Spain is a land of infinite variety. The old Arabic influence is everywhere in evidence across its southern parts and in the north the remains of the great medieval Christian kingdoms bear witness to the religious wars that ravaged the peninsula for centuries and left behind these magnificent monuments. From the great central plain around Madrid to the mountains of the Sierra Nevada that soar above Grenada, Spain has everything for the perfect break of any length.
Most of the fortresses of southern Spain are called Alcazars, the Arabic for castle. During the so-called Reconquista which took place between the early 8th and late 15th centuries, many of the old Moorish fortresses were stormed and taken by Christian armies, but they still display definite Arabic influences in the form of intricately sculptured ceilings and ornate doorways. In fact, it is the Eastern element that makes Spanish castles so romantic and airy, less solid and practical than those in Germany, for example.
This is seen to perfection in the castle at Segovia, certainly the most romantic of all Spain’s castles. It looks like something straight out of a book of fairytales with its soaring, pointed turrets and drawbridge spanning a deep chasm. It was a stronghold of the Moors to begin with but later became one of the country’s most important castles. It was supposed to have been the original inspiration for the fantasy castle at Disney World, but this one is of course real.
For breathtaking scenery and a full dose of history, head south to the magnificent Alhambra, a truly monumental complex of forts and palaces bestriding a crag in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The air is crisp, fresh and clear and the views truly stunning. The Red Fort itself has a magical atmosphere about it, and inside are some of the wonders of the Moorish civilisation that held sway here for almost a thousand years. Its tiled courtyards, lion sculptures, wide terraces and elaborate stucco-work attract visitors from around the world who come here to experience a unique slice of European history.
Probably the most unusual castle in the whole of Europe is Spain’s Castillo de Coca. This is an amazing three-sided castle with hexagonal towers and one is tempted to think that the architect must have been taking some interesting medieval herbs when he designed it. It is also built into a great lump of solid rock which forms its fourth side, making it pretty much impregnable. It was constructed in 1453, just towards the end of the Reconquista, so maybe the architects decided to let their hair down a bit by way of celebration.
There are literally hundreds of other wonderful and romantic castles littering the Spanish landscape, easily accessible by car on the country’s fine, open roads. Make castles the guiding thread for your next European holiday and it will open up new worlds of architectural and cultural delights.
David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.