luckily it was acquired by a German businessman in 1868 and restored.
Mont Saint-Michel, France
The impregnable fortress of Mont Saint-Michel, surrounded on all sides by the sea, is one of the most popular attractions in France after Paris. Built in the year 709, it’s never lost any of its splendour.
Hochosterwitz Castle, Austria
Hochosterwitz Castle was built in the ninth century. Its towers have stared out at the surrounding world since then from a height of 160 metres above the Earth. When the weather is clear, it can be admired from as much as 30 km away.
Bled Castle, Slovenia
This castle sits on top of a 100-metre high cliff, staring down menacingly at the Bled lake. Aside from the incredible view which can be seen out of its windows, the place has a rich history. It used to be the residence of the Serbian royal family, and was once occupied by Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito.
Hohenzollern Castle, Germany
This castle sits atop Mount Hohenzollern — 2,800 metres above sea level. In its heyday it was the residence of the Prussian kings.
Castillo de San Servando, Spain
The Castillo de San Servando, in the Spanish province of Toledo, was built in the 15th century by a local nobleman. For 100 years it was home to some soldiers in the possession of some powerful artillery.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
© Hermes S
This romantic castle was built at the order of King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the middle of the 19th century. Even at the time it was considered extravagant. Strange as it may seem, its design is said to been the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland.
Castle in Methoni, Greece
The Venetian-style castle of Methoni has been the epicentre of many battles, as well as the last outpost of Europeans in their struggles against the Turks, since its construction in the 14th century.
Hohenschwangau Castle, Germany
This fortress was built by a family of knights in the region of Schwangau, Germany, in the 12th century. It has served as the official residence of a large number of rulers, including Ludwig II, who met received the world-famous composer Richard Wagner within its walls.
Château de Chillon, Switzerland
This medieval fortress is reminiscent of a battleship. With its rich history and unusual appearance, it has served as the inspiration for many famous writers. In the 16th century it was used as a prison, described by George Byron in his poem ’The Prisoner of Chillon’.
Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland
This castle, located on a rocky island in Loch Duich, is one of the most romantic locations in Scotland, famous for its honey made from heather as well as numerous legends. Many films have been shot here and its open to the public.
Bodiam Castle, England
From the moment it was founded in the 14th century, Bodiam Castle has seen many different owners, almost all of whom seemed to love making war. When it was acquired by Lord Curzon in 1917, all that was left were ruins. Fortunately, it was restored quickly, and now looks as good as new.
Guaita Fortress, San Marino
Built in the 11th century on the summit of the near insurmountable Monte Titano, this castle along with two other towers defends the ancient state of San Marino.
The Swallow’s Nest, Crimea
Initially, on the Cape of Ai-Todor there was just a plain wooden house. Now, the Swallow’s Nest got its appearance thanks to the German oil millionaire Baron von Steingel, who loved holidaying in Crimea. He decided to build a romantic castle reminiscent of those built on the banks of the river Rhine in the Middle Ages.
Castle Stalker, Scotland
Castle Stalker was built in 1320 and belonged to the MacDougall Clan. Since that time it has lived through a huge amount of war and strife, which has told upon the condition of the castle. In 1965, it was bought by Colonel D. R. Stuart, who restored it with the help of his family and friends.
Bran Castle, Romania
Bran Castle is a jewel of Transylvania. This secretive place gave birth to the legend of Dracula, who would supposedly spend the night here during his lifetime.
Vyborg Castle, Russia
Vyborg Castle was founded by the Swedes in 1293 during one their crusades into Karelia. It remained in Scandinavian hands until 1710, when the troops of Peter I of Russia drove the Swedes out. Since then it has served as a storehouse, a barracks, and a prison. Now it’s a museum.
The Rock of Cashel, Ireland
Several hundred years before the Norman invasion, this was the residence of the king of Ireland. Saint Patrick lived and taught here in the 5th century. Its walls bore witness to the bloody repressions of the English Civil War carried out by Oliver Cromwell’s troops. It is now seen locally as a symbol of the cruelty of the English soldiers of that time and the courage of the Irish.
Kilchurn Castle, Scotland
The beautiful and somewhat eerie ruins of Kilchurn castle lie on the banks of Lock Awe. Unlike many other castles in Scotland, it has had a relatively untroubled history. In 1769, it was struck by lightning, and since then has been left to sit in peace.
Lichtenstein Castle, Germany
Built in the 12th century, this castle destroyed several times. It was fully restored in 1884, and in the twentieth century was used as a setting for many films.