A fairytale lifestyle
America is a vast country, with many notable places to explore that are historically and visually enriching. Castles, often the subject of books and dreams, draw people in via their dramatic and mysterious nature. These fortified beauties of architecture and days-gone-by can be found throughout the world. Many are situated in lush and scenic surroundings. Even seeing just a few can leave an indelible mark on our hearts as we truly connect to our travel experiences. Lucky for us, there are great castles in the United States just ready for exploration. Here are three must-see castles in the USA that made our list:
The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island
The New England state of Rhode Island is loved by many for its beautiful beaches and coastal towns. Newport, a seaside city which sits on Aquidneck Island, is renowned for its coastal scenery and stately mansions that line Bellevue Avenue and beyond. The Breakers is among the most remarkable of summer getaways, having served as the luxurious residence of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, a prominent businessman and member of the famed railroad family. Today, the mansion remains one of the most stunning examples of fine architecture of the Gilded Age. Due to fire concerns, Vanderbilt and his wife Alice commissioned architect Richard Morris Hunt, to create a structure of steel, brick, and limestone, with utilities placed underground and away from the house. The sprawling 62,482-square-foot Neo Italian Renaissance mansion was built between 1893 and 1895. It is currently owned and cared for by The Preservation Society of Newport County, a private non-profit organization based in the city and tasked with preserving architectural heritage. Visitors are encouraged to take the entertaining “Family Tour,” shared through the eyes of family members and staff. On the tour, hear from “fanciful creatures like the friendly dolphin hiding under the grand staircase and the dragons in the Dining Room.” Adults will be mesmerized by the intricate details throughout the mansion, featuring the finest in American and European Craftsmanship and Italian palazzo design. In addition to lavish décor, be sure to enjoy waterfront scenery as you tour the property. Visitors will observe breathtaking views of the sea from the loggia, uniting indoor and outdoor in total splendor. As one watches the ocean waves crash into the cliffs below, it’s easy to understand how the opulent mansion earned its name.
Cà d’Zan, Sarasota, Florida
The sunny southern state of Florida is home to many exceptional castle-like mansions including Cà d’Zan, literally meaning “House of John” in Venetian. Fittingly, it was the waterfront residence of American entrepreneur John Ringling of circus fame. This sophisticated five-story tall Venetian-style mansion was designed by Dwight James Baum. Built in the mid-1920’s as a “winter retreat” for the circus mogul and his wife, it took only two years to construct. Quickly, thereafter, it became the social hub of the region. The Mediterranean revival home contains an eclectic variety of architectural styles to include Venetian Gothic, Italian Renaissance, Moorish, and Spanish-inspired design, making it truly unique. The delightful residence sits on Sarasota Bay and contains 56 rooms and 36,000 square feet dripping with lavish one-of-a-kind furnishings and commissioned art. Ringling hired Hungarian-born American artist, Willy Pogany, to create murals for the home’s interior, with perhaps his most famous work of art depicting, “Dancers of the different Nations.” Pastel stained-glass windows, ceilings of art, and manicured gardens adorn the mansion and increase its charm. The estate now belongs to the State of Florida. Take a small group guided tour for an intimate view of the mansion and to be transported back in time to the glamourous days of the Roaring Twenties.
Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California
California, a Pacific Coast state, has a treasure trove of palatial homes including the famed Hearst Castle. It is situated along the coastline about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Built in 1919 for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the stunning architectural gem sits high above the ocean in San Simeon. Hearst suitably called this hilltop estate, La Cuesta Encantada, meaning the enchanted hill. The largest house on the property, known as Casa Grande, was inspired by the Church of Santa María la Mayor, Ronda, Spain. Hearst commissioned Julia Morgan, a female architect, to work closely with him to create his residence at San Simeon. Together, their vision was to construct a castle worthy of ones which stood in Europe. The opulent home underwent long periods of construction which lasted until 1947. Regardless, Hearst hosted elaborate parties to include the likes of Hollywood stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, and Clark Gable, as well as politicians such as Calvin Coolidge and Winston Churchill. Guests would have access to on-property guest houses to include Casa del Mar, Casa del Monte, and Casa del Sol. In his youth, Hearst camped in tents on the property which was at that time owned by his father. Once a bit older and tired of tent camping, he initially proposed the building of a bungalow. However, the idea ultimately expanded into something way more elaborate. The 70,000-square foot main mansion features a blend of various designs to include Spanish Colonial Revival, Mediterranean Revival, and other late 19th and 20th revival styles. Terrace gardens, fountains, and pools adorn the property. Today, it is part of the California State Parks System. Tours include experiencing what life was like as a guest of W.R. Hearst and discovering his personal and over-the-top collection of rare and ancient works of art. One will likely be in awe of the mansion’s grand rooms and the stunning views of the sea.
No two are alike!
Note that you don’t have to go to Europe to discover some of the world’s best castles. Fortunately, for us, many exist here in the good old USA. What’s exciting about these must-see castles is that they provide insight into different periods of history. While construction is often inspired by European designs, they stand apart. In Europe during the Middle Ages, castles were largely built by nobility or by military orders. These fortified structures, often strategically located, doubled as defensive bases. American castles, built much later, primarily served as residences for the well-to-do, rather than as fortifications or as noble residences, with some exceptions. Despite this, American castle-style homes were frequently inspired by European designs. Today, many are preserved as visitable National Historic Landmarks. To explore them is to take a step back in history, to learn of people and their way of life at a given time, and to witness the ingenuity of owners and artists and architects who mightily collaborated their skills to create unique castle paradises.