By Randy Yagi
It’s often said that a man’s home is his castle. However, that old saying takes extra special meaning when describing the colossal mansions and fabled castles of America, some of which can occupy more than a city block or even an entire neighborhood. While a few of the most famous American castles are merely theme park attractions, such as Busch Gardens’ DarKastle, Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle and Universal’s Hogwarts Castle, there are far many others that can mystify and entertain visitors and their children just as easily, yet offer a more realistic look on the history behind it and the extraordinary people who helped build them. The following are five of finest castles in America to explore for that next big vacation.
One Lodge St.
Asheville, NC 28803
Elegantly spread across more than 8,000 pastoral acres and featuring a magnificent recreation of a French Renaissance chateau, Biltmore Estate is the largest private residence in America. Located within the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina about six miles south of Asheville, the premier attraction of this extraordinary estate is that chateau known as Biltmore House, covering more than 175,000 square feet with 250 rooms, 65 fireplaces and three kitchens, and completed in 1895 under the direction of owner George Vanderbilt, a member of the famous Vanderbilt family that was once among the wealthiest families in America. Open to the public since 1930, Biltmore Estate is still owned by descendants of the Vanderbilt family and in addition to the enormous home, also features the acclaimed Biltmore Gardens, three lodging choices including the AAA Four Diamond Inn on Biltmore Estate and an historic, award-winning Biltmore Winery in the heart of the property’s Antler Hill Village. The Biltmore Estate is open 365 days a year and self-guided and guided tours of the Biltmore House, the gardens and Antler Hill Village are available to daytime guests. Additional lodging may be found in Asheville, with suggested spots like the AC Hotel Asheville Downtown, Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville, Renaissance Asheville Hotel and Windsor Boutique.
Castello Di Amorosa
4045 St. Helena Highway
Calistoga, CA 94515
Set in the heart of the breathtaking Napa Valley, Castello di Amorosa (Castle of Love) is a stunning recreation of a 13th century medieval Tuscan-styled castle and winery. Open to the public since 2007, the castle measures 136,000 square feet and features 107 rooms across eight levels, five defensive towers, a drawbridge and even a torture chamber that may be viewed as part of a specialized tour. The castle is open daily for guided and premium wine tasting and a number of special events are held all year, including a Midsummer Medieval Feast on June 22, which will include a wine reception, medieval-styled dinner and a jousting tournament. Several exceptional hotel accommodations with fabulous fine dining are located very close to Castello di Amorosa, such as Auberge du Soleil with a Michelin-starred restaurant led by Chef Robert Curry, Charlie Palmer’s Harvest Inn featuring the Harvest Table restaurant led by rising star Chef Spencer Wolff and the Westin Verasa Napa, bolstered by the acclaimed Michelin-starred restaurant La Toque, led by Chef Ken Frank. Also nearby is the Rancho Caymus Inn, a newly opened boutique hotel that’s close to many more wineries, including St. Supéry Estate, the world famous Robert Mondavi Winery and the acclaimed Silver Oak Winery. One last notable recommendation to enjoy in the Napa Valley Wine Country is a Calistoga Sip N’ Cycle bike and wine tasting tour with Getaway Adventures.
750 Hearst Castle Road
San Simeon, CA 93452
Set upon a hilltop overlooking California’s rugged Central Coast, Hearst Castle was once the extraordinary estate of legendary media mogul William Randolph Hearst, the founder of what’s now known as Hearst Communications. Designed by acclaimed American architect Julia Morgan and constructed between 1919 and 1947, the enormous Spanish revival property features several notable structures, but none more important and more recognizable than Casa Grande, the soaring, cathedral-like twin-towered structure that served as Hearst’s principal residence. This elaborate mansion holds 38 bedrooms, 30 fireplaces, 42 bathrooms and 14 sitting rooms across 68,500 square feet and visitors are able to view portions of the home through one or more of the available tours. Shortly after Hearst’s death in 1951, the property was donated by the then Hearst Corporation and is now managed by the California State Parks as part of the San Simeon State Historical Monument. Located off of Highway 1 about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles near the city of San Simeon, the majority of visitors must take Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway), then Highway 46 towards Cambria to Hearst Castle Road, as a significant portion of Highway 1 from the north is currently inaccessible. While no lodging is available at Hearst Castle, a number of hotels can be found in San Simeon and Cambria, such as Blue Dolphin Inn, Cavalier Oceanfront Resort and the Morgan.
635 S. Broadway
Tarrytown, NY 10591
Once named among the 10 Homes that Changed America by PBS, Lyndhurst is just one of several luxury mansions that reside along the Hudson River in Upstate New York. Designed by Alexander Jackson Davis and completed in 1838, Lyndhurst is easily among the finest examples of Gothic Revival homes in the country, and over the years has been the home to former New York City mayor William Paulding, businessman George Merchant and railroad developer Jay Gould. The entire property occupies 67 acres and several of the mansion rooms may be viewed as part of a Classic Mansion Tour, from April through September, in addition to holiday tours from October through December, in addition to specialty tours that are held on select weekends from May through September. Lyndhurst also hosts a number of special events, including its Summer Jazz Concerts from July 5-August 23 and Crafts at Lyndhurst featuring more than 275 artists and craftspeople from September 14-16. Tarrytown is located about a half hour drive from New York City and has other notable attractions, like the historic five star luxury Castle Hotel and Spa, Philipsburg Manor and Sunnyside, the former residence of famed American writer Washington Irving, who penned such timeless classics as “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, whose actual village is just minutes away in Mount Pleasant.
Smithsonian Institution Building
1000 Jefferson Dr. SW
Washington, DC 20560
Perhaps the most familiar of the many Smithsonian buildings located along the National Mall, the Smithsonian Institution Building might be better known simply as The Castle. Completed in 1885, the Castle was the first of the Smithsonian buildings and designed in a Gothic Revival style by famed architect James Renwick, Jr., whose other notable projects included the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery on Pennsylvania Avenue and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. Easily recognizable by its distinctive red sandstone color, Smithsonian Castle currently houses the administrative offices of the Smithsonian Institution and also serves as the primary visitor center for the Smithsonian museums and National Zoo. Located behind the Arthur Sackler Gallery, the National Museum of African Art and Hirshhorn Museum, Smithsonian Castle is just one of several castle-like structures within the Washington D.C. area. Other points of interest are Blue Castle, Brewmaster’s Castle Gibbons Hall, the French Ambassador’s residence and Warder Mansion Castle. Several hotels can be found in the area south of the National Mall, such as the Holiday Inn Washington-Capitol, Hyatt Place Washington D.C.-National Mall and Intercontinental Washington D.C.-the Wharf, with additional suggested lodging in the neighboring cities of Arlington and Alexandria. While Arlington is a particularly interesting spot to visit as the home of Arlington National Cemetery and the iconic Marine Corps War Memorial, Alexandria is also a must-see destination, with leading sites like the Old Town, Carlyle House, Christ Church and Gadsby’s Tavern, in addition to a truly memorable trip to George Washington’s Mount Vernon.