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With Europe’s long and distinguished military history, tense border conflicts, civil wars and opulent royals, it’s no surprise that throughout the continent are scattered some of the most stunning and fascinating castles in the world. From Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest lived-in castle in the world, to the medieval ruins of Trakai Castle in Lithuania, here are some of the most interesting.
Tintagel Castle, Cornwall
We begin with one of our very own, Tintagel Castle in North Cornwall. According to 12th century spin doctor ol’ Geoffrey of Monmouth, Tintagel was the castle in which the legendary wizard Merlin transformed King Uther Pendragon into the likeness of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall and husband of the beautiful Igraine, so he could sneak in and have his way with her. The child they produced was none other than King Arthur, says the legend. Geoff’s story was so popular that the general public believed it, and the legend of King Arthur and Merlin the wizard was born.
The castle is now in ruins, sitting on the peninsula of Tintagel Island, and is home to both Merlin’s Cave and King Arthur’s footprint, a hollow in the rock at the highest part of Tintagel Island’s southern side. The imprint is in the shape of a foot but it’s not entirely natural, having been shaped by human hands at some point, potentially to be used for the inauguration of kings of chieftains as far back as the Dark Ages.
Trakai Castle, Lithuania
Sitting atop Trakai Island in Lake Galve in Lithuania is the solitary castle of Trakai. Built in the 14th century this lone fortress was an important military stronghold. In the early 15th century the castle was briefly used as a prison and during the wars of the 17th century the castle was damaged and gradually fell into disrepair, being fully restored in the 15th century style in the 1950s.
The castle is not only historically and culturally significant, it’s also in a beautiful location. An island castle, the natural landscape is stunning during the opulent summer months when boats sail through the moat, but is also amazing in deepest winter, when the lake freezes and the castle turrets are topped with snow.
Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland
Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland is a castle of significance in British history, specifically during the period of Viking invasion. A huge fortress, standing imposingly high on the cliffs above the beach, Bamburgh Castle has protected this northern shoreline for 1,400 years. Built in AD547, ancient Anglo Saxon kings made Bamburgh their stronghold only to fall in to disrepair after savage Viking attacks in 933.
The castle was owned by the famous warrior Uhtred the Bold, ealdorman of all Northumbria from 1006 until 1016, made famous today by the Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon book series. While very little is known about Uhtred’s character, many of the historical events in the book in which he plays a major role were real, and he was certainly Saxon born but later forging Viking allies.
Mont St Michel, France
This beautiful island castle was actually the inspiration for the castle in Disney’s Rapunzel film Tangled. The town, which today as a population of 50, was originally built out to sea so that an incoming tide might drown anybody wishing to invade. This defensive plan was so successful that it even survived the Hundred Year’s War and was later made into a prison by Louis XI. Mont St Michel is also home to the world-famous restaurant La Mére Poulard, opened in 1879. Famous for their omelettes, the walls are covered in signed photos of well-known diners including Yves Saint Laurent.
Bojnice Castle, Slovakia
This fairy tale castle in Slovakia is one of the most visited in Central Europe. Making you think of knights and princesses, the blushing sandstone turrets and the surrounding moat were designed using the castles of the Loire Valley as inspiration. The castle hosts an annual International Festival of Ghosts and Monsters every May with guests taken on a special spooky tour of the castle.
The castle houses lots of significant artefacts from Slovakia’s history including stunning furniture and paintings and below the castle is a secret stalactite cave connected to a 26 metre well.
Pena Palace, Portugal
The beautiful Pena Palace is a Romanticist castle in São Pedro de Penaferrim on the Portuguese Riviera. It is one of the major expressions of 19th century Romanticism in the world and is one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal.
Originally a chapel then a monastery, the site was all but destroyed by lightening in the 18th century and the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, and remained a ruin until King Consort Ferdinand II purchased the site to transform into a royal summer palace. The King suggested vault arches, Medieval and Islamic elements as well as designing an ornate window for the main façade.
Windsor Castle, Windsor
One of the most famous castles in the world and the largest and oldest still lived-in castle in the world, Windsor Castle is an English landmark. The castle is a favourite weekend residence of our current Queen Elizabeth and the chapel of St George was the location of the much talked about Royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
The imposing castle was founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th century and it has since been the home of 39 monarchs including Henry VIII and his daughter by Anne Boleyn Elizabeth I. Queen Victoria also spent most of her time at Windsor and the palace itself is brimming with royal artefacts and history.
Predjama Castle, Slovenia
An absolute feat of engineering and a wonderous sight to behold, Predjama Castle in Slovenia is the largest cave castle in the world, perched in the middle of a 123-metre cliff for over 800 years. This fairy-tale castle brings together natural and manmade elements, and behind the building itself is a network of secret tunnels, from where the Knight Ezarem of Predjama would set out on plundering expeditions.
This romantic castle embodies the legends of the rebellious Knight Ezarem, who withstood the imperial army’s siege of the castle for over a year. The story also includes a secret tunnel and a love interest, all you need for the perfect romantic action story, all it’s missing is the dragon.
Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
Potentially the most castle-y looking castle on the list. Built in 1385 by cantankerous Knight Edward Dalyngrigge, the castle is in a quadrangle plan with the corners and the entrance marked by towers. It was used to defend the local area of Sussex against the French in the Hundred Years War, the artificial moat making it difficult to attack.
The castle fell into ruins but was bought by the National Trust and restored in the 1970s. It was used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as ‘Swamp Castle’ and later used as a filming location for the 1983 Doctor Who episode The King’s Demons.
Kilchurn Castle, Scotland
Sitting strong in the stunning Scottish valleys and overlooking Loch Awe, Castle Kilchurn was the powerbase of the mighty Campbell Clan and one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. The castle is now in ruins but cuts a dramatic profile on its rocky peninsula against its hilly backdrop.
On clear days visitors can stand on the tower house’s battlements and gaze out over Loch Awe, taking in the green hills and the impressive Loch. The Campbell’s were a Highland Scottish clan, historically one of the largest and most powerful in the Highlands. The family of Colin Campbell went on to become firm supporters of King Robert the Bruce, who led Scotland during the First War of Scottish Independence against the English, and benefitted from his success with grants of lands, titles and good marriages.