World's Prettiest Castle Towns
What does a fairy-tale Renaissance palace in Italy have in common with a fortress in South Korea? Both are surrounded by communities that are just as intriguing as the castles themselves. Here we bring you the 10 best town-and-crown day trips in the world.
Even if you've never set foot in Spain, the Alcázar Castle will likely look familiar to you. It's believed to be the inspiration for the original Cinderella Castle in Disneyland, in Anaheim, Calif., and it has appeared in countless postcards and photos since. The original 14th-century structure was destroyed by a fire, but its cylindrical turrets, peaked roofs, and soaring stone walls were faithfully re-created in the 1880s, with marvelously designed murals inside depicting famous battle scenes. The Alcázar is surrounded by a deep moat and looms over the small, hill town of Segovia, which is connected by a drawbridge. The walled community itself is a faithful re-creation of the bright side of Middle Ages life, with crafts shops and beer halls done up in true retro style. Segovia also has an amazingly well-preserved Roman aqueduct with 166 graceful arches and the famous Vera Cruz church, which was consecrated in 1208 by the Knights of Templar to house a relic of the True Cross.
Getting There: The town of Segovia is easily reached via a one-hour-and-45-minute high-speed train ride northwest of Madrid (tickets $11).
Visiting: Admission to the Alcázar Castle is $6 for adults.
Set on the Atlantic Coast of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Louisbourg began life peacefully enough in 1713 as a fishing port. But when the Anglo-French struggle for Canada began a few years later, the French colonists started building a series of stone city walls, transforming the sleepy village into a massive fortress. Today, the entire town is a national historic site, crawling with visitors, historical reenactors, and—some say—more than its fair share of resident ghosts. There's a phantom sea captain who's said to haunt the ramparts that overlook Louisbourg's pretty harbor; there's the nurse known to walk among the remains of the old hospital; and there's the mischief-maker who causes trouble by the fort's coal-fired hearth, where white-aproned bakers make fresh bread every day for visitors. Just outside the bastion's walls is the Louisbourg Playhouse, which presents traditional colonial dance performances every day during the summer months.
Getting There: From the mainland, Louisbourg is best reached by car. You cross the Canso Causeway onto Cape Breton Island. Continue on to the city of Sydney. From the NS Highway 125, you take exit 8 onto Route 22 to Louisbourg.
Visiting: The fort is open from mid-May to late October. Admission is $17.60 for adults.
Matsumoto-jo is a compound set in the shadow of snow-topped Mt. Hotaka in central Japan. It was built in 1592, making it the country's oldest surviving wooden castle. The main tower is surrounded by pagoda-like tiers, which are painted black and white, and a moat teeming with colorful koi carp. The castle was built on top of a series of mazelike passageways, designed to disorient and trap intruders. Visitors today, however, are welcomed and given tours. Outside the castle walls, Matsumoto seems designed for pedestrians, with wide, tree-lined boulevards tracing the breezy Metoba River. You can also explore the fascinating merchant—or nakamachi—district, a hub of low-slung, tile-roofed buildings where local artisans sell crafts and handiwork, such as furniture made without any nails.
Getting There: The Azusa and Super Azusa express trains run from Tokyo's Shinjuku Station to Matsumoto every half hour. The journey takes about two hours and 40 minutes, and one-way fares cost $79 for non-reserved seats and about $86 for reserved seats. The castle is about a 15-minute walk from Matsumoto train station.
Visiting: Admission to the castle is about $7.80.