Five European castles to stay in
Castle of Park stands on a hill enveloped by forest, outside the village of Glenluce. It lies just shy of the Rhins of Galloway – the hammer-head peninsula at Scotland’s southwestern point, which has Scotland’s mildest climate, as evidenced by the magnificent Castle Kennedy Gardens and sub-tropical Logan Botanic Garden. Also within reach is Wigtown, famous within Scotland for its great number of bookshops.
Italy: The luxury one
In the line of hills that divide the sepia-tinted Tuscan landscape south of Arezzo from the even more rapturous countryside around Siena, Castel Monastero has watched nearly a thousand years go past. The name refers to the fact that this hamlet (also called Monastero d’Ombrone) has served as both castle and monastery, besieged by Florentines fighting against Siena in 1208.
These days, if you stand in the piazza at the centre of the hamlet, you will find yourself in the middle of a luxury hotel. The clustered stone houses and the cottages in the grounds beyond have been given a contemporary interior design that’s sensitive to their historic charm; the spa is the very opposite of monastic; and Gordon Ramsay is in charge of the menu at one of the two on-site restaurants.
Ensconced in this timeless setting, the world around feels as remote as it must have done to medieval castle-dwellers. Down the road, however, is Siena – the very definition of an Italian Renaissance city state, with a wealth of art in its churches and galleries. Also under an hour’s drive away is the wine-growing region of Chianti, and the magical hill country of the Crete Senesi.
Spain: The budget one
El Castillo de Buen Amor (the Castle of Good Love) may be about the least martial name ever conceived for a fortress, but in truth this place in the plains north of Salamanca was designed more for pleasure, despite its crenellations, impressively bulky walls and (dry) moat.
Inside there are suits of armour, hunting trophies and other touches of Spain’s partly Arabic-influenced version of the Middle Ages, including a lovely double-colonnaded central courtyard. Windows are often authentically small, but the rooms can be cavernous.
The castle lies between Salamanca and Zamora, both worth an expedition. The former is home to Spain’s oldest university and possibly its prettiest main square, and the latter town is an open-air museum of Romanesque architecture.