Monday, September 23, 2013

A Visit to Castello di Amorosa

Ladies in Waiting.......

For all you depressed, hopeless Anglophiles with castles on the brain who long to slide back in time into the realm of lords and ladies but who find yourselves approximately six thousand miles away, like me, from even the nearest European stronghold, I give you Castello di Amorosa.

There, off of HWY CA-29 in the northern part of Napa Valley, California, 2 miles south of Calistoga and 5 1/2 miles north of St. Helena, sits a real 13th century castle, only nine years old. I've been there.

I had to throw a bit of a snit to get there. It's true. Everyone else wanted to go elsewhere, basically nowhere, while we were in the Napa Valley. And there was a real castle sitting there for me to miss out on. I didn't say they had to go. I only said that I was going. I don't normally put my foot down, and nobody had planned on us splitting up for the day, so all-in-all, it was a shock. We all went.

Castello di Amorosa is very young as far as castles go, but it is real in every other way. It was built using medieval techniques from European stone, including nearly one million antique bricks--handmade ones from torn-down Hapsburg palaces. The workers made all the lamps, decorative iron pieces, and iron gates by hand, working over an open forge. Every hinge and lock, every chain link, every nail was hand-crafted, as if made in medieval times. They hand-made all the leaded glass windows. They hand-carved most of the door and window surrounds, the well, and the stone crests depicting the family's coat of arms.

What was meant to be a 5-6 year project expanded from the original 8,500 square feet to 121,000, and 107 rooms. There are more than 80 rooms underground. The square footage of just the underground rooms, built on four levels, is nearly 80,000, or about two acres. These rooms are barrel aging cellars and wine tasting rooms--which we enjoyed adequately.

The castle is complete with stables, apartments for nobles, wine fermenting rooms, a church and chapel in regular use, secret passageways, and even a prison and torture chamber. The builder was bent on incorporating every element of a real medieval Tuscan castle. He attempted to depict how castles evolved over time by erecting doorways and niches which he then bricked up. He even built a partially destroyed tower.

There are chickens and sheep which add to the realism.

I sat on the Queen's chair at the long banquet table. I looked out through arrow slit windows--could have vanquished my better half as he wended his way up to my tower. I felt trapped behind hammered iron bars which covered the window in a locked hall. I stomped on hewn-stone floors which were held up by hewn-stone arches in underground rooms. Yes, I was in a real castle.

Still, the stones were too clean. They lacked the centuries of dirt bits driven in by relentless winds and the moss that grows in the dirt. I thought of offering to scrub some grime into the bricks for a goodly fee. It would have been some long years of steady work. HIgh on a ladder. Um, no.

And there was a parking lot with no king underneath.

Yes, history was absent despite all the reality. No lord had ever defended this fortress. No lady had been courted within those walls. No harried servants had scurried across the courtyard before his ears were boxed.

But I had the pleasure of being there and seeing it all and letting my imagination run rampant. It was wonderful fun.

I take pleasure in announcing the immediate release of Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors on Amazon Kindle US, Amazon Kindle UK, and at a special price for the print copy (at this writing) on Amazon US, and Amazon UK. The book will soon be available at Barnes and Noble and other online stores.

I am giving away a copy of My Book House Books, Vol. 12 to a winner within the United States. You have no idea what a sacrifice this is. I am buying this for YOU, and I don't even have one anymore. We left them behind when we moved cross-country--I was just 12. The Book House Books are what made me the Anglophile freak that I am. I read them all throughout my childhood. (I will have them again. The whole set.)

This is a used copy with some shelf-wear and aging, but it is great reading from famous writers.

Please follow the links below to other magnificent castles and palaces. Enjoy!

Update: The giveaway winner is Sophia Rose!