Spain’s Top Castles are among Europe’s Best-Preserved Treasures

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-castle-ruins-hilltop-antequera-spain-view-water-mill-seen-east-malaga-province-andalusia-image33546115American’s are enamored with castles. No doubt that’s because we really don’t have any of our own, even though a few wealthy barons of the past decided to dub their extensive homes with a castle moniker. Anyway, it’s no wonder tens of thousands of visitors to Europe embark on castle tours each year, especially Americans. And, if you’re a real castle fanatic, you know where to find some of the best.

Spain is one of those places that boasts a wonderful array of well-preserved castles that will keep castle lovers oohing and aahing as they make their way from one to the other. There are about 2,500 in all, scattered throughout the country, many of them in nearly perfect shape and others certainly the worse for wear. In many cases, both the elegantly preserved and the much tattered are worth visiting. So we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorites for your consideration.

See some that interest you? Ask your travel agent to include them on your itinerary and perhaps recommend a few others you might be interested in visiting.

Alcazar, Segovia

Stunning Alcazar Castle, sometimes simply known as Segovia Castle, is where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella first met. It was one of the inspirations for Disney’s Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World and it is believed to have been built around the early 12th century as an Arab fortification. It wasn’t always used as such, however. It was more often used as a residence for the Kings of Castile and also functioned as a prison and a royal artillery school. It remains Segovia’s major attraction and interior tours are available.

Coca, Castile-Leon region outside Segovia

About an hour’s drive from Segovia, Coca Castle is quite unusual in appearance as compared to other, more traditional castle structures. It’s a 15th century Mudejar gem that is a true mixture of Moorish and Western military architecture, giving it a rather unusual look. It includes a moat and two walled enclosures and remains quite lavishly decorated, with furnishings similar to those found inside during the many years it was used as a palace. Just a couple Euros gets you inside for a good look.

Olite, Navarra

This is one of those castles that will simply take your breath away, especially at nighttime when it twinkles with thousands of lights. Situated directly in the center of the town of Olite, it was built during the 13th and 14th centuries and looks a little askew in places because additions were made every now and then during the centuries that followed. Guests can visit the newer section of the castle – the New Palace – and see why Olite was considered one of the most beautiful castles/palaces of its time. Arrive in August and you’ll have the opportunity to join in the fun of the Medieval Fair, which takes place over a long weekend. (Dates vary) There’s also a summer theater series that uses the castle as a backdrop.

Jarandilla, Cacares

This beautiful 15th century castle, which functioned mostly as a palatial residence, is now a hotel – which makes it extra incredible. That means you can sleep in this four-star treasure – the Parador of Jarandilla de la Vera – and dream of life as Spanish royalty of old. Seriously though, staying in a castle hotel is a pretty neat and the setting is especially lovely, with beautiful orchards and even a swimming pool. Some rooms have Jacuzzi tubs and other amenities. Worth the price if you find yourself in the area.

Ponferrada, Pronvince of Leon

The Castillo de los Templarios – also sometimes referred to as the Ponferrada Castle – is especially notable because it once housed the Knights of the Templar, as the name indicates. As a matter of fact, Ferdinand II of Leon gave the knights the castle to use to protect the pilgrims that came through the area of their way to Santiago de Compostela, a Catholic pilgrimage route that first originated in the 9th century. It only really served as such for about 20 years but it still maintains that distinction and still houses the Templar library. Guests can visit year round though hours vary.

Tossa de Mar, Costa Brava

This seaside castle probably boasts the best location in Spain. Set in a town equally as enchanting as the castle, Castillo Tossa de Mar is about as picturesque as they come. Though it won’t take you long to visit, you’ll want to stay in the town of Tossa de Mar for a little while, especially if you’re able to visit outside of peak summer tourist time. There are plenty of lovely beaches nearby as well and you’ll want to find a restaurant that serves the local catch-of-the-day, offering some of the best seafood in the area.

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