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5 fabulous palaces and castles to visit in 2018

posted on 19/02/18

Soaring towers, lavish interiors and spectacular settings. Europe’s palaces and castles evoke awe and authority now as they always have, and many rank among the finest architectural achievements of the past millennium. These were structures often commissioned by figures with fevered imaginations and inflexible egos, nobles asserting their dominance, and monarchs building up to the heavens, materialising their divine right to rule.

What is more; as real living quarters, former and current, palaces tell a story. Social history, aristocratic eccentricities and inevitably, scandals, are never far from view. There is no better way to understand these narratives than to explore the hidden depths of their chambers yourself.

From Moorish Spain, through Renaissance France to 19th-century Bavaria, several of our trips celebrate Europe’s palaces and castles, and below is a small selection of five of the most impressive.

 

The Alcázar Palace, Seville

Converted from a Moorish fortress in the 14th century, Seville’s Alcázar Palace is the oldest palace in Europe in continuous use. The complex is the most outstanding realisation of Mudéjar art in Spain; a fusion of Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture with striking elements of Islamic art, including arabesques, calligraphy and geometric patterns.

Apart from its labyrinth of stunningly decorated rooms, the beautiful orange-scented gardens and mesmeric underground Baños de Doña María de Padilla are not to be missed, as well as the painted altarpiece The Virgin of the Navigators, the oldest known depiction of the discovery of the Americas.

Art in Andalucía (21–27 October 2018) visits Seville’s Alcázar Palace, as well as two Moorish buildings that influenced Mudéjar architecture; the immense Alhambra Palace in Granada and the Mezquita (Mosque) in Córdoba.

 

Palazzo Colonna, Rome

Palazzo Colonna, Sala Grande, ©Palazzo Colonna.

As palaces go, the Palazzo Colonna looks relatively unostentatious from the outside. Peer within, however, and you are faced with one of the most stunning Italian Baroque interiors. The palace has a long and rich history which dates to the 13th century and beyond, and is reputed to have housed Dante on his first visit to Rome.

The six rooms of its gallery remain open to the public and are adorned with glorious ceiling frescoes, all dedicated to Marcantonio Colonna, the family’s most distinguished ancestor who defeated the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. They house masterpieces by Reni, Tintoretto, Rosa, Bronzino, Guercino, Veronese and many others.

Rome and the Birth of Baroque (7–11 November 2018) explores the Palazzo Colonna, as well as the sumptuous art collection of the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj and visits to Palazzo Farnese and Barberini.

 

 

The Winter Palace, St Petersburg

 

The opulent Winter Palace was the home of the ruling Romanov Dynasty from 1732 until 1917, and was intended to reflect the untouchable might of the Russian Empire. Calculated to contain 1,500 rooms, the palace played host to many extravagant parties, such as the infamous ball of 1903, when, in the midst of growing discontent with the monarchy, the Tsar and his family dressed themselves in bejewelled 17th-century costumes.

The palace, designed by, amongst other architects, Bartolomeo Rastrelli, in an Elizabethan Baroque style, now forms part of the Hermitage Museum. Its mind-boggling collection contains more paintings than any other in the world, and totals over 3 million items.

 

Neuschwanstein Castle, Hohenschwangau

 

Inspired by the theatrical King Ludwig II’s love of Wagner and intended as a tribute to the composer, looking at Neuschwanstein’s array of towers, turrets and spectacular hillside location, it is easy to see why it is often referred to as "the castle of the fairytale king" (even though the king only slept eleven nights there).

Neuschwanstein is a great place to examine the eccentricities of the monarch who commissioned its construction – the interior of the palace contains spectacular frescoes, a Byzantineesque throne room, and a cave-like grotto.

You can explore Neuschwanstein on Bavaria’s Fairytale Castles (16–20 September 2018), which also visits Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee.

 

Château de Chambord

Chambord is the largest of the Loire châteaux, but was remarkably intended as a ‘hunting lodge’ for King Francois I when it was built in the 16th century. Its origins are mysterious; (none other than Leonardo da Vinci is believed to have played a role in the design) and its construction was an immense project, apparently necessitating the diversion of the Loire to accommodate the Castle and its 50-acre game park.

The Château de Chambord is the most ambitious in a series of extraordinary châteaux that were built around the Loire River from the 15th to 17th centuries. It features on the itinerary of Great French Châteaux (30 June–3 July 2018), along with Chenonceau, Cheverny, Villandry and more.

 

By Miles Rowland, Digital Marketing Assistant.

 

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