If you're looking for a vacation where the biggest worry is being attacked by armored knights on horseback, this may be the list for you. Converted castles, palaces and fortresses dominate this year's list of Europe's 50 Best Hotels, as chosen by the Forbes Traveler 400 board of experts for the quality of their rooms, service, decor, cuisine, public areas, recreational options and location. Whether your destination is in the English countryside, the Alps, the south of France, the Italian Riviera or even Portugal, the best escape from the 21st century may well be found by visiting the 14th, 15th or 16th.
The sense of time travel is hard to avoid in many of the Italian hotels on the list. The Villa d'Este in Lombardy ("one of the best locations in the world," raved one of our board members) was built in 1568 by the Cardinal of Como; over the years, its lush gardens were also home to a Russian empress, one of Napoleon's generals and various other aristocracy until its conversion to a hotel in 1873. One century earlier, Villa San Michele ("perfection," said another expert), nestled into a hilltop overlooking Florence, boasts a 15th-century facade attributed to no less a talent than Michelangelo.