Inside The Fortress Known As \'Dracula\'s Castle\'

From the town of Gernsheim, on the eastern banks of a languorous meander in the Rhine, it was once possible to see the steep slate roof and towers of Frankenstein castle, positioned on a hilltop 10 miles away. In 1814, a few days after her 17th birthday, Mary Shelley very likely gazed up at the fortress during the several hours her party spent resting in the town. She and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley eloped to France and Switzerland but overspent and were returning to England by riverboat through Germany.

  • Slide 1 of 25: BORDEAUX, FRANCE
  • Slide 2 of 25: CUENCA, SPAIN
  • Slide 3 of 25: NEGRIL, JAMAICA
  • Slide 4 of 25: AYRSHIRE, SCOTLAND
  • Slide 5 of 25: RORSCHACHERBERG, SWITZERLAND
  • Slide 6 of 25: CASCAIS, PORTUGAL
  • Slide 7 of 25: MARRAKECH, MOROCCO
  • Slide 8 of 25: BANFF, CANADA
  • Slide 9 of 25: ST. MARY’S ISLAND, ENGLAND
  • Slide 10 of 25: PETRÓPOLIS, BRAZIL
  • Slide 11 of 25: SALZBURG, AUSTRIA
  • Slide 12 of 25: UDAIPUR, INDIA
  • Slide 13 of 25: LEŚNA, POLAND
  • Slide 14 of 25: OTOČEC, SLOVENIA
  • Slide 15 of 25: BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
  • Slide 16 of 25: OBERWESEL, GERMANY
  • Slide 17 of 25: COUNTY MAYO, IRELAND
  • Slide 18 of 25: HUNTINGTON, NEW YORK
  • Slide 19 of 25: WEST SUSSEX, ENGLAND
  • Slide 20 of 25: DALIAN, CHINA
  • Slide 21 of 25: TOMELILLA, SWEDEN
  • Slide 22 of 25: JODHPUR, INDIA
  • Slide 23 of 25: VENICE, ITALY
  • Slide 24 of 25: NEROLA, ITALY
  • Slide 25 of 25: ISTANBUL, TURKEY
Full screen 1/25 SLIDES © Photograph by Bjorn Grotting, Alamy Stock Photo

BORDEAUX, FRANCE

Start with an 11th-century medieval fortress nestled between the French regions of Bordeaux and Cognac. Add 22 rooms with silky walls, rich berry-hued drapery, white marble baths, and cornice canopies. Then decide between veal with caramelized chanterelles or Ballotine quail with reduced grape and shallot chutney from Chateau de Mirambeau's Michelin-starred restaurant.

2/25 SLIDES © Photograph by JAM WORLD IMAGES, Alamy Stock Photo

CUENCA, SPAIN

Feast like a king on local game in the baronial dining hall of Parador de Alarcón, an eighth-century Moorish castle set above the Río Júcar in central Spain. Several of the castle’s 24 rooms still have original arrowslit windows. Jesús Mateo’s UNESCO-sponsored murals in Iglesia de San Juan Bautista are just a seven-minute walk away.

3/25 SLIDES © Photograph by NBoyd, Alamy Stock Photo

NEGRIL, JAMAICA

Once upon a time, Susan Evanko glimpsed a Bavarian castle on a National Geographic cover and it changed her life forever. After chasing castles around the world, she and her partner began the 17-year process of building a 15-room coral palace, Blue Cave Castle, above an old pirate’s cave on a Caribbean cliff in Jamaica. The tip-top “penthouse apartment” offers 360° views from three parapeted balconies.

4/25 SLIDES © Photograph by DavidCC, Alamy Stock Photo

AYRSHIRE, SCOTLAND

Once home to 1920s aviatrix Elsie Mackay, the grounds of Glenapp Castle are in the UNESCO Galloway and South Ayrshire Biosphere, just a stargaze away from the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park. Royal up and book the new three-bedroom penthouse, complete with a sauna, a private chef, full 24-hour butler service, and a private ocean-view castle tower.

5/25 SLIDES © Photograph by Dukas, UIG/Getty Images

RORSCHACHERBERG, SWITZERLAND

Built in 1557, Schloss Wartegg once belonged to the exiled last empress of Austria, Zita of Bourbon-Parma. Today, all 25 castle rooms include snuggly all-natural mattresses, organic breakfast on the lakeside garden terrace, and access to the castle’s 1920s Persian-glazed turquoise bath. While in Lake Constance, be sure to visit the exquisite Abbey Library of Saint Gall.

6/25 SLIDES © Photograph by Dagmar Schwelle, laif/Redux

CASCAIS, PORTUGAL

Located between Guincho Beach and Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, the indomitable saffron-hued Fortaleza do Guincho is the westernmost hotel in continental Europe. In its Michelin-starred restaurant, Chef Miguel Rocha Vieira plates Azorean squid, Alentejo black pork, and feijoada with summer beans and langoustine. Guest rooms feature vaulted wood ceilings, embroidered pillows, and deep-blue Atlantic views.

7/25 SLIDES © Photograph by ABDELHAK SENNA, AFP/Getty Images

MARRAKECH, MOROCCO

A 12th-century dreamboat, La Mamounia oozes shiny zellige mosaics, steamy tagine dinners, and private-pool glam. The castle garden, a wedding gift to Prince Al Mamoun, also features 5,000 rose bushes, 700-year-old olive trees, 21 cactus species, and a 16,145-square-foot vegetable garden bursting with lemongrass, spices, tomatoes, leeks, and mint used in Moroccan tea.

8/25 SLIDES © Photograph by George Rose, Getty Images

BANFF, CANADA

Photographer Paul Zizka’s favorite view of 754-room Fairmont Banff Springs is from Surprise Corner, “when the hotel rises majestically above Bow River … best during blue hour, when the scene takes a magical, medieval feel.” The castle hotel sports a grand piano Royal Suite and farm-to-table French cuisine. Stop to see the fossils in the spiral staircase between the polished stone.

9/25 SLIDES © Photograph by Andrew Roland, Alamy Stock Photo

ST. MARY’S ISLAND, ENGLAND

Nicknamed “the land that crime forgot,” England’s Isles of Scilly are home to daffodil farms, migratory birds, the world's smallest soccer league, and eight-pointed 16th-century Star Castle. Reserve a pet-friendly room built right into the ramparts. Sip castle-grown pinot noir in the not-so-dingy dungeon. Then enjoy a lobster dinner trapped to order by owner Robert Francis.

10/25 SLIDES © Photograph by AlessandraRC, Alamy Stock Photo

PETRÓPOLIS, BRAZIL

Designed by famous architect Lúcio Costa, 22-suite Castelo de Itaipava was originally built by 20 European families carting Portuguese stones, French slate, Italian Carrara marble, and Austrian stained glass, all to be framed by carved Brazilian jacaranda trees. After a morning rain forest hike, unwind in the terrace whirlpool before dozing off in a glamorous and cozy tower suite.

11/25 SLIDES © Photograph by Guenter Standl, laif/Redux

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA

Remember that time you thought, "I wish I could go to the Alps and sleep in the Sound of Music castle—and it had free bikes, Wi-Fi, electric car-charging stations, complimentary prosecco, resident honeybees, and a world-famous library"? Enter Schloss Leopoldskron, the waterfront rococo palace commissioned in 1736 by Salzburg’s prince-archbishop. The hills are alive and waiting.

12/25 SLIDES © Photograph by Bernd Jonkmanns, laif/Redux

UDAIPUR, INDIA

Built in 1746 as the pleasure palace of Maharana Jagat Singh II, white marble Taj Lake Palace floats on Lake Pichola just a seven-minute ferry ride from Udaipur. If you can pull yourself away from your plush, flower-filled, silky suite, climb aboard the hotel’s 150-year-old Gangaur boat for a luminous evening on the lake.

13/25 SLIDES © Photograph by Mieczyslaw Wieliczko, Alamy Stock Photo

LEŚNA, POLAND

Between the torture vault, the annual knight tournament, the arched bridge stone entryway, and the dungeon wine room, southern Poland’s Czocha Castle is all about drama. Take in a comedy act or mead tasting before a traditional Polish dinner. Rooms are pet friendly and the castle’s secret passageways are open for exploring … if you can find them.

14/25 SLIDES © Photograph by Matic tojs, Alamy Stock Photo

OTOČEC, SLOVENIA

Over 500 castles twirl across Slovenia, the world’s most sustainable country. After visiting Predjama Castle’s famous bat caves, head east to the warm-hued, impeccably hospitable Grad Otočec, tucked between willows on an island in the Krka River. Enjoy a mouthwatering dinner of venison tartare and fennel soup, then wake up for an early round of golf.

15/25 SLIDES © Photograph by Fernando Dvoskin, Redux

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

Only two hours from Buenos Aires, La Candelaria’s 240 species of trees were put in place by beloved French landscaper Carlos Thays. Stroll through the palms and cedars early enough to get back in time for the castle’s weekly gaucho party with traditional dance, empanadas, and savory asado.

16/25 SLIDES © Photograph by Zoonar GmbH, Alamy Stock Photo

OBERWESEL, GERMANY

Despite the fact that it once simultaneously housed 250 people from 24 families, 10th-century Hotel Auf Schönburg may be the world’s quietest hotel castle—thanks to the fact that its walls are over nine feet thick. Check out the castle tower observation deck for vineyard views of the romantic Rhine Valley.

17/25 SLIDES © Photograph by LOLA AKINMADE AKERSTROM, Nat Geo Image Collection

COUNTY MAYO, IRELAND

In 2019, 83-room Ashford Castle will celebrate its 80th hotel anniversary and its 791st birthday. Picnic on Irish farmhouse cheese in the walled garden. Practice falconry. Book a seaweed massage in the conservatory spa. The hotel’s $75-million renovation also means a cinema, billiard room, wine tunnels, and ultra-ultra-plush king-size accommodations.

18/25 SLIDES © Photograph by Felix Lipov, Alamy Stock Photo

HUNTINGTON, NEW YORK

Damian Spyridon has tended the Olmsted gardens of Oheka Castle for 34 years—long enough to finish planting 500 junipers down the driveway while daydreaming about the castle’s swanky roaring twenties. Oheka’s 32 rooms boast luscious beds, muraled walls, and claw-foot tubs. Spyridon suggests a winter visit when the castle is “just pristine ... two feet of snow and it’s breathtaking.”

19/25 SLIDES © Photograph by PSL Images, Alamy Stock Photo

WEST SUSSEX, ENGLAND

Hidden for 900 years behind a 60-foot-high curtain wall, the twin-tower gatehouse, rose trellises, croquet lawn, and resident white peacocks of Amberley Castle opened as a hotel just 20 years ago. Guest rooms pair clean, modern lines with soft lighting and antique fabrics. And a local florist leads seasonal flower arranging and wreath-making workshops.

20/25 SLIDES © Photograph by Pan Yulong, Xinhua/Alamy Stock Photo

DALIAN, CHINA

What Dalian’s Castle Hotel lacks in ancient dusty mystique it makes up for in grandeur. The lobby’s stained-glass dome and imperial staircase welcome visitors to 292 elegant rooms, a Baden-Baden-style spa, and an ocean-view indoor pool. Restaurant Zhen Bao serves stone pot sea urchin tofu and other gourmet Cantonese cuisine. All concierges are Clef d’Or certified.

21/25 SLIDES © Photograph by imageBROKER, Alamy Stock Photo

TOMELILLA, SWEDEN

Forty miles and one moat east of techy Malmö sits Kronovalls Vinslott, or Kronovall Castle, a vintner-owned, 18th-century stronghold of Nordic nobility and French Baroque detail. Think crystal chandeliers, floor-to-ceiling windows, pale pink floral walls, beaux arts gold paneling, four-poster beds, a 20,000-bottle-plus wine cellar, and an endless supply of cheesy stone oven pizza.

22/25 SLIDES © Photograph by Kevin J. Miyazaki, Redux

JODHPUR, INDIA

Home of the former Jodhpur royal family, Umaid Bhawan is the world’s sixth largest private residence, spiraling over 26 acres of gardens, peacocks, sunny courtyards, and a subterranean indoor pool. The palace offers 64 art deco-style rooms and an authentic Rajasthani restaurant. Take your pick between yoga, croquet, tennis, squash, golf, polo, or horseback riding.

23/25 SLIDES © Photograph by Sylvain GRANDADAM, Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

VENICE, ITALY

Built in the 1400s, Ca’Sagredo was bought by Sagredo nobility in the 1700s and today serves as a decadent five-star hotel right on the Grand Canal in Venice. Walking through the castle and its rooms is like wandering through a glittering jewelry box with Murano-glass chandeliers, original frescoes, marble cherubs, 3D ceilings, silk paneling, and golden salons.

24/25 SLIDES © Photograph by Vito Arcomano, Alamy Stock Photo

NEROLA, ITALY

For a truly authentic experience, the mountain-view terraces, wooden-beamed ceilings and exposed stone bedroom walls of 10th-century Castello Orsini ought to do the trick. Just an hour’s drive from Rome, the castle is best visited in summer to take advantage of al fresco dining and lounging by the pool.

25/25 SLIDES © Photograph by Melvyn Longhurst, Alamy Stock Photo

ISTANBUL, TURKEY

Once an Ottoman Sultan’s palace, Çirağan Palace Kempinski is a landmark of luxury, so massive that you can even arrive by helicopter. There’s a plethora of saunas, whirlpools, and Turkish baths plus a heated infinity pool overlooking the Bosporus. Every guest room includes a private balcony, marble bath, twice-daily housekeeping, and a “pillow menu.”

25/25 SLIDES

During their three-hour stop at Gernsheim, it’s unlikely they climbed up to the summit, but it is possible that she heard grisly tales of the alchemist and physician Johann Konrad Dippel, who was born in the castle. Dippel invented an animal oil that he claimed was a universal medicine and theorized about transferring souls between dead bodies with the aid of a funnel. [Read about Dracula's castle in Transylvania.]

While there is little substantiated proof that Dippel inspired the novel, the coincidences are spooky. In contrast, Shelley’s social milieu does include a connection to Benjamin Franklin, whose experiments with electricity are a likely inspiration for the animating process that brings the monster to life. The connection to anatomist Erasmus Darwin is the most certain of all, as he is cited as affirming that the events of the Gothic tale are “not of impossible occurrence” in the introduction to the original version of the novel, published 200 years ago this year.

Visit the castle today, a short drive south of Frankfurt, and you can climb the tower and dine on a patio, both with a view of the valley below. Get ready for the kind of warmhearted companionship that the novel’s monster yearned for.

The menu is kid friendly, with vegan options and a nonalcoholic version of their signature Frankensteiner cocktail, which will help make sure you can navigate back down the winding road. Be sure to peek into the chapel where you might see a kindhearted bride.

If you're in the mood for murder and mayhem that the monster unfurled on the world once it spurned him, head downstairs to the dinner theater where you can catch German-language productions featuring criminals and monsters including, of course, the experiments of Dr. Frankenstein.

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Inside The Fortress Known As \'Dracula\'s Castle\'

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Inside The Fortress Known As \'Dracula\'s Castle\'