While fairytale castles may be more associated with medieval Europe, the USA is actually home to many beautiful chateaus, mansions and palaces – you just need to know where to find them. We round up the most enchanting American castles, from the grand Biltmore Estate in North Carolina to California’s Hearst Castle.
Another Vanderbilt family creation designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, the Breakers is one of Newport’s most striking summer homes, built in the late 19th century when the picturesque Rhode Island coastal town was the playground of America’s wealthiest families. 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 like Austrian-American sculptor Karl Bitter to create relief sculptures. It is open to visitors year-round and is owned and operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County.
A tiny island 60mi (96km) or so up the Hudson River from New York City is the setting of the ruins of Bannerman Castle. Built in the early 20th century by Scottish-American munitions merchant Francis Bannerman not as a home but as an arsenal, the castle was designed to resemble medieval Scottish fortresses. Following his death in 1918, Bannerman Castle fell into disrepair, and much of the structure was destroyed by a fire that broke out in 1969. Today the island is overseen by Bannerman Castle Trust, which offers summertime island tours and hosts events including barbecue picnics and concerts.
Located in the northern reaches of California’s wine country, Napa Valley, Castello di Amorosa can be deceiving, like many castles in the US: while at first glance it looks like a 13th-century castle straight out of Tuscany, it actually opened its doors in 2007 after a 14-year construction period. Designed by owner and fourth-generation winemaker Dario Sattui as a winery, Castello di Amorosa is surrounded by acres of vineyards producing award-winning Italian-style wines. Featuring 107 rooms, most of which are used for winemaking, Castello di Amorosa includes a drawbridge, a great hall with replica Italian frescoes, and even a dungeon and torture chamber.
Iolani Palace, Hawaii’s official royal residence, was built in 1882 in downtown Honolulu by King Kalakaua as a means of strengthening the then Kingdom of Hawaii’s prestige as a modern nation overseas. When the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893 by the US, Iolani Palace served as the capitol building until it underwent extensive renovation and reopened as a museum in 1978. Taking design inspiration from European palaces, Iolani is said to be the sole example of American Florentine (a mixture of Italian Renaissance and native Hawaiian architectural styles) and is the only official royal residence on US soil. It is seen as a cultural centre in Hawaii, and speciality tours are available, including a White Glove Tour looking at treasures from the state rooms to the palace attic.
Though it was built just over 100 years ago, Thornewood Castle – nestled on the edges of American Lake in Lakewood, Washington – actually dates back much further. Chester Thorne, a local prominent banker and developer, dreamed of building a Tudor Gothic home and, after buying a 400-year-old English manor, 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.
Inspired by his time living in England as a child and falling in love with its castles, 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 travels to Europe, Hammond Castle overlooks Massachusetts’ scenic Gloucester Harbor and is now a museum. Visitors are free to tour its enchanting rooms, such as the unique inner courtyard, which is partly made from medieval storefronts that Hammond found on a trip to France and took back to the US.