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20 Real Life Castles for Castlevania Fans
I might be a weird one on this. I have long been fascinated by European castles because Konami’s Castlevania is my favourite game series. While I haven't actually surveyed anyone, I suspect most Castlevania fans are the same. It's like, how could any fan not crave the experience of exploring a ginormous Gothic edifice at night? One full of shadowy spectres and jaw-dropping architecture, and possibly, an immortal vampire too?
Well, few castles in Europe are as huge as the ones in the Castlevania games. And even if they are, they certainly don't come with vampires and medusas, or incredible halls filled with toys or gold. On the other hand, if you're merely looking for ambience and architecture, there are many castles in Europe that would fit the bill. Here's my list of European castle recommendations for Castlevania fans. With a dash of imagination, you can easily imagine yourself as Belmont himself pressing on towards Dracula's keep. Just be careful that while daydreaming, you don't knock over some priceless artefact. You certainly wouldn't get any hearts from the debris.
1. Bran Castle: The "Must-Visit" For Castlevania Fans
Heavily marketed as one of the various Romanian sites associated with Dracula i.e. Vlad Tepes III, Bran Castle is believed by some to be the home of the titular character in Bram Stoker's novel. There is, however, no evidence that Stoker even knew about Bran Castle, with Vlad himself also barely had any association with the place. For Castlevania fans, the solemn architecture and secret passages are sure to conjure strong imagery of undead creatures and monsters. Stronghold or not, this is one castle that would forever be associated with the world’s most famous vampire.
2. Hudyad Castle
Like Bran Castle, Hudyad Castle is also heavily promoted as a "Dracula Site." Supposedly, Vlad Tepes III was imprisoned here by John Hunyadi after he was deposed. The veracity of this claim aside, the extensive grounds and Gothic reconstruction are likely to thrill most visitors, Castlevania fans or not. Just look at that covered bridge. Isn’t it reminiscent of various opening stages in the games? I can literally hear the Vampire Hunter soundtrack echoing in the distance.
If possible, would you want to spend a night in Bran Castle or Hudyad Castle?
Neuschwanstein is easily the most famous castle in Europe, if not the world. A must-visit on most tourist itineraries, it has been featured in several movies and was also the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty castle. Because of that, I tend to feel it is a tad too fairy-tale like for the grim settings of Castlevania stories. On the other hand, its image was used on the cover of a 90s Castlevania music remix album. I guess the over-the-top interior and unfinished portions could invoke vivid imagery of adventure and mystery. Undoubtedly, its spectacular hilltop location also imbues it with a mesmerising, magical feel.
'Mad King' Ludwig, builder of Neuschwanstein, had a lifelong fascination with castles. In our time, he would have been a huge Castlevania fan.
4. Vajdahunyad Castle
Vajdahunyad Castle is one of the lesser known castles in Europe. In actual fact, it's not even a real castle. It was Budapest's showcase of Hungarian architecture styles during the Millennial Exhibition of 1896, subsequently preserved as a permanent part of the city park.
I included Vajdahunyad Castle in this list both because it was heavily based on Hudyad Castle (see above), and because the mix of different building styles is just so Castlevania. As in, that's how Castlevania stages are designed, right? A mishmash of starkly different buildings and rooms? Vajdahunyad is also on this list because of the statue of Anonymus found on its grounds. Anonymus was a chronicler of the 12th century, whose real identity remains unknown. Looking at that statue, don't you think he resembles ... Shaft? You can easily imagine him scheming before the "Castle," planning his next resurrection of Dracula. He also feels to be smirking. Meaning he might already have something in mind.
5. Alcazar (Segovia)
Just one look and you’d know why Segovia's Alcazar is an ideal destination for Castlevania fans. However, I included it on this list more for what's near to it i.e. that incredibly well preserved Roman Aqueduct cutting across town. As any fan would know, Roman relics and structures feature heavily in Castlevania games. A towering aqueduct on the way to the castle? A castle that resembles an ark floating on a mountain? Isn't it simply image perfect? Best of all, the aqueduct is flood-lit at night. You can enjoy fantastic Spanish cuisine and wine next to it, while dreaming of exciting vampire-whipping adventures.
6. Budapest Castle
Budapest Castle is on this list for three reasons. Its expansive grounds, its many distinctive buildings, and its varied environs. Think about it, isn't the entire area a perfect layout for a Castlevania adventure? You start in Pest and battle your way across the Chain Bridge. Then it’s a struggle down the riverside promenade before ascending Castle Hill using the funicular. (Cue CV III music: Rising here) And at the top are more unique stages! Matthias Church, Fishermen's Bastion, the Rondella ... To complete the experience, at choice spots in that game, you get a glimpse of Hungary's jewel, the ultra-ornate Parliament Building before a full moon. Isn't it just ambience perfect? For me, it is.
7. Castle Eltz
I passed by Burg Eltz many years ago while touring the Rhine valley on a rainy afternoon, and its image never left my mind since. It was just so otherworldly, rising from the treetops and veiled by drifting wisps of thin mist. A closer examination of it via books later fascinated me even more. The densely packed structure, the Romanesque walls, etc. With a little imagination, it's not too difficult to picture a Belmont scaling the castle, hitting at every brick to find life-saving drumsticks. Hmm. On that, please be careful with the walls when visiting. Castle Eltz is privately owned and a historical gem. Keep your whips and belts to yourself.
8. Chateau Chambord
Like Neuschwanstein, Chateau Chambord, showpiece of the Loire Valley, could be a tad too fairy tale in feel. However, the complex roof line, with its ornate towers and balconies, does evoke strong Castlevania memories, particularly if visited in the evening. Sadly, Chateau Chambord is hardly ever opened in the night; I've never read about any evening tours for it. Castlevania fans just have to settle for admiring the intricate architecture during Dracula's sleeping hours. Another way would be to stroll about the gardens while imagining how the magnificent Chateau would be like under silver moonlight.
9. Edinburgh Castle
To share, Edinburgh Castle didn't immediately come to mind while I prepared for this list. The more I looked at its pictures though, the more I felt it deserved an entry, if only because of its volcanic rock throne. Doesn’t that just suggest so many Castlevania things? Such as hidden tunnels and secrets caves and the likes of? Of course, the stained windows and sombre statues within this immense complex justify an entry too, as well as the Princes Street Gardens bordering it. On the gardens, wouldn’t that make for a great opening stage? A demonic garden with rotting zombies and man-eating plants, with the foreboding "castle" looming in the background.
10. Glamis Castle
Glamis Castle of Scotland is smaller than several other entries on this list. It makes up for its lack of size by having double the number of frightful legends and myths. Stories like the Monster of Glamis, the Earl who challenged the Devil, etc. Strolling beside its thick walls and high windows, you don't really need a lot of imagination to imagine all sorts of terrible secrets hidden behind those bricks. Admittedly, this might not feel too “vampirish”, the stories are more whodunit in nature. But they do make for a good premise for a Castlevania game, yes? The Earl who lost to the Devil, and because of his failure, sets in motion the next rising of Dracula ... ... Woe be us all.
11. Heidelberg Castle
I visited Heidelberg Castle in 1998 and was immediately reminded of Rondo of Blood. You know, the first stage with the burning town and Bloodlines played in the background? The Gothic and Renaissance elements, and the reddish facade, so strongly invoked that imagery. (Minus the flames and chasing doggy, of course) If visiting, don't forget to check out the huge Heidelberg Tun, the largest wine barrel in the world. That, and the nearby pharmacy museum make for perfect Castlevania stages.
12. Hohenzollern Castle
Germany is filled with majestic castles. Years ago, a "Castle Road" itinerary was even conceptualised for tourists. Hohenzollern is not within that itinerary, but in many ways, it is still an archetype of how a perfect German castle is. One that is stately, harmonious, and built on superior, higher ground. For Castlevania fans, visiting Hohenzollern Castle would be like visiting a Castlevania theme park, with its fortification, the clock towers, and historical courtyards. At the same time, a visit would also be a glimpse into the design of the franchise. I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard to see what inspired Konami developers. What encouraged them to develop the series now beloved by gamers worldwide.
Many German castles provide overnight accommodation. That, IMO, is the best way to experience them.
13. Löwenburg Castle
Löwenburg is another gorgeous German castle, one built on flat ground. Part of Kassel's Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, Löwenburg, or Lion's Castle, is actually a reconstruction of a romantic knights' castle. Together with its surrounding gardens and waterfalls, the whole park provides for a lovely afternoon visit, one with vague hints of Castlevania. I can easily imagine a fair but evil maiden flowing her silky hair down that tallest spire. I can also picture an entire company of skeleton knights within the brick walls, all ready to take on the latest Belmont threat. Supernatural adventure hangs so heavily in the air.
14. Mont St Michel
One look and it's obvious why Mont St Michel is utterly Castlevania, yes? In fact, it is so Castlevania, its silhouette was used on the cover of Symphony of the Night, way back in 1997.
Everything about it just seems made for vampire whipping action. The causeway, the spiralling fortifications, the crowning abbey. After sunset, Mont St Michel transforms into something right out of a fantasy movie. It glows against the night sky, lit up like a brilliant magical citadel. A cautionary note here. When admiring it during the day or night, never get carried away and wander into the marshy areas. These spots are filled with dangerous quicksands and sudden tides that you wouldn't see coming. Not even Simon Belmont would survive any of these unscathed.
15. Oberhofen Castle
Switzerland’s Oberhofen Castle is compact, and doesn't have many of the elements one would associate with a "Castlevania castle." However, when viewed from the lake, don't you think it still has the makings for a Castlevania game? An open-world one, that is. With the castle being a key location, or a save-point? Oberhofen would probably also look very atmospheric under the moonlight, with candle-lit halls and everything. And when done with it, it's off to the jetty, for (instant) transportation to the surrounding mountains. There, the next castle, the next challenge, awaits you eagerly.
16. Peles Castle
I include Peles Castle on this list for one reason. Somehow, it reminds me of Dawn of Sorrow. Maybe it's those exposed beams, which vaguely mirrors the above-ground parts of that DS episode. In terms of location, Peles Castle is also perfect. It's in the Carpathian Mountains, which are right in the heart of Romania. If there's a "real" Castlevania, the Carpathians would be where I imagine Dracula's stronghold to be. Possibly, many parts of such a stronghold would look a lot like Peles Castle. Beginning with that elaborate clock face.
17. Pena Palace
Some might find it cheesy, but I've always loved the Castlevania series for its outrageous stage designs. (And for that reason, I prefer the older episodes) Pena Palace of Portugal has a good deal of that, with its bold colour and contrasting structures. It's also decisively exotic, with hints of minarets and Moorish design. All in all, it is a visual feast perfect not only for Castlevania fans, but for any tourist. I can easily imagine the huge number of selfies taken on its ground. A miniature of it would also look striking on any shelf.
18. Prague Castle
Like Budapest Castle, Czech Republic's foremost attraction is on this list for it is immense size and mix of buildings. So huge, with so many different elements, including a prominent clock tower at the crowning St. Vitus Cathedral. A Castlevania "route" could begin at sundown, starting at Charles Bridge, and winding its way up the hill before the final nocturnal fight before the clock tower. Or, you could take the alternate route i.e. underground. A city as old as Prague is not short of subterranean secrets. Equally as many adventures await beneath this splendid complex, as above it.
19. Cochem Castle
Another gorgeous German castle, the aerial look of which immediately tells you why this is perfect for Castlevania fans. The spirals and ramparts, and that soaring tower. Doesn't everywhere just scream Castlevania? Enough said.
20. San Marino
All right, this is the odd one out. San Marino is not a castle, it’s one of the remaining miniature states of Europe. The way it was built, do you not feel the strong adventuring appeal? Do you not agree that the hilly setting is just perfect for a quest? Imagine yourself at the highest ramparts, one foot striding as you face the howling wind. That's not just Castlevania-ish, that's also heroic. And it's an experience all true adventure-gamers should not miss.
How many of these splendid castles have you visited?
© 2016 Kuan Leong Yong