Published March 13, 2012
When it comes to castles, their histories are, quite literally, the stuff of legends. And although they were once the domain of the most elite in the land, many have now been taken over by canny developers and restored for the pleasure of mere mortals. Long gone are the drafts and damp. Better yet, castle holidays are affordable and not just for celebrity royals such as the Beckhams or Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.
This means that you, too, can enjoy sumptuous suites, grand views and fantastic dining options. If you’ve ever dreamed of peering out from a turret or gazing across a moat, it’s time to channel your inner princess or knight in shining armor and book a stay at one of these unique properties.
Huntington, New York
Oheka Castle Hotel & Estates
This century-old, French-style château was built to the tune of $11 million (more than $100 million by today's standards). It sits on 442 acres on the highest point on Long Island, and during its 1920s heyday, it was a mecca for royalty, heads of state and Hollywood stars. After decades of varied uses and abandonment, it was painstakingly restored, with its original elements being renovated or authentically reconstructed. Today, there are 32 individually decorated guest rooms, as well as a ballroom, library and formal gardens with eight reflecting pools. Days begin with breakfast in the dining room, after which guests can explore Long Island wine country, unwind with an in-room massage or enjoy exclusive golf and tennis privileges at the Cold Spring Country Club.
Estancia la Candelaria
Estancia la Candelaria is not your typical South American ranch. Located in the pampas of Argentina just an hour outside Buenos Aires, this estate is home to a French-style castle built in the late nineteenth century. Inspired by a royal château in Normandy, the building now serves as a hotel, along with hacienda guest rooms, bungalows and even a windmill. The interior design ranges from rustic to ornate, with an emphasis on original details such as oak floors and a marble fireplace. Yes, it's a bit shabby in places, but that just makes it feel authentic. Incorporating more than 200 species of trees, the surrounding 245-hectare grounds were designed by French landscape artist Carlos Thays and now accommodate polo, horseback riding and weekend gaucho parties with traditional folk dancing. Meals showcase Argentine classics, including empanadas you'll not soon forget. Check out the Top 10 Ranches to stay at Worldwide.
Among England's picturesque villages, there are few more idyllic than Amberley in West Sussex, home to the fairy-tales-do-come-true Amberley Castle. This 900-year-old stone monument features original medieval architecture, including a high curtain wall and twin-tower gatehouse. Each of the elegant guest rooms makes the most of the building's historic character while at the same time offering such contemporary luxuries as whirlpool tubs. Landscaped gardens, a croquet lawn and tranquil ponds are all designed to take you back to a more leisurely era. You can also climb a rope bridge to a thatched-roof tree house or enjoy a relaxing afternoon on the eighteen-hole putting course. And make sure to check the events calendar. On-site master classes cover subjects such as wine appreciation and floristry.
Château du Peyruzel
Dating back to the thirteenth century, this medieval French fortress perches high above the Dordogne River in southwestern France. Having survived the Hundred Years War and served as home to princes and lords, its magnificent stone architecture has been restored, and the property now welcomes guests seeking a unique, intimate retreat. Unlike some castle hotels that take their authenticity (i.e. austerity) a little too far, this one features five bedrooms tastefully adorned with antiques. Designed with four square towers to replicate the shape of a Maltese cross, the castle also offers a salon, library, reception room and dining room, each with its own original attributes. Outdoors, guests will find a hilltop pool, gardens and acres of private forest for leisurely strolls. Check out the Top 10 Hotels in France.
Taj Lake Palace
Rising like a mirage from the center of Lake Pichola, this lustrous white marble masterpiece was originally built in the 1740s as a pleasure palace — a cool "island" escape from Udaipur's landlocked, main royal residence. Guests arrive by motorized gondola and are immediately ensconced in a kind of opulence unimaginable in today's Philippe Starck-styled hotel world. Romantic is the defining mood here, from the beautiful gardens and lily pond to the bedrooms adorned with silks and murals. With glamorous furnishings and to-die-for terraces, some of the suites will take your breath away. Among the selection of dining venues, Neel Kamal pays tribute to the royal cuisine of Mewar. Jiva Spa will help you unwind with ancient Indian healing practices.
The Xara Palace
Among this castle's many wow factors is that its walls are integrated into those that make up the bastions of the fortified medieval city of Mdina. Just a few steps from the main entrance into the city, The Xara Palace was built in the seventeenth century to house the noble Moscati Parisio family. It was then inhabited by the British during WWII, and today it is once again family-owned, this time by the Zammit Tabonas, who are to be thanked for its beautiful restoration. The bedrooms are decorated with period pieces and original Maltese artworks, and their views range from the internal courtyards to The Vilhena Palace. Because of the property's setting, the rooftop de Mondion restaurant offers a truly stunning dining experience.
Zamek Reszel Kreativ Hotel
Built in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, this fortified castle has experienced many an incarnation, from a hunting lodge to a prison. But fear not, these days Reszel Castle is a place you'd hardly want to escape from. With only 21 somewhat rustic but always interesting rooms and suites, you'll feel as if you have the place to yourself. As for those guests you do encounter, an on-site gallery of modern art (combined with the town's quaint market atmosphere) means that artists can often be found checking in. The castle is also popular with local foodies, who frequent the house restaurant for specialties such as mutton dumplings and roast pikeperch with almonds.
When La Mamounia closed for three years' worth of renovations, lovers of this sumptuous landmark mourned — and worried. Would the integrity of this quintessential Moroccan oasis receive the care it deserved? At the hand of French interior designer Jacques Garcia, the answer is "yes." With a light, elegant touch, Garcia updated the intricate Arabesque details, from the mosaics to the reflecting pools to the arcades. The hotel now has fewer rooms — 209, to be exact — which means more space in those that remain. Our favorites are the riads with their private pools and courtyards. The grounds were an eighteenth-century wedding gift to a Moroccan prince from his father, and it is a pleasure to walk among the Barbary figs and 100-year-old olive trees. Along with four restaurants and a permanent art collection, La Mamounia features a spa with an ozone-heated pool, nine treatment rooms, six outdoor massage cabins and three hammams.
Waterford Castle Hotel & Golf Resort
This exquisite castle is situated among woodlands on a private 310-acre island on the River Suir. Although the property dates back to the sixteenth century, renovations ensure all of the expected modern hotel comforts — plus an eighteen-hole golf course. Each of the nineteen accommodations enjoys sweeping views across the surrounding countryside. And for those who require extra privacy, secluded self-catering lodges are available. Guests can hop off the island on the daily ferry and venture into Waterford, one of Ireland's oldest cities and home to the famed crystal factory. For outdoorsy and athletic types, the island offers clay pigeon shooting, archery, tennis, croquet, hiking, equestrian activities and fishing. With its original oak paneling and ornate ceiling, the acclaimed Munster Room Restaurant serves seasonal menus highlighted by Irish specialties. Check out the Top 10 Golf Resorts Around the World.
Parador de Alarcon
Situated in the ancient village of Alarcon above the Jucar River, Parador de Alarcon is a spectacular eighth-century Moorish castle. As a fortress that witnessed and survived many a siege and conquest throughout the centuries, it has been meticulously renovated with a military theme. Rich red accents and Castilian wood warm what could otherwise be too ascetic interiors, and stone walls and ceilings provide an immediate sense of history. House cuisine — described as "not for the faint of heart" — showcases the flavors of nearby La Mancha, from cod with chili and paprika to hunting season favorites such as stewed wild boar with acorn liqueur. Hiking and horseback riding are among the many activities the area has to offer.
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