Four of the World’s Greatest Palaces

The World’s Greatest Palaces gives us VIP access to some of the most lavish and important residences in the world. Here are four featured in the series that are brimming with opulence and history.

LUKSHMI VILLAS PALACE

LUKSHMI VILLAS PALACE

Four times the size of Buckingham Palace, Lukshmi Villas Palace in Gujarat, India is an ornate and spectacular example of Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture. This is a style that flamboyantly blends classical Mughal architecture with Neo-Gothic flourishes. Designed by British architect Charles Mant, who committed suicide before it was completed (allegedly due to the stress of undertaking such an epic project), the palace was built in the late 19th Century for Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III.

It took 12 years to build the sprawling palace of sandstone and marble, with its Islamic-style domes and kaleidoscopic Venetian mosaics, not to mention stained glass windows fashioned by experts in London, and eye-catching carvings of crocodiles and parrots. The palace even had its own miniature railway with a model of the Flying Scotsman which was used to transport the children of the house to school, and added to the magic of an already fantastical place.

NEUSCHWANSTEIN CASTLE

Picture a royal residence from a fairy tale, and something like Neuschwanstein Castle will probably spring to mind. Perched on a craggy hilltop in Germany, with soaring, pointy blue turrets and white limestone walls, it's a palace fit for Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. Indeed, it was a direct inspiration for Walt Disney when he was designing his first theme park.

Neuschwanstein Castle was a Disney-like project to begin with, being specifically created in the 19th Century as a romantic throwback to an imagined, fantastical past. The man behind it was Ludwig II of Bavaria, one of the most eccentric and fascinating rulers in European history. Far more interested in music and art than politics and power, he was obsessed with the operas of Wagner, becoming one of the composer's most passionate patrons. He also spent much of his fortune on palaces, of which Neuschwanstein is the most famous.

"I wish to remain an eternal enigma to myself and to others," he famously said, and his antics riled up his ministers so much that they eventually deposed him on grounds of insanity. Ludwig was to die in extremely mysterious circumstances, his corpse being found alongside that of his psychiatrist after the pair went for a walk around a lake one night in 1886. To this day it's unknown whether they had been murdered or accidentally drowned.

Neuschwanstein Castle, regarded by many at the time as an extravagant waste of money by a spendthrift and delusional monarch, is now one of Germany's most popular attractions.

THE ROYAL PALACE OF CASERTA

One-time hub of the Kingdom of Naples, the Royal Palace of Caserta in southern Italy is impressive even by the standards of other royal houses. A lot of that is down to its sheer size - going by volume, this the single biggest palace on Earth. Encompassing five floors, it was built for Charles VII of Naples in the mid-18th Century. Apparently, the architectural designs alone made the monarch so excited he was "fit to tear his heart from his breast".

Inspired by the mighty palace of Versailles in France, the Royal Palace of Caserta is a whole world of unashamed grandeur, with dozens of state rooms and a vast garden studded with cascading, intricately carved fountains. Supplying the water is the celebrated Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, which with its rows of perfect arches is a spectacle in itself.

The Royal Palace of Caserta has been the backdrop for seminal moments in Italian history - notably the official surrender of Nazi forces in Italy during World War Two, which was signed in the palace in April 1945. Since then, the residence has become familiar to millions of people who don't even know its name, thanks to its starring role in various blockbusters including the Stars Wars prequel trilogy, where it served as the resplendent home of Natalie Portman's character, Queen Amidala.

SCHÖNBRUNN PALACE

The Habsbugs were one of the mightiest royal dynasties in European history, with various members occupying thrones across the continent. So it's little wonder their summer residence in Vienna, Schönbrunn Palace, is such a show-off spectacle of a place. Dating back to the 18th Century, this vast Baroque fortress with jewel-box Rococo interiors has 1,441 rooms, where historical giants like Napoleon and Mozart once walked. It was also a favourite home of Maria Theresa, the only female Habsburg ruler (and mother of the doomed Marie Antoinette).

An even more iconic resident was Elisabeth of Bavaria, affectionately known as Sisi. Thrust into the Habsburg limelight when she married Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1854, she didn't get on well with royal life, clashing with senior members of the family. Beautiful, fashion-conscious, stuck in an unhappy marriage, passionate about fitness but afflicted with an eating disorder, Elisabeth is often described as the Princess Diana of the Habsburgs. And, like Diana, she came to a tragic and untimely end, stabbed to death by a radical anarchist while on holiday in Switzerland in 1898.

Her private salon can still be visited in Schönbrunn today. It's one of the highlights of the palace, which also features a sprawling 18th Century maze and a garden dotted with statues of mythological and historical figures, from the god Apollo to Jason with his Golden Fleece. Altogether, Schönbrunn is a gilded monument to a family who altered the course of Europe.