In Europe, 76 destinations off the beaten path
Looking beyond Rome, Paris or London? Consider Europe's lesser-known destinations, such as Monschau, Germany, a town so quaint you can hardly believe it isn't a theme park or San Marino, one of Europe's oldest and smallest countries (drive through it slowly).
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Castel del Monte, Italy( Susan Spano / Los Angeles Times )
This medieval masterpiece, begun in 1240 -- about the same time as Westminster Abbey -- has eight sides, linked by eight eight-sided towers.
Its seemingly endless repetition of the octagonal form has haunted mathematicians through the ages who see it as a work of pure geometry. The more mystically inclined impute occult significance to this temple of the octagon, noting that great buildings around the world, such as Jerusalem's 1,300-year-old Dome of the Rock, also have eight sides.
Whether icon or equation, the castle has more vibes than "The Da Vinci Code," as I discovered when I came here in February, drawn like iron shavings to a magnet. I didn't know why I had to see it, except I love a good mystery. And Castel del Monte is surely one, a model for the labyrinthine library in Umberto Eco's 1983 medieval whodunit, "The Name of the Rose." I stood in the castle's deserted courtyard at dusk, nerves taut, heart thumping, ears pitched, wishing the walls could talk.
-- Susan Spano
Read more: In Italy, a riddle wrapped in stone
Pictured: Castel del Monte.