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Must-visit castles around the world

Silver Japanese castles surrounded by cherry blossom, spired Slovakian hilltop forts and massive 13th-century Polish monasteries; these whimsical castles around the world guarantee history, culture and a lot of charm.

Himeji, Japan

Discover samurai houses, cherry blossom and an Edo-style garden at Himeji

Discover samurai houses, cherry blossom and an Edo-style garden at Himeji

A gleaming white, 17th-century complex of steep staircases and winged-shaped roofs in the Kansai region of Japan, Himeji is widely regarded as the country’s most beautiful castle. It stands above the city (with sensational views), surrounded by cherry blossom and a traditional Edo-style garden, Kōko-en, where you’ll find nine reconstructed samurai houses. With its engraved, silver-grey tiles and six storeys of intricate carvings and woodwork, it’s a masterpiece of classic Japanese architecture. And it’s just an easy day trip from Kyoto or Osaka. Check into Shironoshita Guesthouse, just a few hundred metres from the castle.

Blois, France

The Château Royal de Blois, on the banks of the Loire river, has been home to seven French kings

The Château Royal de Blois, on the banks of the Loire river, has been home to seven French kings

In the Loire Valley of France, a region celebrated for its multitude of resplendent castles, the Château Royal de Blois stands out as one of the most elegant and historically significant. Seven French kings have called it home, from Louis XII (who built the oldest part of the château), to Francois I (who added a Renaissance wing). In fact, the castle is a fascinating illustration of the evolution of French architecture from the medieval period up until the 17th century. Spend the day admiring its unique circular Renaissance staircase, the extraordinary library, paintings, sculptures, and other impressive features like the spot where Joan of Arc was blessed before going to fight the British in Orléans in 1429. La Perluette is a B&B right next to the castle, featuring a courtyard, period furniture, wooden shutters and chandeliers.

Trenčín, Slovakia

Trenčín Castle is the site of stories of romance, war and torture

Trenčín Castle is the site of stories of romance, war and torture

A cream-coloured creation with black spired roofs and built atop a steep rocky outcrop, Trenčín Castle is a sight to behold. Standing on its battlements looking out onto undulating Slovak countryside cut through by the Váh river is blissfully peaceful. It’s also the site of stories of romance, war and torture; a legend that surrounds its ‘Well of Love’ claims that in order to free his beloved Fatima captured in the castle, Ottoman prince Omar had to dig a well here out of hard rock (it took three years but he got the girl). For those whose interest is piqued by a spot of gore, the 15th-century Starving Tower contains replica torture machinery and explanations of actual gruesome punishments used here centuries ago. Check into Penzión Tiberia, the highest-rated accommodation in Trenčín.

Warwick, UK

Built by William the Conqueror in 1068, Warwick Castle is one of the UK's most historic fortresses

Built by William the Conqueror in 1068, Warwick Castle is one of the UK's most historic fortresses

Of all the many castles in the UK, Warwick’s is one of the most deeply historic. Built by William the Conqueror in 1068, the castle was used as a stronghold for hundreds of years, besieged and attacked and changing hands as the tides of history turned. The original medieval motte-and-bailey wooden fort was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century, with the wealthy Earl of Warwick adding grand additions like the 17th-century Great Hall and State Homes. These spaces contain impressive relics of the times, as well as landscaped gardens by Capability Brown. Climb to the top of the towers for idyllic English countryside views, and try to run up the steps that were designed unevenly so as to trip up unsuspecting attackers. In summer, jousting tournaments are organised for spectators. And all year-round, you can book an added birds of prey experience, handling and admiring magnificent Bald and Golden Eagles. Stay in the Castle Limes Hotel, set in a 19th-century coaching inn just a 10-minute walk from Warwick Castle.

Malbork, Poland

Malbork is the largest castle in the world by land area

Malbork is the largest castle in the world by land area

The largest castle in the world, Malbork is a 13-century fortress and monastery of the Teutonic Knights, a German Roman Catholic religious order. On the banks of the Nogat River, its vast, red brick exterior looms over the water, while Gothic, medieval turrets cast a grand silhouette against the sky. The history of the castle can absorb you for hours; over the centuries it has served as a monastery, a Polish royal residence, and to house Nazi POWs during WWII. Exploring the grounds you’ll find historic artefacts, ceramics, religious artwork, jewels and fascinating stories; check out the ‘High Castle’ area, containing dormitories, chapels, the kitchens, a church, and the refectory – a splendid banquet hall that can fit 400 people. Stay at Apartament Luna, where the windows open up directly onto Malbork Castle.

Bellinzona, Switzerland

Admire ancient battlements and alpine views in Bellinzona

Admire ancient battlements and alpine views in Bellinzona

Not just one but three of Switzerland’s best-preserved medieval castles lie within Bellinzona, a charismatic alpine city (with a distinct Italian character) in the Ticino canton. Two of these fortresses, the Castelgrande and Sasso Corbaro, sit regally upon hilltops, providing glorious views of the valley. The former dates back to the 1st century BC and was the only castle in Bellinzona until the 13th century. The latter is the smallest of the three, yet dominates the skyline with its geometrical shape and lookout tower rising above the city. Finally, there’s the Castello di Montebello (built in the 14th century), whose mighty walls, towers and battlements can be reached on foot following a path starting from the city’s main piazza. Stay in the daffodil yellow Villa del Gusto, just a few minutes’ walk from the Castelgrande.