The World's Most Beautiful Castles
They may no longer be used for repelling enemy hordes or otherwise defending the kingdom, but these castles still have their rugged good looks.
Château de Castelnaud, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, Dordogne. This impressive fortress, located on the limestone rocks above the Dordogne River, overlooks a former enemy, the Château de Beynac. During the Hundred Years' War, the English held Castelnaud and the French controlled Beynac, with both nations hoping to control this sensitive border region. These days Castelnaud is known for its Museum of Medieval Warfare, which includes reconstructions of giant crossbows and trebuchets, the huge slings used to hurl rocks at castle walls. 011-33/55-331-3000, www.castelnaud.com, admission $11 (€7.60).
Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle, Orschwiller, Alsace. The hilltop position of this 12th-century castle, more than 2,000 feet above the Alsace plain, kept it safe for centuries. Destruction came in 1462 and again in 1633 after a siege by Swedish soldiers during the Hundred Years' War, after which it was overgrown by the forest and abandoned. Now it's a popular stop for tourists visiting the Alsatian wine region. 011-33/38-882-5060, haut-koenigsbourg.fr, admission $10.50 (€7.50).
Bran Castle, Bran, Brasov. Both the keepers of Bran Castle and the Romanian Tourist Board are keen to emphasize links between Bran Castle and Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Count Dracula. The connections are tenuous, but there's no denying the spooky charm of this massive structure's many turrets and towers. Some of the furniture on display was owned by Marie of Romania, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria who turned down a proposal from the future King George V of England and married the king of Romania instead. 011-40/26-823-8333, www.brancastlemuseum.ro, admission $4.25 (12 leu).
Château de Chillon, Lake Geneva, Montreaux. As with most real estate, it's often location, location, location that makes all the difference with castles. On an island near the edge of Lake Geneva, Château de Chillon is no exception. Excavations here have turned up evidence of a Bronze Age settlement, but the castle as it now stands was created between the 12th and 18th centuries. Its popularity got a huge boost in 1816. That year, following a visit, Lord Byron published his long poem "The Prisoner of Chillon"; the work refers to the "seven pillars of Gothic mold" that stand in "Chillon's dungeons deep and old." 011-41/21-966-8910, www.chillon.ch, admission: $11 (12 Swiss francs).