Life & Style | Travel

Europe's storybook castle getaways

Cosy up in front of the fireplace at some of Europe’s most stunning, history-soaked and romantic castles

  • By Gemma White, Editor, Scene magazine
  • Published: 16:05 December 19, 2012
  • Scene

 Ireland
  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Bridge over Lough Corrib by Ashford Castle Cong, County Mayo, Ireland.
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When it comes to the ultimate super-luxe winter getaway, you can’t do better than to pack your jousting lance, doublet and hose and disappear through the snowy mists to a turreted European castle, where generations of beautiful princesses, lovesick lords and brave knights have walked before you – and their ghostly goings-on will continue long after you leave.

Set within acres of rolling hills, prepare yourself for bracing walks across the moors and surrounding countryside, your breath crisp on the smoky wintry air. Evenings are spent enjoying lengthy soaks in deep stand-alone baths with a good book, or being regaled with past tales of derring-do by a crackling log fire. Winter romance is just a flight away…

Ashford Castle, Ireland

If you want to follow in the A-list holiday footsteps of the likes of John Lennon, George Harrison, King George V, Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Brad Pitt, Pierce Brosnan and Grace Kelly, then a stay at glorious Ashford Castle on Ireland’s Mayo/Galway border will suit both your celebrity and romantic sensibilities.

The place could not look more like the castles of your childhood fairytales, with its jutting turrets, ramparts and oak panelling inside. With suites, classic rooms and staterooms to choose from (83 in total), you’ll revel in a luxury stay at this famous castle, which was built in 1228 and is set within 26,000 acres, including landscaped gardens and verdant woodlands.

While away a dark winter evening in suitably spooky fashion with dinner at Cullen’s At The Dungeon (October-April only), which serves bistro-style food in a relaxed atmosphere; stave off midday hunger pangs with afternoon tea in The Drawing Room – where you’ll also enjoy evening entertainment every night from 10pm – and round off your day with drinks in The Cocktail Bar, which was built in the 1880s especially for the visit of the then Prince of Wales, who later became George V. ashford.ie

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Hotel Schoenburg, Germany

Found in the picturesque Rhineland region, Schoenburg Castle can trace its history back to 911, and boasts a rich history of warring heirs, brave battlefield generals, being razed to the ground by the French, and restored by an American. With just 22 rooms and suites, intimacy is key, and the four-poster beds make for a romantic, medieval feel.

With its position in the middle of the Unesco World Heritage site of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, a day trip into the nearby medieval town of Oberwesel is a must, as is a chilly hike through the surrounding forests and a walk along Rheingold Street. For the festive season, dinner in the Knight’s Room is ideal, whilst couples will enjoy the candlelit ambience of Squire’s Room. And truly harking back to times gone by, is the Gobelin Room, lined with wood panels and colourful tapestries. hotel-schoenburg.com

Swinton Park, Masham, England

This North Yorkshire castle hotel sits within a huge 20,000 acres, all of which is home to sprawling Cathy-and-Heathcliff-style moors, forests, reservoirs and farmland. And if you needed further proof that you’re in for a picturesque treat at Swinton Park, the area also falls within the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Although the property is hardly bijou, the owners have restricted themselves to just 31 spacious rooms, meaning the Castle never feels cramped. Similarly, the gatehouse at the entrance and sweeping driveway up to the property, which dates back to the 1600s, will soon have you dreaming of knightly intrigue.

After a long day exploring the local countryside – the area of Mashamshire is in the Domesday Book, and you’ll discover a wonderful Norman church nearby – retire to the library, private sitting room or drawing room, for pre-dinner drinks, all of which overlook the deer park.

The rooms – six of which are suites – are individually designed with the local area in mind, decorated in the themes of Yorkshire town, dale, castle, abbey or garden. But if you want the ultimate-smack-down room, check into the turret room, which is spread over three floors. With a very steep staircase, prepare for your perfect ‘some day my prince will come’ moment.swintonpark.com

Hôtel de la Cité, Carcassonne, France

Once the tourists have gone for the day, you’ll pretty much have the run of this 1909-built castle to yourself to explore the fairytale citadel, situated in one of the most magically historical areas of France. The castle, which is in the ramparts of the Citadel of Carcassone, was one of the most fashionable places for the jet set to stop off at in the 1920s, as they flitted between Nice, Biarritz and Barcelona, and you’ll find a range of 47 rooms and 13 suites to choose from, decorated for the traveller with aristocratic tendencies in mind.

As for dining options, you’ll be spoilt for choice, with seven places to try out, with the Wine Cellar a fantastic venue for a celebratory festive-season dinner with family and friends. Or for pre- or after-dinner drinks, the Library Bar, with its leather armchairs, roaring log fire and pianist tickling the ivories makes for the ideal end to a gloriously Gallic day. hoteldelacite.com

Hotel Schloss Mönchstein, Austria

History buffs will be in their element at this five-star castle-cum-hotel, which was built by the archbishops of Salzburg in 1358. If it’s refined luxury you’re after in your castle stay, this Austrian option is top notch and rather quirkily boasts the ‘World’s smallest restaurant’ – which holds one table and is located in the castle tower, with incredible views across the countryside.

Intimate, with just 24 rooms

and suites, which are decorated both in Viennese or classic castle style, the castle fuses ye-olde-worlde charm with modern technology and boasts four dining options. Dine with a select group of family and friends in the Gothic Salon, which is lined with antique furniture, or the castle’s eponymous restaurant, where breakfast and à la carte meals are served daily.

Top off your stay with a relaxing treat at the Mönchstein Spa, where, along with a host of luxurious treatments, you can head to the Finnish sauna, steam sauna or Thalassic bath, to warm up your snow-saturated bones, after a day spent exploring Salzburg or wandering the icy gables and gardens that surround the grand 14th-century property. monchsteain.at

Fact file

If you’re UK-bound this winter, book in for a stay at one of these stunning castles

Ruthin Castle, Wales
This stunning castle in Denbighshire dates back to the days of Edward I of England, who reigned from 1272-1307, and legend has it that King Arthur once journeyed there for a romantic liaison with a mistress. With its dungeon, whipping pit and drowning pool, history abounds at Ruthin, and during the festive season, make sure to book in for a medieval banquet – the hotel is even able to arrange an authentic costume for you! But all this merriment comes at a price – just make sure you don’t bump into the Grey Lady, the wife of one of Edward the First’s army commanders, who is said to roam the battlements. ruthincastle.co.uk

Amberley Castle, England
Step through the imposing portcullis and back through 900 years of history at this amazing castle. All 19 bedrooms boast whirlpool baths in the en suites, with four-poster rooms available, and for that added romantic touch, book into thatched tree house, Mistletoe Lodge, reachable by rope bridge and nestled among the poplar tress in the grounds (May to September only). amberleycastle.co.uk

Balfour Castle, Sc otland
On Shapinsay in the Orkney Islands, you’ll find the most northerly castle hotel in the world, so expect some serious wind chill this winter. Reachable by car ferry, or a short-hop flight from Edinburgh (among other regional airports), work was completed on the castle in the early 1850s, and it was turned into a family home in 1961, fulfilling the prophecy of a gypsy fortune teller. During the winter months, you can bird watch from the warmth of your room, explore the incredible surrounding island, retire to the Billiards Room or take a cooking lesson, before relaxing in front of a roaring log fire. balfourcastle.co.uk

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