We’ve all dreamt of living fairytale lives, where we are stately kings and beautiful queens with a thousand people tending to every silly little need of ours. And over time, of course, these childhood fantasies may have faded and jaded, but now’s just not the time to give up! Revive those royal desires and check into one of the many old castles in Europe for a plush, dreamy holiday. With never-ending landscapes and magical views, Condé Nast Traveller picks out five of its favourite castle-hotels for guests who don’t mind paying a pretty penny to spend a night or two like royalty.
Ashford Castle, Ireland
Built in 1228 and transformed into a luxury hotel in 1939, Ashford Castle sits on the west coast of Ireland. Replete with towers, turrets and even a drawbridge, it is a castle in every sense of the word. Medieval-looking on the outside, the interiors are adorned with rich fabrics, furnishings, and priceless works of art; while modern amenities help you blend in seamlessly. The castle’s grounds encompass 350 acres and outdoor activities range from clay-shooting and archery to horseback riding, fishing, golf, cycling and falconry. There are four dining options available here—the formal George V Dining Room, the casual Cullen’s at the Cottage, the leisurely Drawing Room and the Cocktail Bar.
Room to book: We recommend you book one of the Staterooms. Though not as lavish as a suite, the Staterooms are located in the oldest section of the castle—dating back to the 13th century—and as a result have gorgeous fireplaces, four-poster beds and antique furniture. They even come with a sherry decanter!
Ashford Castle, Cong, Co Mayo, Ireland (+353 94 954 6003; www.ashford.ie) Staterooms from Rs 29,107.
Château d'Esclimont, France
An hour-long road journey from Paris brings you to the gates of Château d'Esclimont. Surrounded by 150 acres of groves and protected parkland and encircled by a moat, this renaissance-style property has 52 rooms and suites. It also features a cellar that houses over 400 wines, a beautiful swimming pool for use in summer, rambling grounds and a world-class gourmet restaurant. Onsite activities include biking, horse riding, tennis and hot-air balloon rides.
Room to book: The Exclusive Suite – with high ceilings, a huge four-poster bed, a private lounge, an all-black marble bathroom and uninterrupted views of the pond and parkland. Don’t let its old-world charm fool you though: it’s decked out with the latest gizmos including WiFi and a large flat-screen television.
Château d'Esclimont, St Symphorien-le-Chateau, France (+33 02 3731 1515; www.slh.com) Exclusive Suite from Rs 62,465.
Castello Del Nero hotel & Spa, Italy
Tuscany’s wine region of Chianti is home to this luxe property. Close to Florence, Castello Del Nero is a 12th-century castle surrounded by 700 acres of trademark Tuscan landscape—rolling green hills, vineyards and olive groves. A quintessential Italian castle—without the towers and turrets of its European neighbours—Castello Del Nero’s location is ideal for exploring the ancient cities of Florence, Siena and Pisa. It was probably something that the original owners took into consideration before building it. The castle has been restored and preserved so that its guests may appreciate its rich history which includes frescoes that are at least a hundred years old, family crests and high-vaulted ceilings. Accommodation here comprises 50 rooms and 18 suites with traditional cotto (terracotta) tiles and mosaic and marbled bathrooms. Don’t leave without a meal at the famous La Torre restaurant which was originally the castle’s stables but now serves traditional Tuscan fare using the freshest local ingredients. Also check into the ESPA before you leave and try the Sea salt and Tuscan rosemary body exfoliation for some serious pampering.
Room to book: Never slept in a room with frescoes? Here’s your chance. The frescoed Deluxe Suites – located in the main building – come with king or queen-sized beds, down duvets and even cashmere bed blankets; in case the in-room fireplace doesn’t keep you warm enough.
Castello Del Nero Hotel & Spa, Italy, Strada Spicciano, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, Firenze, Italy (+39 055 80 64 70; www.castellodelnero.com) Deluxe Suite from Rs 76,995.
Althoff Grand Hotel Schloss Bensberg, Germany
When Prince-Elector Johann Wilhelm II of Duesseldorf decided to build this baroque castle, he looked to the grandeur of Versailles in France and Winchester Castle in England for inspiration. Overlooking Cologne, Althoff Grand Hotel Schloss Bensberg is an 84-room 35-suite property with frescoed staircases, old paintings, intricately-sculpted entryways and a gorgeous library. There are two restaurants here: the German fine-dining Vendôme, helmed by Michelin star-chef Joachim Wissler, and Trattoria Enoteca, which serves fine Mediterranean fare with an in-house wine and olive oil shop. There are also two bars—the Lobby and Chimney Bar. The Beauty & Leading Spa has a sauna, fitness centre and a large swimming pool plus a range of beauty treatments.
Room to book: The Standard Suite has a large sitting area and an enticing marble bathroom. If you happen to book at the right time, the hotel even upgrades you to the next level suite free of charge.
Althoff Grand Hotel Schloss Bensberg, Kadettenstrasse, D-51429 Bergisch Gladbach / Cologne, Germany (+49 2 204 420; www.schlossbensberg.com) Suite from Rs 18,898
Thornbury Castle, England
History buffs will rejoice at this amazing property that was built in 1510 by the third Duke of Buckingham. It is the only Tudor castle in England that has been converted into a hotel. In fact, even King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn had stayed here during their tumultuous marriage and took walks in the expansive grounds. For those looking to explore England’s West Country, Thornbury Castle is perfect as it is surrounded by the Georgian city of Bath and Stonehenge, the medieval Tinturn Abbey, the city of Cardiff, and the Cotswolds with its quaint villages. There are only 27 guestrooms here and they all have beautiful period furniture including four-poster beds, tapestries, and gorgeous views of the surrounding parkland and River Severn. During your stay here, you can expect in-room sherry decanters and tea-trays with hot chocolate, a soothing comfort for those cold rainy days. Be sure to eat at The Tower Dining Room, a hexagonal dining room that oozes old-world charm with its large open fireplace and arrow-slit windows. There is The Baron’s Sitting Room, a wood-panelled room perfect for a quiet drink. Outdoor activities include archery, falconry, quad biking, fishing and croquet. The hotel also has a 500-year-old vineyard with delicious vintage wines.
Room to book: There’s no point living in castle that hosted royals if you’re not going to live like one. If you can make it up the 77-odd steps of the South Wing tower, the view from the Superior Deluxe room is well worth the climb. Not to mention, it’s supposed to have the largest four-poster bed in all of England which is 10ft across—king-size indeed!
Thornbury Castle, Castle Street, Thornbury, BS35 1HH, England (+44 1454 281182; www.thornburycastle.co.uk) Superior Deluxe at Rs 55,525
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