The Balsam Hill Traveler: Europe’s Breathtaking Castles
Throughout history, few dwelling places could capture imaginations and command attention more than the great medieval castle. Devised to offer protection in an era of the feudal system, these magnificent manors housed and protected its inhabitants from outside forces and raids that threatened their very survival.
Other estates have also undergone numerous transformations and were family retreats and hunting lodges. Today, they have become timeless ‘studies’ to remind us of a world of long ago and history itself. Join The Balsam Hill Traveler as we visit five of the world’s most breathtaking castles. Marvel at the artistic beauty of these enduring sanctuaries.
The Windsor Castle of England
Built during the 11th century as a citadel for the Norman king William I, the Windsor Castle continue to serve as one of the official residences of the British royal family. Located in the town of Windsor, this ancient castle covers an area of about 13 acres and contains the State Apartments furnished with treasures from the Royal Collection, the great miniature masterpiece Queen Mary’s Dolls House, and the historic St. George’s Chapel where 10 former monarchs are buried.
A well-preserved relic of medieval European architecture, the first engineers of the Windsor Castle used an evolved Norman Motte and Bailey design in order to make the castle more structurally sound and virtually impregnable. They collected stones and chalk from the surrounding area as materials for the construction.
Although initially viewed as more of a fortress rather than an abode, the Windsor Castle underwent several reconstructions in order to make it more habitable. The castle’s interiors feature a combination of classical, Gothic, and contemporary styles to contrast its weathered exterior. Its grand halls are decorated with various coats of arms and armors. It also contains an impressive collection of portraits of the royal family and furniture from the Regency period.
A traditional look is always in style with classic elements such as lavish fabrics of brocades and damasks in the draperies. Opulent furnishings, such as marble top side tables and coffee tables, exude enduring beauty. Accessories as the gold-plated clock, a gilded urn, sconces and candelabra complete a luxurious room.
The Eilean Donan Castle of Scotland
Arguably one of the most iconic images of Scotland, the Eilean Donan Castle is a medieval island fortress found in the middle of Loch Duich. Situated at a point where three sea lochs meet, the old stone castle dominates the picturesque scenery of the Scottish Highlands. Access to the island is made through a footbridge connected to the mainland.
The Eilean Donan Castle has long been the home of the esteemed Clan Mcrae. Here you can find a rich trove of the family’s belongings collected over the centuries, from vibrant tapestries to ornate hunting trophies. Because of the cooler climate of the Scottish Highlands, the castle’s interiors evoke the same atmosphere as a traditional hunting lodge. Its guest rooms are highlighted with vintage chandeliers and beautiful stone fireplaces.
Take inspiration from the hunting lodge house, complete with exposed beams, a stone fireplace, and an open hearth. A grand woodland retreat that’s relaxed and practical with lighting of heavy gauge train works as well as the sconces. The heavy sturdy weathered tables in the room expose the raw nature of a rustic style.
The Schloss Neuschwanstein of Bavaria, Germany
High above the village of Hohenschwangau lies the ancient Neuschwanstein Schloss (New Swanstone Castle). A masterpiece of 19th century Romanesque Revival style, this magnificent estate was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a family retreat in 1869. After his death, work on the castle ceased; it remains unfinished to this day. The Neuschwanstein has since been open to the public.
Constructed as an homage to the great German composer Richard Wagner, the design for the Neuschwanstein fuses different elements from Gothic, Romanesque, and Byzantine art and architecture. Many of its rooms feature artworks that depict scenes from Wagner’s operas. Heavily criticized by architects of its time, the Neuschwanstein today is considered among the finest works of European historicism. It is also the inspiration for several attractions in Disneyland, notable of which is the Sleeping Beauty Castle.
Introduce the classical flair of the Neuschwanstein to your abode by adding Gothic arched windows to rooms. Not only are these windows stylish; they also help maximize the available space by having a higher reach relative to its width. This style of window is commonly used in gabled areas of homes to reflect a unique style choice.
The Heidelberger Schloss of Heidelberg, Germany
Another breathtaking castle worth visiting in Germany is the Heidelberger Schloss (Heidelberg Castle) located in the northern region of the Alps. In contrast to the polished Romanesque Revival style of the Neuschwanstein Castle, this medieval fortress borrows heavily from the lavishness of Baroque and Renaissance architecture. While it was largely destroyed during the course of its long history, the majority of the Heidelberg Castle has since been restored and converted into an important place of Romantic pilgrimage.
Initially built as a collection of small castles on top of a hill, the massive Heidelberg Castle as seen today was expanded under the rule of Prince Elector Ruprecht III to serve as the home for the Counts of the Palatinate. Over the years, successive rulers hired talented architects to continue the development of the castle surroundings. Several improvements included the Apothecary Museum, where numerous pharmacopoeias, manuscripts, antique vessels, and raw drugs were stored, and the castle’s famous garden terraces designed by the great French Huguenot Salomon de Caus.
Introduce the distinct style for your home by mixing the opulence of Baroque and the fresh pristine charm of contemporary design. This living room, for example, follows the simplicity of modern homes with its choice of furniture. It is then accented with the ornate patterns on its ceiling and the Baroque-styled mirror over its fireplace.
The Château de Chambord of France
Admired for its blend of French medieval and Renaissance forms and classical Italian architecture, the Château de Chambord is widely regarded as an expression of King François I’s desire for supremacy and lavishness. Built as a royal hunting lodge in the Loire Valley, this beautiful château provides a distinct contrast to its pastoral surroundings.
Contrary to other royal residences of its time, the Château de Chambord was never intended to provide defense from enemies. Its design had focused on the beauty of its architecture. François wanted it to mimic the skyline of Constantinople, which is why it was constructed with eleven kinds of towers and three kinds of chimneys without symmetry.
One of the chateau’s architectural highlights is the impressive double-helix open staircase that is the centerpiece of the castle. Each of its two helices ascends three floors without ever meeting. A grand lantern found at the highest point of the castle illuminates the staircase from above.
Let your home exude the same artistic charm as the Château de Chambord by highlighting it with a Renaissance showpiece. Valued for their fluid strokes and still likeness, these works of art can easily add sophistication to any room.
More than mere places of dwelling, these castles have become distinct homes of history. Their architecture and furniture prove beauty does withstand the test of time.