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    The 10 best castles in the world (IMHO)

    My inner princess never thought this was possible. My own country has a history of around 150 settled human years, so the magic of walking through thousands of years of Euopean history never quite loses the unique frisson of delight. This selection is my top 10 of the best castles in the world (well, in my honest opinion anyway!)

    Suits of armour that tell tales of bravery and hardship, kitchen hearths that fed hundreds of (in)famous dignitaries and hard-working servants, windows that saw enemy arches living up their longbows and sighing maidens dreaming of their loves, moats that were filled with all sorts of exotic contents and drafty castles walls that witnessed history that changed the lives of nations.

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Yeah, I’ve got the castle wandering bug bad. If there is a castle or palace near where we are (and by near I mean within 2 hours train ride) you can guarantee that I’ll be making my way there, scheming how to get closer or researching ways to sleep there (Prince Harry, watch out).

    Buckingham Palace, London, England
    Known by locals as ‘Buck House’ the home of our Commonwealth Queen was everything thing I thought it would be – ostentatious, sumptuous and amazing. Just what a Palace should be. As important to the British psyche as Tea, wellies and apologising for other people bumping into you, the Royal family is an institution. Britain (/England/the United Kingdom/whatever) simply wouldn’t be the same without the bastion of the eccentric royal family: the Queen’s imperious waves, Prince Philips gaffes, Charles & Camilla’s love affair and Kate and Williams rock-star icon just adds such a soupcon to the mystique of Britain.

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Pena Palace, Sintra Portugal
    Quirkily gorgeous, the Palacio Nacional da Pena is one of the finest tourist attractions of Portugal and exemplifies the 19th century Romanticism style of architecture with a twist of sheer imagination. The curiously crenellated collection of beautiful rooms crest a collection of beautiful palaces in the town of Sintra.

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany.
    On our visit, leaving behind the crowds in the busy parking lot (there are a couple of family castles that can also be visited) we walked up the hill towards Neuschwanstein. Leaving Mr Kiwi to enjoy the fresh mountain air, I took in the guided tour through the unique rooms created solely for Ludwig’s use – even the servants had separate hallways running alongside. From an ornately carved bedroom to a man-made cave and private theatre room, the castle that inspire Walt Disney’s cartoon glory was curious to say the least…

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey), Highclere, England
    They say never meet your heroes as you’ll only be disappointed when their humanity is revealed, but I say ignore that entirely. Sometimes you have to. Sometimes you have to get on that train, walk through those gates and simply revel in the crazy amazingness that is England. Case in point – Downton Abbey. Wait, I mean Highclere Castle…

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Winchester Castle, Winchester, England
    Housing the Arthurian Round Table of myth and legend (though sadly actually slightly more modern in construction – only commissioned by King Henry in the 13th Century, rather than 6th as they originally thought) Winchester Cathedral is well worth a wander – especially in winter…

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Strawberry Hill House, Richmond, London
    Hidden in the opulent suburb of Twickenham, (aka Surrey) a gothic castle of dreamy spires quietly rests. Each new room seemed like walking into a fairytale princess’ room – in fact my friend struggled the whole way round to choose just the one she would have as her bedroom…

    Eilean Donan, Highlands, Scotland
    You can name almost any of the residences of royal kilt wearers (a personal favourite is Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh), but the most famous in the Highlands is the beautiful and mysterious Eilean Donan, which means ‘Island of Donnan’. Found on a a small tidal island located in the western Highlands of Scotland, the castle was first founded in the 13th century and after extensive 20th Century work now features in a litany of movies and TV shows (including a Monty Python cameo).

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Kidwelly Castle/Castell Cydwell, Carmanthenshire, Wales
    Known best for featuring in the establishing shot of Monty Python’s Search For The Holy Grail (aka one of the best comic films ever) this castle is a treasure of the Welsh countryside.

    Eltham Palace, Eltham, England
    First mentioned in the Doomsday book, Eltham Estate was presented to King Edward II in 1305 and developed into one of the most favoured royal palaces with 1,000 acres of deer park on its doorstep. #swoon

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Blarney Castle, Blarney, Ireland
    Quite simply, that’s how Mr Kiwi and I came to find ourselves being pushed (by some bloke) over a parapet, backwards, whilst holding on to a couple of sturdy steel supports. Kissing the Blarney Stone was one of those ‘pinch me’ moments that blew my tiny little mind, and it was well worth the journey. (Will I ever become vaguely eloquent? Probably not, and I’m ok with that.)

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    What would make your top 10 castles in the world list? (Real or fiction…) 

     (PS. pin me!)

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    Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal – one of the world’s most insane castles

    Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal is one of the world’s most insane, beautiful and fantastical castles.

    Around about this time last year, I scampered off for a long weekend in Lisbon. Not telling anyone that I was off on a solo adventure for the first time in years (the husband was on a boys weekend in Madrid – hilariously in the adjoining country) I girded my loins, arming myself with a tome of printouts + backups on my phone + backups emailed around the world, and settled in for a chilled out break entirely on my own terms.

    Pena Palace Day Trip Sintra Portugal Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Solo travel isn’t for everyone – it can be stressful, alarming when you’re left with your own thoughts and a bit lonesome when it comes to meals, but I really loved the change of pace (not that I don’t adore travelling with people). I simply tried to bear common sense in mind (not walking alone once night fell), made my journey to & from the airport as simple as simple as simple (a couple of metro trains) and booked in a couple of day trips where I was collected and chauffeured around.

    When we arrived, the sky was grey and dismal. Our ride had wound the way up the tiny, slightly vertiginous roads to an overwhelmingly disappointing view.

    Pena Palace Day Trip Sintra Portugal Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Pena Palace Day Trip Sintra Portugal Adventures of a London Kiwi

    But as luck would have it, the micro-climate of Sintra pulled a rabbit out of the metaphorical hat as we walked along the hilly pathway to Pena Palace.

     “The whole mountain road is a garden, a wonderful combination of nature and art, the most beautiful walk you can imagine,” Hans Christian Anderson

    Pena Palace Day Trip Sintra Portugal Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Even thought I’d seen images beforehand, I really hadn’t been ready for the multi-hued magnificence of Palácio da Pena, or “Castelo da Pena” in the flesh.

    Pena Palace Day Trip Sintra Portugal Adventures of a London Kiwi

    One of the ‘seven wonders of Portugal’, the castle’s history started in the Middle Ages when a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena was built on the top of the hill above Sintra. According to tradition, construction occurred after an apparition of the Virgin Mary. 

    “Built on a rock [the Palace] seems to come straight out of a fairy tale ” Richard Strauss

    Pena Palace Day Trip Sintra Portugal Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Located in the Sintra hills, the Park and Palace of Pena are the fruit of King Ferdinand II’s creative genius and the greatest expression of 19th-century romanticism in Portugal, with clear influences from the Manueline and Moorish styles of architecture (or so my research tells me). The palace was built is visible from any point in the park, which consists of a forest and luxuriant gardens with over five hundred different species of trees originating from the four corners of the earth (including New Zealand #represent).

    Pena Palace Day Trip Sintra Portugal Adventures of a London Kiwi Pena Palace Day Trip Sintra Portugal Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Each room inside is a work of art. Built in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II, the palace was meant to be a summer home for the Portuguese royals, and indulged the King in all of his favourite architectural styles. I particularly adored the thought that living there, when you got sick of one style you could simply move your chair 90° and find an entirely new one.

    Sintra Portugal Pena Palace Day Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Sintra Portugal Pena Palace Day Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Said to be one of the greatest examples of Romantic architecture, it isn’t hard to see how this dazzling combination of passion and grandiosity has inspired generations.

    Sintra Portugal Pena Palace Day Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

     Those hips don’t lie…

    “Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes In variegated maze of mount and glen. 

    Ah me! what hand can pencil guide, or pen, 

    To follow half on which the eye dilates 

    Through views more dazzling unto mortal ken 

    Than those whereof such things the bard relates, 

    Who to the awe-struck world unlocked Elysium’s gates?”

    Lord Byron

    Sintra Portugal Pena Palace Day Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Sintra Portugal Pena Palace Day Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

     Quite. Sintra Portugal Pena Palace Day Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    And the rest of this UNESCO World Heritage recognized town with two more castles isn’t so bad itself. Having exhausted our eyes, we wandered through the town (holiday speed setting 0.2km/hr)in search of lunch and the cakes that are a Sintra delicacy.

    Sintra Portugal Pena Palace Day Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    I also made a new Australian friend on my tour who I cruised around Lisbon with for the next day or so. We discovered a few Lisbon highlights at sunset, sampled enough places to compile a ‘where to eat in Lisbon‘ list and talked each others ears off. 

    Sintra Portugal Pena Palace Day Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Sintra Portugal Pena Palace Day Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Lisbon in November sunshine was good.

    Sintra Portugal Pena Palace Day Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Sintra Portugal Pena Palace Day Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Have you visited yet?

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    Wanderings, castles, statues, and a life-size dollhouse – Twickenham, Richmond

    As a kid I yearned to join the ranks of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. Basically for those not in the vintage kids book know, they were a gang* of kids that met up & had sorts of jolly adventures in the countryside. No mythological computer games, 3D air sports or imaginary characters who they could abuse online, but the unlimited use of their imaginations and a dog Timmy that got them out of scrapes.

    Richmond Twickenham Thames River

    Richmond Twickenham Thames River

    Rambling through the Surrey countryside with a group of mates, a rambunctious pup & a picnic lunch? Done.

    Richmond Twickenham Thames River

     

    Richmond Twickenham Thames River

    That’s the England I found along the Thames River stretching along Twickenham a few weeks ago.

    Richmond Twickenham Thames River

    Richmond Twickenham Thames River

     

    Richmond Twickenham Thames River

    Rambling, discovering, chillaxing. I started without any destinations or places in mind, bar meeting a friend for coffee at Strawberry Hill near the end.

    Richmond Twickenham Thames River

    Richmond Twickenham Thames River

    Richmond Twickenham Thames River

     Before exploring an unexpected castle at Strawberry Hill…

    Strawberry Hill House Twickenham

    Richmond Twickenham Thames River

    Almost a Famous Five worthy morning – next time I’ll make onto Eel Pie Island for a picnic and a touch of smuggling perhaps.

    *Used in the cute 1950s way to mean a group, not the knife bearing New York ghetto kind

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    Wawel Castle | A Must Visit in Krakow, Poland

    I have a confession to make. I’m slightly obsessed with castles, and I knew that we had to visit Wawel Castle in Krakow. (Long term readers won’t be very surprised – I have form in this area – exploring them, staying in them, insisiting my family stop at them on car trips etc.) 

    Wawel Castle Krakow Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Wawel Castle is a sprawling patchwork of history – personal and political stories that you can explore on foot. I learned that the Wawel Royal Castle and the Wawel Hill constitute the most historically and culturally significant site in the country.

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    Favourite Travel Memories: Silver Screen Edit

    When we picked this month’s travel linkup topic, about movies, books & TV series that have inspired travel or visiting set locations in a certain destination, I knew exactly where I wanted to write about. 

    Doune Castle Monty Python Scotland

    Over the years we’ve been inspired and surprised by so many places – Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle), The Big Bang Theory set at Warner Brothers studios in Los Angeles, we found an unlikely Batman location near Heathrow Airport, obviously everything Harry Potter in London, oh, and I was an extra in a Lord of the Rings Movie. That’s my only claim to fame.

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