While fairytale castles may be associated more with Medieval Europe, the USA is home to many beautiful châteaux, mansions and palaces – you just need to know where to find them. We round up the most enchanting castles in America, from Hearst Castle in California to the grand Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.
Hearst Castle, California
High on a hilltop overlooking San Simeon, California, Hearst Castle was built between 1919 and 1947 – according to designs by noted architect Julia Morgan – for newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. He nicknamed the estate La Cuesta Encantada (the Enchanted Hill), and it comprises four buildings, 165 rooms and 127 acres (51ha) of terraced gardens. The Casa del Mar guesthouse has panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, while the gothic study in the main building of Hearst Castle features a vaulted Spanish ceiling dating back to the 14th century.
Biltmore Estate, North Carolina
In the Blue Ridge Mountains outside Asheville, North Carolina, the Biltmore Estate took six years to build, beginning in 1889 after George Vanderbilt visited the area and became enchanted by its beauty. Architect Richard Morris Hunt designed the 250-room French Renaissance château, while acclaimed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted envisioned the grounds surrounding the castle, including the 15-acre (6ha) Azalea Garden, home to some of the finest native azaleas in the nation. Today, the estate has a vineyard and winery, producing award-winning wines, and offers tours of the château, including the stately banquet hall and bowling alley.
Boldt Castle, New York
This Rhineland-inspired castle is on a tiny isle in the Thousand Islands region in Upstate New York, which was a playground for the rich and famous in its day. Hotel magnate George C Boldt began building the castle in 1900 for him and his beloved wife, Louise, to enjoy as a summer home. Sadly, Louise died months before Boldt Castle was completed, and a devastated George abruptly halted its construction. The castle sat unoccupied at the mercy of the elements for more than 70 years until the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired it and restored it to its current glory. The island estate includes the 120-room castle, a drawbridge and the pretty Alster Tower. The authority runs tours of the castle and Heart Island, which it occupies.
The Breakers, Rhode Island
Another Vanderbilt family creation designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, the Breakers is one of the most striking summer homes in Newport, built in the late 19th century when the picturesque Rhode Island coastal town was the playground for the wealthiest families in America. Taking inspiration from the Italian Renaissance palaces of 16th-century Genoa and Turin, Hunt designed the 70-room mansion to include the grand dining room, with its dramatic freestanding columns and gilded cornice, and drafted contemporary talents such as Austrian-American sculptor Karl Bitter to create relief sculptures. It’s open to visitors year-round and is owned and operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County.
1892 Bishop’s Palace, Texas
Also known as Gresham’s House, the 1892 Bishop’s Palace is in the East End Historic District in Galveston. It was built in the late 19th century for attorney and entrepreneur Walter Gresham and his family. Frequently cited by architectural historians as one of the most significant structures in the USA, the 1892 Bishop’s Palace was designed by famed local architect Nicholas J Clayton, who built the Victorian-style mansion from steel and stone – a sturdy mixture that endured the Great Galveston hurricane that destroyed much of the city. The mansion’s opulent interior features a dramatic mahogany stairwell, many stained-glass windows and decorative wood carvings. You can look around yourself or see areas usually closed to the public with a basement-to-attic tour.
Bannerman Castle, New York
A tiny island 60mi (97km) or so up the Hudson River from New York City is the setting for the ruins of Bannerman Castle. Built in the early 20th century as an arsenal by Scottish-American munitions merchant Francis Bannerman, the castle was designed to resemble Medieval Scottish fortresses. Following Bannerman’s death in 1918, the structure fell into disrepair, with much of it destroyed by a fire that broke out in 1969. Today, Bannerman Castle Trust oversees the island and offers summertime island tours. It also hosts events, including barbecue picnics and concerts.
Castello do Amorosa, California
In the northern reaches of Napa Valley, California, Castello di Amorosa can be deceiving, like many castles in the US; while it looks like a 13th-century castle straight out of Tuscany, it actually opened its doors in 2007 after a 15-year construction period. Designed by owner and fourth-generation winemaker Dario Sattui as a winery, the castle is surrounded by acres of vineyards producing award-winning Italian-style wines. Featuring 107 rooms, most of which are used for winemaking, it includes a drawbridge, a great hall with replica Italian frescoes, and even a dungeon and torture chamber.
Fonthill Castle, Pennsylvania
Fonthill Castle in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, was the former home of archaeologist and ceramicist Henry Chapman Mercer. Designed by Mercer and constructed between 1908 and 1912 to showcase his extensive collection of tiles and prints, it’s a pastiche of Medieval, gothic and Byzantine styles and comprises 44 rooms, 18 fireplaces and more than 200 windows; it became a museum following his death in 1930. On the same grounds as Fonthill Castle is the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, built by Mercer in 1912 and where many of the tiles on display at Fonthill were made.
Iolani Palace, Hawaii
Iolani Palace, the only official royal residence on US soil, was built in 1882 in downtown Honolulu by King Kalakaua to strengthen the former Kingdom of Hawaii’s prestige as a modern nation overseas. When the US overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, the palace served as the capitol building until it underwent extensive renovation and reopened as a museum in 1978. Inspired by European palaces, it’s said to be the only example of American Florentine architecture – a mixture of Italian Renaissance and native Hawaiian architectural styles. It’s seen as a cultural center in Hawaii, and specialty tours are available, including a White Glove Tour looking at treasures from the staterooms to the palace attic.
Lyndhurst Mansion, New York
On the edge of the Hudson River in Tarrytown, New York, the Lyndhurst Mansion is the creation of acclaimed architect Alexander Jackson Davis, who built it in 1838. The Gothic Revival building is one of the finest castles in America and has had several noteworthy residents since its construction, including New York City mayor William S Paulding Jr and railroad tycoon Jay Gould. Tours of the mansion – including its art gallery, home to paintings such as The Madonna of the Roses by French artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau – are available on Fridays and weekends.
Thornewood Castle, Washington
Though built in the early 20th century, Thornewood Castle – on the edges of American Lake in Lakewood, Washington – dates back much further. Chester Thorne, a prominent local banker and developer, dreamed of building a Tudor Gothic home, and after buying a 400-year-old English manor, he had it painstakingly dismantled, transported and reconstructed with the help of architect Kirtland Kelsey Cutter. Now an inn, Thornewood Castle offers guests access to the estate’s private dock and lakeside beach and the beautiful sunken “secret garden” designed by the famous Olmsted Brothers, sons of Frederick Law Olmsted.
Hammond Castle, Massachusetts
Inspired by his time living in England as a child and falling in love with the castles in the area, American inventor John Hays Hammond Jr built the beautiful Hammond Castle between 1926 and 1929 to act as his home and laboratory. Constructed from a mix of local stone and various Roman, Medieval and Renaissance artefacts Hammond had collected during his travels to Europe, the castle overlooks the scenic Gloucester Harbor in Massachusetts and is now a museum. Today, you can tour its enchanting rooms, such as the unique inner courtyard partly made from Medieval storefronts that Hammond found on a trip to France and brought back to the US.
Need somewhere fancy to stay as you explore the castles and fortresses in the US? Check out the best luxury hotels in the USA. Alternatively, get closer to nature by staying at one of the most luxurious nature getaways in the States, or enjoy that homey feel at one of the best vacation cottages in America.
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