Towering spires, romantic ruins, and incredible locations among seaside cliffs or verdant valleys—we’ve got to say, the castles of Italy have really got it all. The boot-shaped country boasts incredible fortifications up and down its coasts that have helped guard its residents for centuries. But we must say, some Italian castles just have a little bit more going on than others. On your next Italian getaway, consider making a pit stop at one of these particularly picturesque castles in Italy:
5. Rocca Maggiore
Looming high above the hilltop town of Assisi you’ll find the Rocca Maggiore, an impressive fortification that dates back all the way to the 1100s. The crumbling crenelations and pinkish glow of the bricks make this a handsome castle indeed—and the view from the top of the castle isn’t bad either. Tourists who make the trek up to the hilltop that Rocca Maggiore rests upon are rewarded with sweeping views of the lush Spoleto Valley below. The town of Assisi is famously known for being the birthplace of Saint Francis, so the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi in town gets quite crowded. If you want to skip the crowds and queues, head up to the Rocca Maggiore; during the weekdays, you just might have the castle all to yourself!
4. Castle Belfort
When you think of the platonic idea of a romantic, crumbling castle, Belfort Castle near Spormaggiore is probably exactly what you imagined. Surrounded by verdant green hills, valleys, and forests, the castle lies in partial ruins today, but it was once an imposing fortress that was built to protect the districts of Andalo and Molveno. The castle’s tall tower and grey, weathered bricks will have visitors harkening back to a time of kings and knights in shining armor. Built way back in 1311 by the Count of Tyrol, Belfort Castle was actually burnt down in a fire in the 1600s before being reconstructed in 1670 by the Count of Saracini. After a long day of exploring the castle grounds, head to the nearby province of Trentino to taste the region’s unique dishes of German influence, including hearty traditional bread dumplings.
3. Aragonese Castle
Atop dramatic whitewashed cliffs that plunge into the deep blue sea thousands of feet below sits the utterly picturesque Aragonese Castle, near the Italian island of Ischia. The castle was actually built upon a large volcanic rock; today visitors can make their way to the castle via a 720-foot-long bridge that crosses over the water from Ischia. Built in 474 BC by Hiero I of Syracuse, Aragonese Castle served as a fortress that protected Ischia from the fearsome pirates that trolled the surrounding waters for centuries—although many of the churches, ramparts, and walls that dot the castle’s island were built between the 14th and 17th centuries. Today, the castle is Ischia’s most popular tourist attraction, with good reason. It’s hard to resist the romance of a cliff-top castle in the sea!
2. Castel dell’Ovo
Okay, we can’t talk about Castel dell’Ovo without talking about how the castle got its funny name—in Italian, “Castel dell’Ovo” translates to “Egg Castle”! Legend has it that Roman poet Virgil, who purportedly was pretty good at casting a spell, placed a magical egg in the castle’s foundations to support its fortifications. Well, the castle is still standing today, so maybe Virgil’s old egg trick had something to do with it! Today, visitors can explore the castle as it stands on the peninsula of Megaride in Naples. After exploring all the nooks, crannies, and cannons strewn about the castle grounds, head over to Borgo Marinaro, a small fishing village that first popped up beyond the castle’s walls in the 1800s, for a fresh meal of seafood at one of the village’s quaint, delicious restaurants.
1. Castello Orsini-Odescalchi
If it was good enough for not one, but two papal families, then it’s certainly good enough for a stop on your Italian tour. Yes, the Castello Orsini-Odescalchi, on the banks of Lake Braccino, served as the home base for both the Orsini and Borgia families during its illustrious 500+ years in existence. The castle serves as a pristine example of Renaissance military architecture, and the castle museum beckons visitors inside to view impressive works of medieval art, weapons, frescoes, and furniture. And Hollywood fanatics, take note: the castle has served as the backdrop to a number of high-profile weddings, including the wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. At only a 55-minute train ride from Rome, a journey to see this castle would make a great day trip away from the bustling city.