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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
The article 'Five European castles to stay in' was published in partnership with Lonley Planet Traveller.