The Top 10 European Castle Drives

The warlike character of Europe's castles and other fortified buildings has mellowed with time, making them a perfect destination for driving tours.
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Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany  (Andrew Wakeford/PhotoDisc/Getty Images)

Transylvania, Romania
With battlements, towers, and drawbridges, Romania's fortified churches are as impressive as any castle. A good route starts in the city of Sibiu, then loops north and east to Braşov, taking in the churches at Valea Viilor, Biertan, Saschiz, D ârjiu, Viscri, Prejmer, and Cristian. Near Brașov stands the more traditional fortification of Bran Castle, associated with the fearsome 15th-century prince, Vlad the Impaler.

Zagorje, Croatia
Castles dot northern Croatia from the coast up into winelands of the Zagorje mountains and east to the Danube. The Habsburgs used much of this region as a military buffer zone between their empire and the Ottoman Turks. Base yourself in the baroque town of Varaždin, with a fortified Stari Grad (Old Town). From here, head west to Trakošćan and Veliki Tabor, two of the country's showcase castles.

Puglia, Italy
The first Gothic horror story ever written was Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764. But he had never visited the fortress, which is far from spooky. There are many other castles on Italy's heel, most notably those of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Starting in Otranto, head northeast to visit castles the emperor built or restored at Monopoli, Trani, Manfredonia, Monte Sant'Angelo, Lucera, and finally Castel Fiorentino (Torremaggiore), where he died in 1250.
PLANNING: The baroque city of Lecce makes an excellent base.

Lake Geneva, Switzerland
The Ch âteau de Chillon at the east end of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) is Switzerland's most visited monument. All around the lake are castles with museums and long histories. From Chillon, follow the northern (Swiss) shore westward via the ch âteaus at Morges, which has a large pewter collection; Prangins (the Swiss National Museum); Nyon; and Coppet.

Castle Road, Germany/Czech Republic
This road, mapped out in the 1950s, wanders 750 miles (1,207 km) from Mannheim, Germany, to Prague in the Czech Republic, taking in some 90 sites, including palaces and manors. En route is the dramatic castle of Heidelberg, from which the road continues east through the historic region of Franconia—including the city of Bayreuth, famous for its associations with the opera composer Richard Wagner—and into the Czech Republic. It ends just outside Prague, at the fairytale castle of Karlštejn, dating from the 14th century.

Reproduced with permission from Drives of a Lifetime: 500 of the World's Most Spectacular Trips, 2010, National Geographic. All rights reserved.

Published: 16 Sep 2010 | Last Updated: 30 Jul 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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