When looking for a holiday rich in culture and history, the choice is endless in Europe. The continent is full of fascinating destinations with centuries worth of stories to tell — and some of them have sinister endings. Across the UK and Europe there are hundreds of chilling folklore stories, ranging from the slightly scary to the downright terrifying.
Looking for inspiration planning a spooky getaway? Long-standing boating holiday experts Le Boat share five destinations with some of the most frightening folklore stories, including areas which many believe are still haunted to this day. As well as being frightening yet fascinating places to explore, all five of these destinations can be reached via boat. Travelling on the water is a great way to see a place from an entirely new perspective and you don’t even need a licence or any experience to drive a boat in most of Europe.
5. Drumnadrochit, Scotland
If you spend long enough in this quaint Scottish village, you may find the most famous creature in Scottish folklore, the Loch Ness monster. The earliest supposed recorded sighting was in 565 AD by Irish monk Saint Columba, who saw the burial of a man who locals claimed was attacked by a “water beast” while swimming in the river. It wasn’t until much later in 1933 when other reports of sightings started to emerge. This is around the time construction for the A82 road started, which many believed disrupted the beast and caused it to emerge. Since then, there have been numerous supposed sightings of a huge creature with a long neck and large back humps being spotted in the loch, although most are sceptical about these encounters.
While Loch Ness spans over 37km, Drumnadrochit is considered by many to be the mythical beast’s home. On a Le Boat holiday, immerse in the history of the monster by visiting the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre and Nessieland. There are plenty of other attractions to enjoy in the village as well, including visiting the historic Urquhart Castle ruins and going on picturesque walks around the area.
Spooky rating — 6.5/10: If the freshwater creature does exist, seeing it would no doubt be a scary sight. By most accounts, Nessie is a huge creature unlike any other which would likely give visitors of Drumnadrochit quite the shock. Supposed sightings of the elusive beast are so infrequent that if it does exist, we’d like to believe that it wouldn’t want to hurt us. However, the earliest recorded experience of the monster did supposedly end in fatality, so it’s impossible to rule this out!
4. Klosterstraße monastery ruins in Berlin, Germany
Berlin is home to many spooky stories and hauntings, but one of the oldest and most scary stories concerns the ruins of an old Franciscan monastery on Klosterstraße. The monastery was home to Father Roderich, a man who was chased out of his home town after having an affair and took shelter in the monastery in the 14th century.
He supposedly became angrier and more bitter as time went on due to his treatment and began picking fights with anyone who came to the monastery doors. On one occasion he got so angry with a stranger that he locked him in the cellar. He later found out that the stranger was his long-lost son, but when he went down to the cellar to save him it was too late as he’d already died. Roderich was punished and killed for the murder of his son, and legend has it that he has haunted the monastery ever since.
There are plenty of other scary places to explore in the city too, from the creepy torture chamber in Berlin Dungeons to the citadel which is supposedly haunted by a woman trapped in the walls. For fans of less frightening history, the museum island is sure to satisfy your thirst for culture.
Spooky rating — 7/10: The folklore behind this haunted monastery is more tragic than frightening. However, seeing the ghost of angry and bitter Father Roderich would no doubt send shivers down your spine!
3. Palazzo Mastelli in Venice, Italy
While considered by most to be the city of love, Venice has its fair share of scary stories and myths. From Poveglia Island, which was used as a place to isolate victims of the plague in the late 18th and early 19th century, to many supposedly haunted crypts throughout the city, it’s safe to say that fans of ghosts and scary folklore won’t run out of attractions to explore here.
But one of the most interesting stories is of the statues located in the square behind Palazzo Mastelli palace. Legend has it that these three statues are of Afani, Rioba, and Sandi, three wealthy merchants from around 1100 AD, who were cursed by an elderly Venetian woman after trying to sell her poor-quality fabric for an extortionate price. She is believed to have cursed the money she gave to them which turned them into stone.
Of course, this beautiful city is full of attractions which aren’t scary too. A gondola ride is a fantastic way to soak up the scenery, and you can even get around on a boat of your own to explore the city at your own pace.
Spooky rating — 8/10: The thought of being turned into a statue is simply terrifying, making this a particularly frightening story. But if you don’t try to sell your possessions for extortionate prices in Venice, you should be safe from this curse.
2. Oxford Castle, England
Oxford is perhaps most well known for being home to one of the world’s most prestigious universities, but locals know a much scarier side of the city. The famous Oxford Castle has been believed to be haunted for hundreds of years. There have been numerous reported sightings, but one of the most famous is the ghost of Mary Blandy. Mary was sentenced to death in 1752 for the poisoning of her father but has been spotted lots of times since on the castle mound by both staff and visitors. Another frequently spotted ghost is that of Empress Matilda, who was actually declared as Britain’s most seen ghost in 2009 (Oxford Castle & Prison).
Oxford is actually home to a variety of other haunted buildings too, including the university’s St. John’s College Library. Legend has it, the library is haunted by the headless ghost of Archbishop William Laud who was beheaded in 1645 for treason. For those looking to include some less paranormal activities in their trip, there are plenty of other things to do here too. One of the most popular attractions in the region is the River Thames, which you can travel on to get here and explore other picturesque villages nearby. If you’re looking for even more water-based activities, you can also spend a pleasant afternoon punting.
Spooky rating — 9/10: Oxford Castle is considered to be one of the most haunted places in the UK, so it’s unsurprisingly near the top of this list. As well as having a long and scary history, there are still supposed ghost sightings to this day, which you can explore for yourself on one of the ghost hunting tours run by the castle.
1. Palavas-les-Flots, France
Palavas-les-Flots, in the Camargue region, is one of the area’s most picturesque places. This thriving sea-side town is full of fantastic things to enjoy, from the long sandy beaches where you can try out various water sports, to seeing Camargue’s famous wild flamingos. But the popular town has a frightening past, too.
Dames blanches (white ladies) are one of the scariest beings in French folklore. These supernatural spirits appear as women dressed in white, who hide near the road side, often beneath bridges or in ravines, until they see a vehicle approaching. When passers-by approach, the dame blanche tries to get their attention and asks them for some sort of favour. Sometimes it’s to hitchhike or help her find her way, and sometimes it’s simply just to dance. The legend has it that if you help her, she will allow you to pass, but if you don’t, she’ll toss you into a ditch and leave you there.
While there have been supposed sightings of these mythical beings throughout the countries, one of the most well-known instances occurred in Palavas-les-Flots. In 1981, a group claimed to pick up one of the women in white on the roadside in the town, who asked them to take her to Montpellier. Sat in the back seat, she began screaming “watch out for this dangerous bend” repeatedly, but when the driver turned around he claimed that she vanished right in front of him.
Spooky rating — 10/10: This is easily one of the creepiest folklore stories around. The idea is scary enough in itself, but the fact that most reported instances have occurred in the dead of night makes the dames blanches even more terrifying.
Book now to save 10% on a 2023 boating holiday with Le Boat
Le Boat is the no.1 provider of self-drive boating holidays on Europe and Canada’s beautiful inland waterways, operating in nine countries across 17 regions, with the world’s largest fleet of more than 900 self-drive boats. Le Boat is currently offering 10% off 2023 bookings on all destinations excluding Italy, valid on all Budget and Comfort boats, for cruises of three nights minimum, booked before 30 November 2022. A seven-night self-catered stay on the Camargue, starting and finishing at Le Boat’s base in Saint Gilles, on board a Sheba sleeping five, arriving 10 April 2023, is priced from £1,109 per boat (was £1,239 per boat, saving 10%). Transport to and from the base is not included.
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