Why settle for a humble hotel or — the horror — a self-catering apartment, when you can settle in as the ruler of all you survey from your castle ramparts. Well, for a night at least, if you check into one of these award-winning hotels hosted within some of Europe’s most storied castles.
Ashford Castle, Ireland
Perched on the shores of Lough Corrib, Ashford Castle has a history that stretches back more than 800 years, playing host to some of Ireland’s luminary families, including the Guinness dynasty. While it’s changed hands many times over the centuries, in 2013 Red Carnation Hotels, a global hotel portfolio with roots in SA purchased the property.
This elegant escape now offers guests a wide array of country pursuits, from fly-fishing and kayaking to archery and falconry. There are 83 rooms and suites to choose from, but the standout option is the Hideway Cottage. Set apart from the castle, this former boathouse is a beautifully furbished bolthole with a private terrace on the shores of the lough.
Thornbury Castle, England
Steeped in history and tucked away in the bucolic countryside of Gloucestershire, Thornbury Castle evokes all the romance and regality of the Tudor era. And little wonder. Built in the 16th-century, the somewhat-notorious King Henry VIII claimed this remarkable castle as the residence for he and his wife, Anne Boleyn. She, of course, would later lose her head in the Tower of London.
Today, guests at the castle can relive the opulence of the era with a choice of ‘bed chambers’ that don’t hold back on the heavy drapes, four-poster beds and plush furnishings. But, in this English setting it works, with the Henry VIII suite allowing you to share the very chamber that the murderous monarch once slept in. Downstairs in the award-winning dining room, executive chef Carl Cleghorn serves up a seasonal tasting menu of elevated British cuisine. Beyond the castle the 15-acre grounds are a delight, with formal gardens alongside a Tudor labyrinth planted with wildflowers and indigenous grasses.
Pousada Castelo de Óbidos, Portugal
As wedding gifts go, the Castelo Óbidos sure ain’t bad. Perched on a hill overlooking the charming town of Óbidos, an hour’s drive north of Lisbon, the Castelo de Óbidos was given by King Dinis to his bride on their wedding day in 1282. For centuries the town became a favoured bolthole for the Portuguese monarchy, and today this captivating medieval castle allows “commoners” a taste of a royal vacation.
Today part of the Pousadas de Portugal group, which specialises in historic hotels, the castle has been gently modernised to offer modern comforts with a touch of medieval charm. There are 14 double rooms and three suites, but it’s the nine rooms in the original castle that are the ones to book.
Chateau Herálec, Czech Republic
In the scenic Czech region of Vysočina, the oldest bricks in the walls of Chateau Herálec date back to the 13th-century, but an extensive renovation and upgrade by the Kasper family owners have transformed it into one of the most remarkable five-star castle stays in Europe.
While the rooms and suites are striking for the art gallery concept created together with the Vysočina Regional Gallery, the hotel is perhaps most sought-after for its impressive Spa by L’Occitane, the first brand partnership in the country. Here the castle history and a modern wellness resort combine beautifully, whether it’s the private swimming pool beneath the original medieval vaults or a choice of sauna styles within the embrace of the castle walls.
Hotel de la Cité, France
At the Hotel de la Cité, you don’t just get the chance to stay in a stately pile of ancient stonework; you’ll be enmeshed within the very fabric of one of France’s most ancient towns.
Carcassonne is a charming medieval city — and a Unesco World Heritage Site — and this five-star hotel is built into the city walls on the site of what was once the former bishop’s palace. Set alongside the elegant Saint-Nazaire Basilica, with fantastic city views from the ramparts, it is a complete immersion into medieval France.
You’ll find a choice of 56 rooms and suites, including the expansive terrace suites offering private havens overlooking the old town. While there’s no shortage of wonderful eateries a short walk from the hotel foyer, set aside one night (and a chunk of your credit limit) for dinner in the Michelin-starred restaurant La Barbacane, where chef Jérôme Ryon serves up a seasonal menu of regional dishes.