Visiting castles in Italy, and the medieval towns that are often built around them can be fun. Castles are evocative of Italy's past and usually have fantastic views of the town and surrounding countryside. Some Italian castles have museums inside and some have even been remodeled into castle hotels where you can spend the night.
Here's a selection of the most beautiful castles found in hill towns, the countryside, and in cities.
La Rocca Albornoziana sits above the hill town of Spoleto in the southern Umbria region. From the castle, there are great views of Spoleto, the Bridge of Towers over the gorge, and the surrounding valley. Rocca Albornoziana was built on the foundation of the Roman acropolis in the 14th century and served as the seat for local pontifical governors. It has two grand courtyards, six towers, and some beautiful frescoes. Visiting the castle is only possible on a tour, arranged at the ticket office at the entrance to the castle grounds. Check the schedule for the English tour times.
Portovenere's Andria Doria Castle dominates the pretty Italian Riviera village of Portovenere. Built by the Genoese between the 12th and 17th centuries, the castle now houses a small art museum. Narrow medieval streets lead up to the castle where there are fine views of the sea and the picturesque San Pietro Church on the edge of the promontory.
Castell'Arquato is a picturesque hill town in the Emilia Romagna region of northern Italy topped by its castle - Rocca Viscontea di Castell'Arquato. Inside the castle is a fortress museum with a video about the castle and four rooms about life in the middle ages. You can climb the stairs in the tower for fantastic views of the town spilling down the hill and the surrounding countryside. Although it's small, this is one of our favorites and it's not overrun with tourists. The town has been the setting for several movies.
Ferrara, on the Po Delta in Emilia Romagna, is a walled Renaissance city with lots of great examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Its picturesque medieval castle, Castello Estense di Ferrara, dominates the old town. From the front rooms at Hotel Annunziata, there are great views of the castle.
The northern Italian city of Milan has a castle that's not on a hill and in fact, is right downtown, within walking distance of the duomo. Castello Sforzesco was built in the 15th century but has been renovated several times. The castle became a museum complex in the 19th century and still houses several museums today.
Originally built as a mausoleum in ancient Roman days, Castel Sant'Angelo was fortified and connected to the Vatican with a covered passage in the 13th century. Today it's a museum and a great place to go for views of the Vatican and Rome.
Soave is a small wine town enclosed by its medieval walls, topped by a castle and surrounded by vineyards producing the famous Soave wine. Soave is in northern Italy's Veneto region, near Verona.
Castello Brown, in the Italian Riviera village of Portofino, became the residence of Yeats Brown, British consul to Genoa, in 1870. Inside are furnishings and pictures belonging to the Browns as well as photos of many famous visitors to Portofino. There's a nice garden and good views of the sea and the village of Portofino. The castle is open year-round with longer hours in the summer. It is reached by a pleasant footpath by the botanic gardens.
Stura Valley: Forte di Vinadio
Forte di Vinadio is in a picturesque setting in the beautiful Piedmont countryside of the Stura Valley, between Cuneo and France. The fort was built for King Carlo Alberto from 1834 - 1847 and was an important 19th-century fortress. Forte di Vinadio is open mid-May through October. In summer it's open daily. Other months, it's open on weekends only.
Pontremoli is a well-preserved medieval town and principal town of northern Tuscany's Lunigiana region. Above the town is a restored castle, Castello del Piagnaro, with the Museum of Statue-Menhirs, a museum of prehistoric stele statues or sandstone sculptures that are important prehistoric artifacts. Piagnaro Castle gets its name from the slate slabs, piagne, common in the area. From the castle, there's a great view of the town and the surrounding hills. The museum and castle are open daily except in winter when it's closed on Mondays.
Tuscany: Sammezzano Castle
Although Sammezzano Castle is currently not open to visitors, you can take a virtual look at this colorful, fairy-tale like castle with these photos and find out more about it.
On the hill above the Barone Ricasoli Winery tasting room sits Brolio Castle. Although the castle itself isn't open to visitors, the gardens can be visited and the castle seen from the outside. There are great views from the castle and there's a small but interesting castle museum in one of the towers open to the public. After the seeing the castle, go down the hill for wine tasting or dine in the very good Osteria del Castello.
Castel dell' Ovo, or Egg Castle, is the oldest castle in Naples. It sits in a beautiful position on a little island in Naples' harbor where the original city was founded in the 6th century BC. The castle is used for exhibitions and concerts and is a popular place for weddings. The Castel Nuovo or new castle is a huge castle erected in 1279-1282. Inside it is the Civic Museum with 14th- to 15th-century frescoes and paintings, silver, and bronzes from the 15th century to the present.
Torrechiara is a wonderful castle near Parma, and there's a good restaurant right next to it. Inside the 15th-century castle are some unusual frescoes. There's a tourist office at the castle, too, where you can get information about visiting the other castles in the area.
The southern Italy region of Puglia, known as the Heel of the Boot, is home to many castles and fortresses including the unusual octagonal Castel del Monte, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Sarzana: Sarzanella Castle
Sarzanella Castle is in Liguria near the border of Tuscany. Sarzana, a small walled town famous for its antique shops, has two castles - one in town and this picturesque castle in the countryside overlooking Sarzana. From the castle are views of picturesque hill towns nearby.
Rapallo, on the Italian Riviera near the Cinque Terre, has a tiny picturesque castle in the sea. It was built in 1551 to guard against pirate attacks. Rapallo also has a small historic center that's interesting to walk around.
Benevento: Rocca dei Rettori
Rocca dei Rettori stands at the high point of Benevento, a town in the inland part of southern Italy's Campania region. The tower was built in 871 by the Lombards in a spot that had been an important defensive position in Roman times when it overlooked two major Roman roads. The more modern Palazzo dei Governatori (now the Palazzo dei Prefettura) was added by the Popes in the 1320s and has a museum of contemporary art.