Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 21, 2021

Neuschwanstein Castle in southern Germany.

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The stuff of fairy tales

Six of Europe’s most breathtaking castles, each with a spectacular story to tell

A show of wealth

Peleş Castle is over the top. Commissioned in 1873 by King Carol I of Romania who was said to be absorbed with the prestige of the dynasty he founded and who reportedly wore the crown in his sleep, the castle sits high in the Carpathian Mountains near Sinaia, 65 kilometres from Brasov, and absolutely oozes Neo-Renaissance luxury. It was the very first castle in Europe to have electricity and central heating, an elevator and a vacuum (“carpet sweepers” were invented in the 1860s, powered vacuums around the 1890s). The castle’s 160 rooms are bedazzled with Murano crystal chandeliers, Cordoba leather-covered walls and Iraqi rugs. There are also 4000 European and Oriental pieces dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Closed Mondays in summer. Adults $10; kids $5. There’s an additional $10.50 fee to take pictures. Rich.

A legacy of wives (and mistresses)

Château de Chenonceau is unofficially called the Château des Dames (or Ladies Castle) because its design was the vision of many women. French noblewoman Katherine Briçonnet oversaw its major revamp in the Renaissance style beginning around 1515 when her husband was away at war. King Francis I seized the château in 1535 for unpaid debts to the Crown, but when his son, Henry II, ascended to the throne in 1537, he gifted the castle to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. The lovely arched bridge above the Cher River in France’s Loire Valley was all her idea. When Henry II died, the Queen, Catherine de’ Medici, drove Diane out of the château. She kept the arched bridge however and built a 60-metre-long ballroom on top of it with 18 windows, a chalk-and-slate checkerboard floor, and exposed joist ceiling. Revenge. Diane’s bedroom is on the ground floor, Catherine’s on the first. Both are equally exquisite. Adults from $20; kids from $15.

Hitler’s house

Don’t judge this castle by its exterior. It’s pink and blue and so obviously celebrates the Easter egg, but its history is deep. Really deep. Built in the late 13th century for a Polish prince whose name, by all accounts, was Bolko I the Strict, Ksiaz Castle, in the city of Walbrzych, 80 kilometres from Wroclaw in southwestern Poland, changed hands a few times until Konrad I von Hoberg bought it for an undisclosed sum in the early 1500s. The castle remained in the Von Hoberg family for more than 400 years, and was continuously enlarged and remodelled in a mishmash of styles, until the Nazis seized it in 1941 as a future residence for Hitler. The Nazis built a bunker for Hitler underneath it; forced labourers from the Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp dug more bunkers and also a huge network of tunnels — to exactly what end remains unknown. Adults from $12; kids from $9.

The goliath

Edward I was the King of England from 1272 to 1307. The first part of his reign was dominated by invasions of Wales, which he conquered in 1282. Conwy Castle in the Snowdonia region of northwest Wales was commissioned by him in 1283 as one of the key fortresses in his “Iron Ring” of structures to contain — and humble and intimidate — the rebellious Welsh. It’s a goliath and the absolute finest and best preserved fortress from medieval times. In addition to curtain walls of coarse dark stone, the rectangular castle has eight massive towers. Its battlements look out across the mountains and sea, down to the roofless shell of the outer ward’s original Great Hall. From there, you can admire Conwy’s other glory: its circuit of town walls guarded by 22 towers. Adults $14; kids $10.

Home of the hunted

According to Guinness World Records, Predjama is the largest cave castle on the planet. Located in Slovenia’s Carniola (Notranjska) region, 65 kilometres from Ljubljana, it was implanted into the gaping mouth of a 123-metre-tall cliff more than 800 years ago. The rebellious structure has over a dozen rooms, including an armoury and dungeon, but the small bathroom located high on an outside wall is by far the most famous. Erazem Lueger, a 15th-century noble knight or dastardly robber-baron, depending on your point of view, was crushed by a cannonball in 1483 while he did his business on the “throne.” Lueger had been hiding in the castle from the Habsburg Army for an entire year. He used a secret passage to get food and water before being betrayed by a servant who literally raised a flag to reveal his whereabouts. Adults $18; kids $11.

A labour of love

King Ludwig II of Bavaria ascended to the throne in 1864 when he was 18. A reluctant ruler, he avoided governmental responsibilities, favouring the countryside instead. He’s been described as creative, introverted, even shy. He spent his wealth on art, music — and castles, beginning construction on three within a decade. A dramatic Romanesque fortress with towers, turrets and all kinds of fairy tale twinkle, Neuschwanstein was built high on a hill in southern Germany. It was designed to be a retreat, “holy and unapproachable” in the King’s own words. But Ludwig wasn’t a complete loner. He was close friends (and arguably in love) with composer Richard Wagner. He was devoted to Wagner’s operatic works and the castle’s interior walls are illustrated with the medieval myths that inspired his music. Ironically, Neuschwanstein now hosts 1.4 million tourists every year. Adults $19; kids under 18 free.

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