From Robin Hood to Star Wars, the Middle Ages have kept a tight grip on our imaginations. We’re drawn to the clash of steel against steel, the pageantry of a royal court, or the bawdiness of a peasant tavern. Whether you want to take a deep dive into medieval life or a momentary trip back in time, here are five portals into the gothic past.
1. Castello di Amorosa, Calistoga
In 1995, vintner and modern-day Don Quixote, Dario Sattui, began a 15-year quest to build an authentically styled 13th century castle in Napa Valley. The resulting 121,000 square foot compound boasts a drawbridge, secret passageways and 107 rooms. General admission includes a tasting in the main bar and roaming access to part of the castle. Or take the full guided tour which also includes a private tasting. Open daily except Christmas Day. 4045 N. St. Helena Hwy. (707) 967-6272. www.castellodiamorosa.com.
2. Knight School, Ramona (San Diego County)
Clamber into a suit of armor, mount your steed, and rumble along the tilt with a lance tucked under your arm as you bear down on your opponent. This isn’t make believe – jousting expert Jeffrey Hedgecock offers instruction in horsemanship and mounted combat to neophytes and knights-errant alike. The school offers monthly lessons and sponsors competitive tournaments twice a year. 17228 Vorhees Lane. (760) 789-2299.www.knightschool.us
3. Abbey of New Clairvaux, Vina (Tehama County)
In 1931, William Randolph Hearst purchased a 12th century Spanish monastery, dismantled it, and shipped it home to San Francisco. Eventually stowed in Golden Gate Park, the stones were abandoned until 1994 when they were relocated to this Trappist monastery in the Sierra foothills. The reassembled Chapter House is open to the public, as is the abbey’s wine tasting room. Visiting hours are 9 a.m.-8 p.m. daily. 26240 Seventh St. (530) 839-2434. www.newclairvaux.org/day-visit.html.
4. Camlann Medieval Village, Carnation (near Seattle)
Wander among the half-timbered buildings of a 14th century village and visit with the shopkeepers and craftspeople of this living-history project. The adjacent Bors Hede Inneserves up traditional medieval fare like rastons and fenberry pie while minstrels and storytellers provide the entertainment. The Bors Hede Inne is open year-round. The village is open May-September only. 10320 Kelly Road NE. (425) 788-8624.www.camlann.org.
5. The Getty Center, Los Angeles
The more civilized side of the rough-and-tumble Middle Ages could be found in monasteries where art and literature were preserved by monks and skilled craftsmen in the form of vivid, illuminated manuscripts. The Getty is one of the few places in the United States where you can view such manuscripts year-round. Other medieval works are also on display in the North Pavilion. Closed Mondays. 1200 Getty Center Dr. (310) 440-7300. www.getty.edu.
A modified version of this piece appeared in the Travel section of the San Francisco Chronicle on October 12, 2012.