TURN ROYAL ASPIRATIONS INTO REALITY AT THESE PALATIAL COUNTRYSIDE CASTLE HOTELS IN EUROPE AND THE U.S.
BY NUBIA DUVALL WILSON
If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to live like the kingly class, there are grand castles worldwide that have been suped up with modern amenities to give you a taste. While reigning in one of these restored and often centuries old palaces, roam nearby woodlands and learn falconry, or venture into historic towns and take in marvelous architecture and monuments. Nowadays, travelers are spoiled for choice when it comes to chateaux turned hotels. Here are some standouts epic fairytale adventures in Ireland, Scotland, France… even New York.
For an experience that will make you feel like a character in Game of rones, stay in this 13th century accommodation in West Ireland, part of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection and a member of Leading Hotels of the World. It is spread over a 350 acre estate on the shores of Lough Corrib and the River Cong. Ashford Castle has been named by National Geographic as a “Unique Lodge of the World,” and it aims to preserve its heritage for future generations with a focus on sustainable luxury and green cuisine. All epicurean delights, for example, are made using local and seasonal staples fresh ingredients like seafood from Galway Bay. The hotel is also home to Ireland’s first school of falconry, and plays host regularly to royalty, dignitaries, and celebrities.
There are a total of 83 rooms and suites that have been restored to their historic beauty while offering modern luxuries. The Deluxe Queen Family rooms feature two queen beds and a relaxation area, great for parents with small children. Kids amenities at the hotel include a “Lego menu” with butler service, a personalized storybook for bedtime, kids bathrobes and slippers, and qualified babysitters for a parents’ night out. The Hideaway Cottage is a former boathouse situated just off Lough Corrib, surrounded by private gardens. Guests enjoy the luxurious comfort and relaxation of this beautiful space, with soothing sounds of lapping waters. For your privacy, access is through secure gates.
The Cottage features one large bedroom, a bathroom, a lakeside private dining terrace, jackets from Jack Murphy (a famed Balbriggan, Dublin based clothier) and Wellington boots to take home, as well as a 24 hour concierge and in room dining service.
If venturing out to eat, go to the George V dining room or unwind at the rooftop cigar terrace over a game of billiards.
The castle is renowned for an array of sports and outdoor facilities on its 350 acres of woodland, including an equestrian center, fly fishing, a private nine hole golf course, and falconry. Additional amenities include a spa, cinema hall, billiards room serving a selection of Irish whiskies, the Prince of Wales cocktail bar, and afternoon tea service. Another unique attraction are the wine cellars, which were originally secret passageways and only discovered during the refurbishment.
Best Booking: The Reagan Presidential Suite, named after president Ronald Reagan, who stayed at Ashford Castle in 1984. It offers a bedroom, sitting area, main bathroom, and smaller bathroom spread over a split level. It boasts floor to ceiling views of Lough Corrib, an original fireplace, and antique furniture, and is located in the oldest part of the castle. ashfordcastle.com
CROSSBASKET CASTLE High Blantyre, Glasgow, Scotland, $$
This stunning fortress dates from the 17th century and has been restored to reflect its original beauty. Grounds include a large stretch of woodland, extensive nature trails, and a river featuring majestic waterfalls. Great for culture seekers, it is situated near Glasgow, Scotland’s UNESCO city of music that is simply brimming with entertainment experiences.
The retreat comprises nine suite bedrooms, each designed by traditional craftsmen in a classical style and with modern furnishings. Cross basket also has an exquisite four story bridal tower which dates to the 16th century. The turret room is built on a hill overlooking the River Calder, and is served by a sweeping spiral stone staircase. The Gate Lodge, a three minute walk from the castle, is a popular option for families with kids a two bedroom accommodation with a kitchen, washer and dryer, living room with gas fireplace, and a dining area. The master bedroom includes a sauna, steam room, and a veranda with a hot tub. The Albert & Michel Roux Jr Restaurant, overseen by the legendary French chef Albert Roux and son Michel Roux Jr, and run by an award winning executive head chef, is set in the embellished Baillie Room. Surrounded by gold leaf and antiques, meals here are enjoyed in an opulent ambiance from a bygone era.
During your stay, take a scenic walk along River Avon through ancient woodland around Chatel herault Park, its prominent feature a sprawling residence built in 1734 as a hunting lodge for the Dukes of Hamilton. Also visit Amazonia, Scotland’s largest indoor rainforest attraction offering a fun and educational experience for all ages.
Cross basket is about 16 miles from Glasgow, famed for its Victorian and Art Nouveau architecture, the Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet, and National Theatre of Scotland, as well as acclaimed museums and a thriving music scene.
Best Booking: The Lindsay Tower suites come with luxurious period style oversized beds, antique chandeliers, views of the grounds and river, and an additional lounge area in which to relax. crossbasketcastle.com
OHEKA CASTLE Huntington, New York, $$$
Who knew that you could stay in a European style chateau stateside? Almost a century ago, financier and philanthropist Otto Hermann Kahn built this mansion in the middle of a 443 acre plot on Long Island’s highest point for an estimated $11 million dollars ($158 million today). The French style structure remains the second largest private residence ever built in America. During the Gilded Age of the 1920s, Kahn used the 109,000 square foot, 127 room estate as a summer home, where he entertained royalty, heads of state, and Hollywood stars.
In 1984, developer Gary Melius purchased the castle and its remaining 23 acres and spent $30 million dollars in two years restoring the former to its original grandeur. Slate roof tiles were sourced from the same Vermont quarry, handcrafted wrought iron railing on the grand staircase took two months to be refinished, Faux Bois specialists were brought in to attend to the library walls, and rubber casters were hired to restore the beautiful plaster mouldings in the ballroom and library. Now a member of Historic Hotels of America, the castle offers 32 luxurious guest rooms and suites, in room massages, the OHEKA Bar & Restaurant, and tours of the estate and gardens. Specialty accommodations (such as the Gatsby suites) put one in mind of the Roaring ’20s.
While staying at Oheka, visitors can tour other historic “Gold Coast Mansions,” such as the Vanderbilt Museum, Old Westbury Gardens, and Coe Hall, which were part of the inspiration for the classic novel, The Great Gatsby. Additionally, guests can attend the Long Island Philharmonic at the Tilles Center or sample award winning wines at multiple vineyards on the island’s North Fork.
Best Booking: The Carnegie Suite pays tribute to the founder of Carnegie Hall in Manhattan. Golden hued, spacious, and utterly lovely, featuring a particularly dramatic canopy bed. Romance to the infinite power! oheka.com
KILKEA CASTLE County Kildare, Ireland, $$
History buffs will want to explore the 5,000 year old town of Castledormot while staying at this 12th century castle in Ireland’s “Ancient East.” Kilkea overlooks the Killeshin Hills, only minutes from the ancient Mullaghreelan Woods. A landmark of Irish history, it just completed a five year, $30 million dollar renovation and refurbishment—now blending medieval décor with contemporary elegance. Travelers will love its proximity to Dublin (just an hour away) while indulging in 180 acres of lush woodland, rose filled gardens, a serene river, and world class golf course.
The estate includes the 11 bedroom castle (which can be rented entirely), plus the Carriage Rooms, self catering suites at The Lodge, a grand function hall, four restaurants and bars, and a spa. Families will appreciate The Lodge particularly, as its suites include full kitchen facilities and living rooms. The Castle Lounge has a majestic fireplace, while The Keep is an authentic Irish pub where guests can unwind after a day of exploration. The castle even boasts some original architecture, such as the carriage house and stables, which have been converted into 31 bedrooms, many of which feature wrought iron and exposed wooden beams.
There are a myriad of activities for parents, kids, and solo travelers; guests can learn the lost sport of falconry, or try archery, skeet shooting, horseback riding, tennis, tubing, or cycling. Golf lovers can practice their swing on the newly built 18 hole private course, with a clubhouse that offers al fresco dining. Or visit Duckett’s Grove, a centuries old castle and a romantic backdrop for photos—one of the most photogenic and historic buildings in the country. You can also experience a “mini Stonehenge” at Brownshill Dolmen, a megalithic monument that’s thousands of years old. Best Booking: The Fitzgerald Suite is at the top of the main castle in the Round Tower, which offers 360 degree views of the River Greese, the Rose Garden, the courtyard, and the golf course. kilkeacastle.ie
GRAND BARRAIL CHÂTEAU HOTEL & SPA Saint Émilion, France, $$
This piece of Gallic heaven site is a four star, 19th century castle located in the Right Bank area of Bordeaux, next to the medieval town Saint Émilion, a UNESCO world heritage site. e 46 room (across four separate buildings) operation is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, and is surrounded by a lush seven acre park. Oenophiles will note that the property is less than an hour’s drive to Bordeaux.
The main and largest building is Le Chateau, which has a traditional French atmosphere and features six Executive Rooms, one Royal Suite, and two Junior Suites. For those who want a contemporary designed room with views over the vineyards or garden, stay in Le Maison Du Bien Être (the house of well being), with its 10 deluxe rooms, or La Maison du Vignoble, with eight deluxe rooms. All meals are served in the hotel’s restaurant, which offers a bistro menu for lunch and a gastronomic menu for dinner across three different dining rooms. Sun seekers can relax in loungers at the outdoor pool. Face and body treatments at the Spa Saint Émilion are performed using luxurious, all natural products by Cinq Mondes. After your treatment, indulge in the spa’s hot tub, two hammams, two saunas, or rest areas in humid/dry zones. Try the purifying detox treatment with a North African rassoul wrap, which uses natural clay to detox and smooth skin.
Best Booking: The Royale Suite in Le Chateau is the largest accommodation at 645 square feet, with a kingsized four poster bed, a desk, large bathroom with a shower and tub, and an expansive terrace with a seating area. grand barrail.com