Fairy Palaces in the middle of lush forests. Castles emerging from the waters of a lake. Grand manors that tell the story of as much grand families. A journey inside ten of the most iconic houses of the world, to be rediscovered. All privately owned houses, often still inhabited by the descendants of the founders, that for need, convenience or simple philanthropy decided to open them to public. A world tour between luxury interiors and art collections that rival with any museum. 


Harewood House (Harewood House Trust, Harewood, Leeds LS17 9LG, UK)

When king George V, in the beginning of the 20’s, had to look around for a husband to give to her daughter, Princess Mary, He opted for Henry Lascelles, sixth Earl of Harewood. The royals took this choice, among the other reasons, because Harewood House, in the Yorkshire countryside, was considered to be a suitable house for the daughter of a king. Nowadays Harewood, still inhabited by Lascelles successors, is open to public and became one of the most popular touristic spots in the entire Yorkshire.

The house and its interiors were designed, among others, by great architects and designers such as Robert Adam, the father of English Regency style, and Thomas Chippendale, and inside the building there is one of the most precious art collections of the entire Britain that contains great master paintings from Renaissance to late XIX century. The gardens are also very beautiful and picturesque with pavilions, a planetarium, an Himalayan garden and a waterfall. Harewood House is open from 3rd April to 1st November, from 11.00 AM to 4.00 PM. Tickets from 7,5 £.


Palazzo Valguarnera Gangi (Piazza Croce dei Vespri 3, 90133, Palermo, Italy)

To visit Palazzo Valguarnera Gangi in Palermo is worth the visit at least for the ballroom where in 1963 Luchino Visconti set one of the most iconic scenes of the entire history of cinema, that is the ball scene of The Leopard, one of his best renowned movies, based on the novel of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. And Tomasi himself, while writing the novel, took much inspiration from that declining world of noble Sicilian families grandeur, a world made of lavish receptions and magnificent palaces.

First of all Palazzo Valguarnera Gangi, refulgent example of Sicilian Baroque, that Tomasi used to go often to. And in its many reception rooms, so rich to be almost tacky, you can easily smell this golden scent of a vanished Sicily. The building is still the main residence of the Prince and the Princess of Gangi that decided to open the house to public organizing events or private visits of the building. (To book a visit you have to call the palace directly at the number 0039-091-6162718).


Palace of Marquises de Fronteira (R. Sao Domingos de Benfica 1, 1500-554, Lisbon, Portugal)

In the house of the Marquise de Fronteira, near Lisbona, the technique of Azulejos, decorative mosaics made of blue painted tiles, finds its highest point of style. The villa, built in 1640 but after remodeled inside with magnificent XVII century decorations, has a clean and simple elegance. Instead, the showpieces of the property are the gardens, with pavilions, fountains and passages completely well over-decorated with sculptures, stone decorations and thousands of colored tiles. Dom Fernando, last marquis of Fronteira, still lives in one wing of the house and he opened the villa and the gardens to the public. To know the opening hours, that change continuously, you shall check the website 


St Emmeram Castle (Emmeramsplatz 3, 93047, Regensburg, Germany)

St. Emmerm castle, located in the north part of Regensburg very city center, derives from a former abbey that in 1812 was given to Thurn und Taxis family in exchange of the loss of the mailing monopole in Bavaria. At the time the Princes restored the abbey making of it one of the most splendid examples of historicist style in Europe. The interiors, lavishly luxurious, have been opened to public not many years ago by Princess Gloria von Turn und Taxis, that still lives in the castle, to face the immense managing expanses of the property, that’s considered to be the vastest private house of Europe.

Since 1993 a wing of the palace have been accommodating a detachment of Bavaria National Museum, exposing treasures and valuable things that belong to Bavaria but that are linked to Thurn und Taxis family. You can visit the palace only through guided tours. From April to November everyday, while from November to March only on Saturday and Sunday. From 10.30 to 15.30. Tickets from 11 Euro per person.


Palazzo Colonna (Piazza dei Santi Apostoli 66, 0187, Rome, Italy)

To find in Europe such a splendid room as the gallery of Palazzo Colonna in Rome is not easy at all. The exterior of the palace, however elegant and proportioned, is way simpler than many other gorgeous palaces in the eternal city. But anybody going up to the first floor and entering in the long gallery, cannot do anything but feeling nothing in front of a splendor that goes beyond the limit of thinkable. Marbles, friezes, gold, stuccos, a blaze of roman Baroque that have been designed by the greatest architects of the time such as Bernini, the designer of St Peter Colonnade.

Moreover the palace contains a great art collection with masterpieces by Ghirlandaio, Bronzino, Salvator Rosa, Guido Reni, Guercino, Tintoretto and many others. The palace is lived by the family of Princes Colonna, that during the century have been some of the main characters of the city history that often has passed between the palazzo’s walls. The palace is open to public only on Saturday morning, from 9.00 to 13.15. However it’s possible to book private visits every day of the week, on appointment. Tickets from 15 euro.


Biltmore Estate (1 Lodge St, Asheville, NC 28803, USA)

Biltmore, a 16.000 squared meters (yes, 16.000, it’s not a typing mistake) estate in North Carolina, is the vastest private house of the USA. It is one of the most representative houses of the Gilded Age, the period hugging the last three decades of the XIX century, characterized by an intense economic growth and by the construction of the immense manors of the wealthy families of the, at the time called, gasoline aristocracy. Biltmore was built in the end of the XIX century by George Washington Vanderbilt, at that time one of the richest man in the world.

The project was so ambitious that the construction took over six years and that they had to build on site a bricks factory, a wooden craft factory and railway line for the supply of building materials. However the fluctuating fortunes of the family, the ’29 crisis, and the incredibly high estate expenses forced Vanderbilt family that still owns the estate, to open Biltmore to public already during the ‘30s. Nowadays with over one million visitors per year, Biltmore is one of the main touristic spot in North Carolina. It’s open every day from 9.00 to 15.00.


Bran Castle (Strada General Traian Mosoiu 24, Bran 507025, Romania)

Bran Castle inspired Bram Staker for the description of count Vlad’s castle in his famous novel, Dracula. The castle is in Romania, on the border between the ‘frighteningly’ famed Transylvania and the less renowned Wallachia. The castle, that verily never belonged to Vlad III of Wallachia, or Dracula if you prefer, is equally considered one of the symbol of this dark historic figure and became a touristic destination for vampire lovers. Once it was one of the summer residences of Romanian royal family. Later, during the communist period, the castle was expropriated by the government, and then given back to the royal family’s heirs only in 2006. The Augsburg family, that inherited the castle, completely restored it and opened it to public. It is open everyday from 9.00 AM to 4.00 PM, but Monday that it’s open only from 12.00 AM to 4.00 PM.


Chatsworth House (Bakewell, Derbyshire, DE45 1PP, UK)

When in 1687 the architect William Talman restored Chatsworth House, giving it its latest aspect, the house was considered to be the most important and sumptuous country house of the whole Britain. Chatsworth has been being, from sixteen generation, the main residence of the Dukes of Devonshire, whose last name is Cavendish. The house has inside a rich and highly valuable painting collection that has been enriched over the centuries by Cavendish family. Nowadays Chatsworth and its gardens have been opened to public and it’s even possible to stay overnight in the reconverted old stone houses in the farm of the estate. For the opening hours, variable, check


Chateau de Chenonceau (37150, Chenonceaux, France)

Among the many fairy castles that you can find in the Loira Valley, France, Chenonceau is definitely the most iconic one. The sixteenth century chateau (French term to indicate castles) was built half on the land and half on a bridge on the river. Chenonceau has been the theatre of French history, because it passed through the hands of kings, queens and favorites that have enlarged it and enriched it over the centuries with art pieces. Indeed today the castle contains an enviable art collection with works by Bronzino, Tintoretto, Poussin, Correggio, Rubens, Van Loo and other master painters. The castle, after many changes of property, ended up, in the 50’s, in the hands of the Menier family that nowadays still takes care of it and that decided to open the castle and the beautiful Renaissance gardens to public.


Castello Hearst (750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452, USA)

Hearst Castle, which never ending construction started in 1919 to finish only in 1957, is located on the top of an hill overlooking the Pacific ocean in California between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Even if the castle belongs now to the State of California, and not to private hands as the other houses of the list, we decided to put it in our selection because it has been for sure one of the most iconic private houses of the XX century. It was commissioned by American tycoon William Hearst, whose figure openly inspired Orson Well’s movie Citzen Kane. The castle was the scenery of wild parties that Hearst used to give to entertain the various and famous, guests that were often at the castle.

The castle has an eclectic style that recalls many architectonical venues of entire history: as the ‘Casa Grande’, the main part of the castle, that’s inspired to a XVI century Spanish cathedral, or the ‘Neptune Pool’, inspired to ancient Greek temples. The furnishing, all the art pieces and even some parts of the buildings were bought in Europe by William Hearst and brought to California, so to create a false history of high impact and of epic costs. The castle is open for visits every day of the year except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. Guided tours from 8.00 AM to 4.00 PM. Tickets from 12$

Words by Federico Sigali