Explore the world's best fairytales

By Katie Gatens

Photography by Boris Jordan Photography / Getty Images

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March 2017

You’ve seen the film, now travel to castles in rural France, palaces in the Middle East and the rugged mist-covered mountains of Scotland. All of these locations have been the inspiration behind some of the best stories on screen.

Magical castles in Munich

What to do

The often under-rated city of Munich is packed full of Neo-Gothic buildings, such as the town hall, but it also has a vibrant food scene. Visit the Viktualienmarkt farmer’s market for a doughy seeded pretzel and don’t miss the contemporary art gallery Pinakothek der Morderne, which is free on Wednesdays and one of the largest modern and contemporary art museums in the world. After a couple of days in the city soaking up the culture, rent a car and drive two hours down to the Austrian border through quaint Bavarian towns to Neuschwanstein Castle.

Neuschwanstein Castle was Walt Disney’s inspiration for the setting of Sleeping Beauty and was built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, known as the ‘fairy-tale king’

The brilliant white fortress impossibly teetering on the clifftop is straight out of a fairy-tale, with a spectacular view of the snow-capped mountains and sparkling blue lake behind it. The castle was Walt Disney’s inspiration for the setting of Sleeping Beauty and was built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, known as the ‘fairy-tale king’ for the many idyllic castles in Germany’s Black Forest region – also associated with the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.

  •  Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis is the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States © Jeremy Woodhouse

    Southern belle

    Hop to Jackson Square in New Orleans for buzzing pavement cafés, restaurants and the beautiful St Louis Cathedral.

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  • Spot the big five on safari from Port Elizabeth, South Afirca © Getty

    Did you know...

    The word ‘lion’ in Swahili translates as ‘Simba’. Check in to Shamwari Game Reserve in Port Elizabeth, which stretches 25,000 hectares and is home to the coveted Big Five.

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  • You’ll be charmed by the Sofitel Strasbourg Grande Ile, set in the heart of the Alsatian capital.

    The suite life

    Colour-popping contemporary interiors are order of the day at this chic Strasbourg hideaway.

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Where to stay

Make the luxurious Kempinski Vier Jahreszeiten in Munich your base. This five-star hotel has rooms fit for a king and queen – including shimmering candelabras, a mixture of French Renaissance art and magnificent stained-glass skylight in the lobby.

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Animal kingdoms in South Africa

What to do

You don’t have to head into the most rural depths of central Africa to experience the pulse-racing exhilaration of seeing animals in the wild. Port Elizabeth is one of South Africa’s largest cities, on the coast. Make a trip to the mind-bending Donkin Reserve on Nelson Mandela Bay, with its towering white lighthouse contrasted with the huge neighbouring stone pyramid. This is the first stop on Route 67 – an art project showcasing 67 works of art to symbolise the number of years Nelson Mandela fought for the freedom of South Africa. See some wildlife on the Flamingo Trail – a walk of nine kilometres starting in the Zwartkops Nature Reserve. You’ll see the fluffy pink birds, succulent aloe plants as well as terns, cormorants and gulls.

Where to stay

Spot Simba and the rest of the Big Five at the Shamwari Game Reserve, with observation deck villas tower above the tree canopy, and you can watch the branches rustling and birds dipping in and out of the forest.

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Once upon a time in Alsace

What to do

Flying into the buzzing hub of Luxembourg, rent a car and discover the quaint region of neighbouring Alsace. Drive down to picturesque Strasbourg and spend days wandering the cobbled streets in La Petite France and exploring the Romanesque Cathedral de Notre Dame will take your breath away. In the afternoons, discover the wine region – though you might want to ditch the car opt for a tour. For a day trip, don’t miss the town of Colmar, which is a 20-minute drive away. Take to the waterways on a boat tour to admire the pastel-coloured timbered houses straight from a chocolate box. You may recognise its iconic fountain in the town square from a certain Beauty and the Beast cartoon – it was designed by French sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi, who was born in the village and also designed the Statue of Liberty.

Where to stay

The boutique hotel Sofitel Strasbourg Grande Ile is situated in an UNESCO World Heritage site and is more opulent palace than enchanted house – and you won’t find any beasts lurking in the West Wing either. It’s the first Sofitel hotel in the world, and there’s a vineyard, sunny terrace and dramatic drawing room complete with plush purple sofas and romantic creamy marble statues.

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Mirage-like palaces in Abu Dhabi

What to do

In a country that’s been the setting of countless Arabian folk tales, the brilliant white Sheikh Zayed Mosque – a cultural hub for the Islamic faith. Although it looks centuries-old, it was actually finished in 2007 and its bubble domes and spindly minarets are the stuff of pure fantasy. Head into the desert on a 4x4 tour over the rolling golden sands – you can even try your hand at riding a camel if you prefer a bumpier ride. Back in the city, no trip to the Middle East would be complete without haggling with a market trader in a souk littered with all manner of gold and spices. The Al Ain Souk (also known as the Old Souk) is the place to head to get away from the air-conditioned malls – you might even find a flying carpet if you’re lucky.

  • The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is one the world’s largest mosques © Neelima Muneef

    Magic carpet ride

    The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the third largest in the world, with a capacity for 40,000 worshippers. The carpet in the main prayer hall is said to be the largest single piece of handmade carpet in the world – weighing a mammoth 35 tonnes. Fly from London to Abu Dhabi from:£295 return

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Where to stay

Bed down in a literal palace at Emirates Palace appearing like a mirage on a private white-sand beach. The hotel is an attraction in its own right – hosting screenings for the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and operas during the concert season. It’d take days to list all of its services, but rooms are decorated with an Arabian touch and there’s even a spa which caters for kids.

Jazz age glamour in New Orleans

What to do

“There's so much wonderful magic in that city” said Disney Pixar’s chief creative officer John Lasseter, when he decided to use New Orleans as the setting of Disney’s 2009 animation The Princess and the Frog, creating a new American fairy tale. The intricate iron balconies, crooning jazz melodies wafting lazily from bars and the mythical, twisting trees and spooky hanging moss in the surrounding swamplands provide a spellbinding setting. Make the city your base and take an old-fashioned steamboat tour – you might even spot a crocodile lurking in the still waters. Spend your days tasting the renowned New Orleans delicacies of beignets and prawn gumbo in the French Quarter. Kids will love seeing the penguins at Aquarium of the Americas. Rent a bike to see idyllic New Orleans City Park – you can even go Stand Up Paddleboarding on the lake and there’s a free sculpture park.

Where to stay

The Troubadour is a new hotel with the perfect balance of modern and Art Deco. Chill on their panoramic rooftop terrace, while the sun goes down and the city comes alive with a cocktail in hand. The hotel is true to its roots, with good old-fashioned southern comfort food being served up in the restaurant.

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