The 10 most romantic European castles

ALCAZAR DE SEGOVIA, SPAIN

Reputedly one of the inspirations for Disney's Cinderella castle, this fortress, royal palace and later military academy is the sort of castle you see in children's drawings, all pepper-pot towers and turrets topped with grey roofs like witches' hats. It has Roman and later Arab foundations, but was largely rebuilt in the late-nineteenth century following a fire. Mullioned windows and stunning wooden ceilings grace the interior. See alcazardesegovia.com

WARWICK CASTLE, ENGLAND

View of Warwick Castle, a medieval castle, from the River Avon. Grand imposing castle with medieval and Victorian buildings. River Avon.
Warwick Castle in England (credit Visit Britain)
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Photo: VisitBritain

This castle atop a crag overlooking the River Avon in Warwick has been fortified since 914 and, as the medieval seat of the Earls of Warwick, played a crucial role in English history. A visit could take all day, since the castle features interactive exhibits, shows, kids' activities and grand interiors. Save time for the manicured gardens, where peacocks strut and roses bloom. See warwick-castle.com

SKOKLOSTER CASTLE, SWEDEN

Skokloster Castle in Sweden credit Skokloster Castle)
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This graceful white castle sits on Lake Mälaren 70 kilometres northwest of Stockholm. It was commissioned in 1654 by a celebrated field marshal, and its original stucco interiors are superbly preserved, along with a rich collection of tapestries, armour, decorative arts and textiles from Sweden's golden age. The ensemble forms one of Europe's best baroque museums. The surrounding park's avenues of trees are fabulous in autumn. See skoklostersslott.se

KARLSTEJN CASTLE, CZECH REPUBLIC

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Chapel of Karlstejn Castle in the Czech Republic (credit Czech Tourism)

Chapel of Karlstejn Castle in the Czech Republic. Photo: Supplied

This dramatic castle, surrounded by forest and vineyards, is an easy day trip from Prague. The favourite residence of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV is a statement of medieval dignity and power, with rich interior decoration and battlements and turrets straight from a fairytale. A highlight is the Gothic chapel, decorated with thousands of precious stones, and with a ceiling sprinkled with glass stars. See hrad-karlstejn.cz

ROCHETTA MATTEI, ITALY

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Rocchetta Mattei in Italy (credit Rocchetta Mattei)

This nineteenth-century folly in the hills outside Bologna is the result of the weird obsessions of Count Cesare Mattei. It looks like a combination of illustrations from a Book of Hours and The Arabian Nights, and has every architectural stereotype, from secret passageways to winding staircases and drawbridges. A Moorish feel predominates, overlaid with symbols of the occult. It's a mad place, but an entrancing one. See rocchettamattei-riola.it

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SCHLOSS AMBRAS, AUSTRIA

Ort: Innsbruck
Schloss Ambras in Austria (credit Tirol Werbung)
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Innsbruck Schloss Ambras in Austria. Photo: Aichner Bernhard

Lumpen white Ambras Castle sits on a crag just outside Innsbruck, its rather solid appearance leavened by surrounding duck ponds, English landscape gardens and an alpine backdrop. The interior is a beautiful Renaissance-era assembly of furnishings, armour and royal portraits. A chamber of curiosities brings together wonderful bejewelled objects, scientific instruments and exotica such as a carved rhino horn and automated golden gondola. See schlossambras-innsbruck.at

PALACIO DA PENA, PORTUGAL

This homage to nineteenth-century romanticism is located in former aristocratic playground Sintra outside Lisbon, and was created by King Ferdinand II after he was inspired by the Rhine's famous castle ruins. It's an eye-catching assortment of towers, Moorish domes and gateways brightly coloured in orange and yellow. The surrounding park has a magnificent collection of trees from across the world, and is dotted with eccentric pavilions. See parquesdesintra.pt

ROSENBORG CASTLE, DENMARK

Medieval castles are often grim, but later Renaissance castles were built for elegant living, not defence. This moated royal castle in central Copenhagen is a gorgeous example, topped by towers and green copper roofs. Rooms are arranged chronologically to show changing styles in furnishings. The Danish crown jewels are displayed in the cellar. Avenues of trees crisscross the surrounding statue-studded King's Gardens. See kongernessamling.dk

MALBORK CASTLE, POLAND

This epic thirteenth-century fortress of the Teutonic Knights is unusual for being built of brick. It's one of the world's largest castles, encircled in gigantic walls that once enfolded an entire town, and reaches its culmination in the High Castle with its lovely chapel and chapter house. The ensemble is best admired from across the Nogat River as the sun sets on the massive brick pile. See zamek.malbork.pl

SCHLOSS ELTZ, GERMANY

Imagine an elemental castle from the Brothers Grimm and you get Schloss Eltz in the Moselle region, with its squeezed-up towers, pointy roofs and crag-perched, forest-surrounded location. It (of course) has a knights' hall, cavernous kitchens and corridors lined with armour. Unusually, Eltz has been in the same family for 850 years and, unlike many German castles, escaped war damage. You couldn't get a more castle-like castle. See burg-eltz.de

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