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Majestic old palaces and turreted stone castles might be the stuff of children's fables, but for the cultural traveler they offer a beguiling glimpse into European history. Whether intact or in ruins, these fantastical buildings provide insight into the lives of nobility throughout the Middle Ages, with many restored palaces also housing extensive collections of art, antique furniture, weapons, and medieval artifacts.
Most of the best-preserved castles lie outside the major cities, their more remote locations contributing to their preservation throughout centuries of war. The more famous of these can be found in the southern states of Bavaria and Baden-WĂŒrttemberg, amid some of the most beautiful and pristine countryside in Europe.
To explore Germany's fairytale castles, travelers starting from Berlin can enjoy a scenic overland journey via road or rail to Frankfurt am Main, launching trips to Trier, and taking in the wine country of Mosel.
From there, travelers can enter the Swabian Alps region, visiting Heidelberg and Stuttgart and the small medieval townships that line the valleys. To complete the fairytale tour, travelers can then go on to FĂŒssen to see two of the country's most famous castles, then on to Munich, the hub of Bavarian culture.
TOP GERMAN CASTLES
Owned by the Ingelheim family, this moated castle (wasserschloss) is concealed in a quiet valley in the Lower Franconian countryside. It starred as one of the locations in the Cannes-nominated 1958 film, Das Wirtshaus im Spessart, based on a German fairy tale. It's located in dense Spessart forest, about 50 km from Frankfurt.
This thirteenth century castle is the longest fortress in Europe â more than a kilometer in length. It houses six courtyards, multiple towers and gates, gardens, chapels, and protected inner chambers that successions of Bavaria's Dukes and Duchesses used as a second residence. The castle is located on the Salzach River, close to the Austrian border.
Now in ruins, this medieval stronghold hails from the thirteenth century. Destroyed by war, fire, and lightning, it has long been a romantic figure of the poets and artists of Heidelberg, winning the admiration of many writers, including Victor Hugo and Mark Twain. The castle overlooks Heidelberg city in the north of Baden-WĂŒrttemberg, a two-hour drive from Frankfurt.
Once a fortress for the knights of Lichtenstein, this neo-gothic castle sits precariously on a rocky bluff overlooking Honau in the Swabian Alps. Its remote location in mountainous woodland helped keep it safe from destruction, and it's still owned by the Dukes of Urach today. It's also in the Baden-WĂŒrttemberg state, a day-trip from Stuttgart.
Thirty-three generations of the Eltz family have called this castle home. Perched on a hill, with pointed spires and Tudor woodwork, it's the archetypal medieval castle, complete with a vast collection of antiques, paintings, and weapons. It's a moderate 45-minute hike from Moselkern train station to the castle.
The flags on Hohenzollern Castle's turrets flutter 855 meters over the surrounding countryside, a position it has enjoyed since the eleventh century. The not-so-humble home of the Prussian royal family, it was destroyed and rebuilt twice, restored to its current form in the late nineteenth century. It's close to the Swiss border, in the foothills of the Swabian Alps.
Now owned by an offshoot of the Hohenzollern family, this eleventh-century fortress has changed ownership numerous times, and was once even the seat of the French Vichy. The striking centerpiece of Sigmaringen, a quiet medieval village on the Danube, the castle today houses collections of porcelain, armor, carriages, and torture devices.
Technically not a castle, in that it wasn't built specifically to protect, this extravagant palace was the creation of the eccentric King Ludwig II of Bavaria, inspired by the medieval castles of fairy tales. Its extravagant design in turn served as the inspiration for one of the most iconic fairytale castles today: Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle. Neuschwanstein Castle overlooks the village of Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria, 100 kilometers from Munich.
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