Sleep in comfort behind stone walls in these strongholds large and small, but try to resist the urge to drop boiling oil from the battlements.
England: The intimate one
Britain’s largest castle is in Windsor, and if you manage to get a room there, do send us a postcard. For those who prefer a shorter walk to the breakfast table and fewer corgis in the way, Hellifield Peel Castle is a fortified home on a more human scale. Located just outside the village of Hellifield, at the southern boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, this was originally an Anglo-Saxon manor house, beefed up by a succession of owners including one of the last Knights Templar in the 14th century.
Just a few years ago, the castle was a roofless ruin, but in a project filmed for the TV series Grand Designs, husband-and-wife team Francis and Karen Shaw made the building habitable once more. And not just habitable but positively comfortable – guests at this B&B stay in one of four bedrooms or a spacious attic apartment under the modern roof, and each comes with a four-poster bed, including two hugely elaborate examples from the 17th century. The Yorkshire Dales are also within easy raiding-party distance. The village of Malham makes a good starting point for walks in the area, with its impressive limestone rock formations at Malham Cove and Gordale Scar.
France: The classic one
Few corners of Europe are as richly endowed with castles as the Loire Valley. Almost everywhere you turn there is a splendid château that could be an illustration from Puss in Boots. The most elaborate ones were built during France’s 16th-century Renaissance, when the style of the château became less about withstanding a siege and more about entertaining royal mistresses.
The Château de Chissay is truly of this genre, with its walls built of the palest stone and turrets topped with witch’s hat slate roofs. Inside are rib-vault ceilings, spiral staircases and a wide range of guestrooms including a ‘troglodyte’ option with rough-hewn stone walls, and a double-level turret room up in the donjon (keep) where you can see up into the rafters. Evening meals in the period-perfect dining room are a particular highlight here. Chissay-en-Touraine, where the château is located, is a small village on the River Cher – one of the tributaries of the Loire. An hour’s drive away is the vast and ornate Château de Chambord, begun in 1519 as a hunting lodge. It’s the largest of the Loire châteaux, but there are dozens even closer to the hotel, including the most romantic one of all, the Château de Chenonceau, which is built out on arches over the River Cher. This region, more than anywhere, is the place to go on a castle binge.
Scotland: The self-catering one
Some Scottish castles brood over lochs, while others are architectural flights of fancy, never intended to be tested in war. One distinctive type is the tower house – a tall stone residence for a laird who wanted some protection during clan feuds and other periods of strife. Historians distinguish these towers as C-plan, L-plan, T-plan or Z-plan depending on their footprint, but the point was to be able to shoot from a side wall at attackers outside your front door.
Hopefully you won’t need to resort to this at Castle of Park, an L-plan tower house. Forbidding from outside, the tower is wonderfully evocative inside, with huge stone fireplaces, hidden nooks and thick whitewashed walls. Built in 1590, it was restored in the late 20th century after years of neglect, and is now rented out by the Landmark Trust. The tower can sleep up to seven people in four bedrooms, making it a great place to gather your own clan and hole up in baronial style.