6 of the best European castles to visit by superyacht

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Pena Palace, Portugal

If American castles are too far afield, Europe’s fairy-tale fortresses have plenty to offer for superyacht travellers. From royal residencies to inescapable prisons, these architectural wonders have served many purposes during their long lifetimes.

1. Pena Palace, Portugal

Sitting proudly atop a hill in the town of Sintra, the riotous colour of Pena Palace provides a feast for the eyes. The vivid shades and extravagant architecture of this romantic castle remain the legacy of King Ferdinand II of Portugal, who was known for having more of a penchant for arts than for politics.

Originally built in the Middle Ages as a monastery, King Ferdinand II transformed the site into a royal residence in the 19th century. The forested landscape meant that Sintra had a slightly cooler temperature than the capital, so was an ideal location for the Royals to escape to during the blistering summer months. Under the King’s instruction, German architect Wilhelm Ludwig von Schewge brought this opulent palace into existence. There is something for everyone here, as the castle was inspired by a culmination of neo-Islamic, Gothic and Manuelian design. The interior of the castle is equally flamboyant; each of the rooms inside the castle has its own theme, ranging from Moorish to Baroque European.

The castle has had many renowned visitors, notably Hans Christian Anderson and Richard Strauss who were both enchanted by the castle’s eclectic beauty. Having been granted the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, Pena is considered a symbol of Portugal and is often used by the President for official events.

Don’t miss: The ceilings inside the castle are adorned with many elaborate paintings and patterns. One fresco depicts magpies with sealed beaks, meant to serve as a warning to gossiping ladies of the court.

How to visit by superyacht: yachts up to 45 metres can use the nearby Marina de Cascais, which is a 20 minute drive from the national park where the castle is located. Alternatively, the port in Lisbon provides berths for yachts of all sizes and is only 50 minutes from the castle.

Picture courtesy of Shutterstock.com / Talga

Written by Olivia Michel

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Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

At the heart of Edinburgh stands one of the oldest monuments in Scotland. While the city below has expanded at a dizzying rate into a bustling hub of activity, the castle remains unchanged since the 12th century, its towers a distinctive feature of the Edinburgh skyline.

The castle has played a vital role in Scotland’s turbulent history, having been under siege a record amount of times. It was constantly passed between the English and Scottish and ultimately lost its status as a royal residency – the last monarch to sleep there was Charles I in 1633. Oliver Cromwell had it converted into barracks after seizing it in the 17th century, and it was also used to hold prisoners of war during the conflicts that continued well into the 19th century.

Its eventful past means that every room in the castle tells a story. In the Crown Room, visitors can marvel at the Honours of Scotland, which are the oldest crown jewels in Britain. The room in which King James I was born has also been well preserved.

Don’t miss: The legendary Stone of Scone has found its final resting place in Edinburgh Castle, having been shuffled around the UK throughout its history. Referred to by the Scots as the Stone of Destiny, this artefact has particular significance for the British monarchy, having been used in coronation ceremonies since the reign of Edward I in the 13th century.

How to visit by superyacht: Leith Docks, only 25 minutes from Edinburgh castle, has the capacity to host yachts of any size. It is not uncommon for superyachts to venture to ScotlandLe Grand Bleu which measures 112 metres, was docked there in August.

Picture courtesy of shutterstock.com / Kanuman

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Alhambra Palace, Spain

The Alhambra Palace is arguably the finest example of Moorish architecture in Spain and its Arabic name, Qalat Al-Hamra, means “the red castle”. It was constructed as a fortress in AD 889 but only established as a royal residency in 1333, by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada. In 1492 it was seized and partially reconstructed by the Spanish monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, however the Moorish king and his son, Muhammed V, are largely responsible for the grandeur of the castle.

The castle is remarkable for its elaborate decoration. Almost all of the ornamentation in the building is calligraphic, with verses from court poets running across the walls. Water trickles throughout the courtyards via numerous canals and fountains, attributing the palace with a sense of serenity. Climbing the water staircase to the outlying building of the Generalife, visitors will be rewarded with a spectacular view over Granada.

Don’t miss: If you look closely, you may notice a reddish stain on the fountain in the Hall of Abencerrajes. Legend tells that 30 leaders of the Abencerrajes clan were beheaded in this room, and the stain is a remnant of the gory event.

How to visit by superyacht: The Alhambra is slightly inland but worth the journey. Superyachts up to 150 metres can moor in the Port of Málaga, or alternatively drop anchor near Granada and tender to shore.

Picture courtesy of Shutterstock.com / Talga

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Frederiksborg Castle, Denmark

With its estate covering three islets on the Hillerød Lake, Frederiksborg Castle is considered to be the largest Renaissance building in Scandinavia. The property has been owned by Danish noble families as early as the 13th century, but the castle as we know it now was redesigned in the 17th century by King Christian IV, for whom it was his childhood home.

Although Denmark may have one of the oldest monarchies, Frederiksborg Castle is no longer a royal residence and now operates as a museum. A devastating fire destroyed a significant portion of the castle in 1850, but luckily it was salvaged and since its restoration has been established as the National History Museum of Denmark. Visitors can enjoy viewing the preserved ornate staterooms as well as an exquisite collection of rare masterpiece paintings – particularly intriguing is the artistic depiction of King Klipping’s murder in 1826 by Otto Bache. The stunning castle is further complemented by the beautiful Baroque gardens that sprawl across the grounds, which are definitely worth having a walk through.

Don’t miss: The Fountain of Neptune is hard to miss, given its location in the main courtyard, but deserves some special attention from visitors. Built in 1622, the fountain was a tribute to Denmark’s powerful position in Europe. It was actually seized by the Swedes during the Dano-Swedish War but was since replaced and reassembled with the help of J.C Jacobsen, founder of Carlsberg Breweries.

How to visit by superyacht: The infamous 142.81 metre Sailing Yacht A was spotted in February passing by Helsingør Harbour, which is half an hour from Frederiksborg. The castle is also about 40 minutes from Copenhagen, where the 87.78 metre Fountainhead docked in July.

Picture courtesy of Shutterstock.com / Igor Dymov

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Aragonese Castle, Italy

Next to the unassuming, quaint island of Ischia lies a rocky outcrop that hosts an imposing castle. This fortress was built as early as AD 474 by Hiero I of Syracuse, but came to be known as the Castello Aragonese after it became the property of the powerful Aragon family in the 15th century. Alfonso de Aragon ordered the rebuilding of the castle, as well as the construction of a 220 metre concrete bridge to connect the castle to Ischia Island.

Its prime location, elevated high above the Tyrrhenian sea, means that the best views over Ischia can be viewed from the castle. Hidden inside its bastions is a little Eden; walking through the many tiers of the castle gardens, visitors will notice the plentiful olive groves and fragrant fruit trees.

The castle has also been home to a convent and monastery, and at one point contained 13 small chapels within its complex. The famous noblewoman and poet Vittoria Colona was married to Ferrante d’Avalos in the castle’s cathedral and lived a portion of her life there. Despite its crumbling appearance, it is actually still used as a private residence. Many of the rooms have now been filled with artwork for the castle’s frequent exhibitions.

Don’t miss: The armoury room contains all manner of obscene torture implements used by the Italians during the medieval period, which, if rather gory, will be sure to provide some amusement.

How to visit by superyacht: The nearby Marina Portoslavo provides berths for yachts up to 55 metres, or you can drop anchor in the waters surrounding the castle and tender to shore.

Picture courtesy of Shutterstock.com / Yevgen Belich

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Château d’If, France

Château d’If is Europe’s older, better-looking Alcatraz. Built as a fortress in the 16th century, it was later transformed into a prison for the worst criminals in France. The notorious dungeons were immortalised by Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo as the place of Edmond Dantès incarceration. The château occupies a solitary position in the Mediterranean Sea, the only structure built onto the tiny island of If.

Although Dumas’ protagonist eventually escapes the complex, the reality was that a break out would have been impossible. King Francis I ordered the construction of the fortress with the original purpose of creating a Marseille outpost, however its fortified walls and the unforgiving currents of the surrounding waters meant that it was the perfect place to lock up undesirables. The fortress imprisoned all manner of offenders, and the cells were organised in a hierarchical structure; the poorer prisoners lived in dire conditions whereas those who could afford it stayed in private cells with the luxury of a fireplace.

Although this castle may not be the most beautiful, the spectral island will surely leave an impression on visitors. The intriguing history of Château d’If makes it worth a visit if you’re cruising by the French Riveria.

Don’t miss: Graffiti from the inmates still remains etched into the walls, evoking an especially eerie atmosphere in the dungeons.

How to visit by superyacht: yachts up to 100 metres can moor in the Vieux Port de Marseille and tender to If, which is 1.9 nautical miles west of the port.

Picture courtesy of Shutterstock.com / Gurgen Bakhshetyan

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