By Randy Yagi
The architecture of some of America’s most popular and most familiar attractions were inspired by the many magnificent castles in Europe, such as Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, whose resemblance of Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle is strikingly undeniable. But theme parks like Disneyland and Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Castle at Universal Studios Hollywood aren’t the only familiar settings for American castle-like structures recreated in such renowned European architectural styles as Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance. Indeed, evidence of classic European designs can be found all over the country and particularly in the eastern portion of the U.S., such as the Smithsonian Castle in Washington D.C. and the Belvedere Castle in New York’s Central Park. Here is a look at five more of the best European castles to visit without having to leave the U.S.
With nearly 180,000 square feet of floor space, 35 bedrooms and 250 rooms overall, the iconic Biltmore Estate is the largest privately owned house in America. Located in a dramatic 8,000-acre setting nestled within the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, this extraordinary estate was completed in 1895, near the final stages of the Gilded Age by business magnate George Washington Vanderbilt II and fashioned in a Châteauesque style modeled after the majestic chateaus of the fairytale-like Loire Valley of central France. Still under the ownership from descendants of Vanderbilt’s family, this glorious estate has been open to the public since 1930 and currently operates three lodging facilities, most notably the AAA Four Star and Forbes Four Star Inn on Biltmore Estate, in addition to what’s described as the most visited winery in the country, the historic Biltmore Winery. Also on the sprawling property are several award-winning dining options and a host of popular attractions, such as the kid-friendly farmyard and equestrian center and the lush 75-acre garden, with its beautiful conservatory graced by arched windows. In addition to overnight stays, visitors can also purchase daytime tickets for a self-guided visit of the Biltmore House with access to the gardens and free wine tasting. Special offers are also available online as well as annual passes.
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Accessible only boat, Boldt Castle was originally conceived as a Valentine’s gift to the wife of George Boldt, best known as the former proprietor of New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Elegantly situated across the 5-acre Heart Island in the Thousand Island Regions bordering Canada and New York State, this elegantly crafted stone structure was founded during the Gilded Age and modeled after 16th century castles of Northern Europe, yet also contains striking elements of Victorian architecture, with a grand staircase and pointed watchtowers. Standing six stories high with 120 rooms, modern furnishings and features like an indoor swimming pool and now abandoned bowling lanes, the castle also is graced with an arched Romanesque entryway and a fashionable stepstone footbridge, in addition to other prominent medieval-like structures elsewhere on the property, such as the Power House and the Alster Tower, in addition to the Boldt Yacht House, located across the waters of the St. Lawrence Seaway on Wellesley Island. Boldt Castle is open daily to the public beginning the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend and through the third Sunday of October. Tickets may be purchased online and a separate fee is required for round trip boat transportation. Additionally, the Yacht House on Wellesley Island is accessible by car or a free shuttle boat from Heart Island and Boldt Castle.
Castello di Amorosa
Located in the heart of California’s renowned Napa Valley wine region is a Tuscan-styled castle and world-class winery, complete with a torture chamber and an authentic Iron Maiden. First opened to the public in 2007, Castello di Amorosa (Castle of Love) was built by Dario Sattui, a fourth generation member of the celebrated Sattui family, whose multi-award winning V. Sattui Winery was established in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood in 1885. Described as an authentically-built 13th century Tuscan castle, Castello di Amorosa also features a drawbridge with an imposing portcullis, five defensive towers with battlements, the torture chamber, secret passageways and 107 rooms, with 95 rooms known to be completely devoted to winemaking of such popular varietal wines as cabernet sauvignon, pinot grigio and pinot noir. Open 364 days a year, Castello di Amorosa offers general admission tickets, guided tours and tastings, food and wine pairing and other upgraded experiences. General admission tickets allow for self-exploring of two levels of the castello and premium wine tasting, but does not include access to the lower levels, where the the torture chamber, armory and the Grand Barrel Room can all be found. Castello di Amorosa with its grand roadway protected by Italian cypress trees and bordered by its olive trees and flowing vineyards, is located between Calistoga and St. Helena and approximately 25 miles north of the city of Napa, off California Highway 29.
Completed in 1919 and measuring more than 90,000 square feet, Hearst Castle is arguably the most famous castle in America. Perched upon a hilltop overlooking the rugged Central California Coast, this enormous castle with two grand bell towers was originally the private residence of William Randolph Hearst, the powerful business leader, politician, newspaper publisher and founder of the legendary Hearst Corporation, which continues to operate today. A few years after his death in 1951, the property was donated by the Hearst Corporation and then designated as a California State Park. It now acts as one of the most remarkable museums in the country and attracts 750,000 visitors annually. Designed by the famed American architect Julia Morgan in a magnificent Spanish Revival architectural style, Hearst Castle features 56 rooms including the famous grand rooms, 61 bathrooms, an enormous wine cellar and two of the world’s most famous swimming pools, as well as a private villas and a private airport that continue to be used by descendants of the Hearst family. Also on the property are exotic animals like zebras that are the descendants of what was once the world’s largest private zoo. Open to the public for nearly 60 years, a variety of tours can be purchased online. Hearst Castle is located off the Pacific Coast Highway 1, about five miles northeast of the city of San Simeon in San Luis Obispo County.
Easily the most spectacular of all the stately mansions that dot Long Island’s legendary Gold Coast, Oheka Castle is often referred to as the Versailles of New York. Completed near the end of the Progressive Era in 1919, Oheka Castle was once the summer home of Otto Hermann Kahn, a prominent financier and patron of the arts who helped reorganized the nation’s railroad systems of the early 20th century. Using an acronym of Kahn’s name, Oheka Castle is the second largest private home in the country with 117 rooms across nearly 115,000 square feet and designed much like the larger Biltmore Estate in a Châteauesque architectural style. Also on the 23-acre property is a lavishly designed garden reminiscent of the renowned gardens of the Palace of Versailles, and fine dining at the Oheka Bar and Restaurant, open daily for lunch and dinner. Today Oheka Castle is under the ownership of local land developer Gary Melius and primarily operates as a luxury hotel, with 32 fabulous guestrooms and suites, as well as one of the finest wedding venues in the world. A member of the prestigious Historic Hotels Worldwide and Historic Hotels of America, Oheka Castle is located in the Town of Huntington, atop the highest point on Long Island.