Castello Estense

Top choice in Ferrara

Castello Estense or castello di San Michele in Ferrara - Italy

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Complete with moat and drawbridge, Ferrara's towering castle was commissioned by Nicolò II d'Este in 1385. Initially it was intended to protect him and his family from the town's irate citizenry, who were up in arms over tax increases, but in the late 15th century it became the family's permanent residence. Although sections are now used as government offices, a few rooms, including the royal suites, are open for viewing.

Highlights are the Sala dei Giganti (Giants' Room), Salone dei Giochi (Games Salon), Cappella di Renée de France, the claustrophobic dungeon and the superb panoramic Ferrara views from the Torre dei Leoni (122 steps up!). It was here in 1425 that Duke Nicolò III d'Este had his young second wife, Parisina Malatesta, and his son, Ugo, beheaded after discovering they were lovers, providing the inspiration for Robert Browning's My Last Duchess.

Linked to the castle by an elevated passageway, the 13th-century crenellated Palazzo Municipale was the Este family home until they moved next door to the castle. Nowadays, it's largely occupied by administrative offices, but you can wander around its twin courtyards (though one, Giardino delle Duchesse, was closed for renovation at the time of writing).