Gone are the days when you needed a royal title to spend the night in a castle. Nowadays, even the masses can stay in a storied, turreted keep, as residences of bygone kings and rulers are converted into premier hotels in Europe and beyond. We’ve rounded up our top 10 castle hotels in popular European countries (France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Portugal, and Italy), Morocco, India, and even the United States, to help you get the royal treatment at home and abroad. With accommodations befitting a king (and queen!), and fairytale-worthy dungeons, moats, drawbridges, and towers, you'll be feeling like royalty in no time. The only thing missing will be your own crown and scepter – those, you’ll have to bring from home. See our Castle Hotels slideshow for an inside look at these royal digs.
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Amberley Castle, England
England’s Amberley Castle (www.amberleycastle.co.uk) has a legendary history dating back some 900 years, including ownership by Queen Elizabeth I from 1588 to 1603; visits from Charles II; and a bout in the English Civil War, when Cromwell attacked its walls. Accessed via drawbridge and a magnificent oak portcullis (which is still occasionally lowered at night), the castle hotel’s 60-foot stone curtain walls are topped by turrets and enclose beautiful gardens, complete with a resident peacock. A splendid medieval atmosphere still reigns supreme, with centuries-old suits of armor, intricate tapestries, crossbows, and arched stone doorways. The 19 rooms are luxurious and enchanting, boasting elegant four-poster beds, rich wall hangings and carpets, antique frills, and modern upgrades like en-suite whirpool tubs.
Ashford Castle, Ireland
A quintessential Irish castle experience awaits visitors to this 13th-century estate (built in 1228) on the fringes of western Ireland's evocative Connemara region. Once a summer haunt for the Guinness clan, the Ashford Castle (www.ashford.ie) in Cong is all turrets, towers, and drawbridge on the outside, but the interior radiates refinement, with Waterford chandeliers, fireplaces, exquisite period furnishings, and objets d'art in common areas. Just note that the elegance of the public spaces doesn’t necessarily carry over to all guest rooms, with some standard units showing signs of fray; upgrade to a suite for superlative private space. The castle hotel's 350 acres of landscaped gardens and wild forests along the shores of Lough Corrib, Ireland's second largest lake, provide many options for outdoor adventures, including golf, horseback riding, or country rambles. Don't miss the opportunity, as well, to learn an ancient art during your stay, with a session at the well-run and enlightening School of Falconry.
Castle on the Hudson, New York
Manhattanites sick of cramped quarters, smog, and subways can head just 25 miles north, across the Hudson, and spread out in spacious digs fit for royalty at this U.S.-based castle hotel. It may lack the royal credentials, but the Castle on the Hudson (www.castleonthehudson.com) certainly looks the part of a kingly residence, what with towering stone walls, turrets, manicured gardens, and all the palatial trimmings. Built between 1897 and 1910, the hilltop bastion does have one bona fide royal touch: The paneling in the Oak Room comes from a Parisian house that was given by Louis XIV to James II for use during his years in exile. The five sumptuous rooms and suites are certainly fit for kings, with turret alcoves, four-poster beds, and opulent furnishings (two units also come with wood-burning fireplaces). Plus, the on-site Equus restaurant offers decadent dining to a backdrop of the New York City skyline and Hudson River.
Château de Castel Novel, France
Tucked away in a serene pocket of the French countryside, the elegant Château de Castel-Novel (www.castelnovel.com) offers its guests not only refined accommodations, but an escape into off-the-beaten path France, where an exquisite combination of history, gastronomy, and nature converge. Located in the Limousin region of the country, this 14th-century property was originally designed as a fortified hilltop castle – still evident in its round towers and keep – but remodeling in the 19th century brought a soft Renaissance flair to this now stunning castle hotel; witness the sweeping balconies, terraces, and rose gardens. Its residents added their own dose of character, as well. Local legend tells of a star-crossed romance between a troubadour and the lady of the house, while, more recently, the famed French writer Colette found inspiration in its rooms and even penned several novels here (guests can opt to stay in the Louis XVI apartment that served as her chambers). Today, it is a Relais and Châteaux property, with 27 personalized rooms and lavish suites open for public lodging.
Château de la Bourdaisière, France
If the idea of a fairytale castle stay sets your heart aflutter, but the pricetag to actually do so just plain makes your blood race, we’ve found a fantastic French castle hotel where you can court and dine your significant other for as little as $176 per night. Constructed in the 15th century for the royal mistress of King François I, the Château de la Bourdaisière (www.labourdaisiere.com) today is a most romantic destination, which is owned and operated by a real-life prince (Prince Louis Albert of Broglie). Located less than an hour from Paris, and surrounded by 140 acres of enchanted woodlands, Château de la Bourdaisière lets guests live like royalty, with 11 luxurious rooms and three apartments (plus six rooms in the adjacent Pavillon Choiseul), outdoor heated swimming pool, tennis courts, and more. Plus, the surrounding Loire Valley offers plenty of treasures of its own, from first-class vineyards to hot air ballooning.
Gritti Palace, Italy
Commissioned in 1525 as the residence of the Doge of Venice, the swank Gritti Palace (www.hotelgrittipalacevenice.com) has hosted a long list of VIPs since, providing luxurious lodging for numerous heads of state, international royalty, literary bigwigs, and film and rock stars, including the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Greta Garbo, and Winston Churchill. While some claim the place has seen better days (it is, after all, nearly 500 years old), others argue there is no more celebrated and history-rich hotel in Venice. Whichever side you take, there’s no disputing the Gritti’s prime location: Overlooking the Grand Canal, this palazzo provides unrivaled views of animated, aquatic Venice – vistas best enjoyed from the restaurant terrace. The castle hotel's classy interior is also loaded with antique-filled lounges and 91 guestrooms and suites adorned with ornate Venetian-style furnishings.
Kasbah du Toubkal, Morocco
While other castle hotels on this list are accessible by chauffeured car or ferry, guests at Morocco's Kasbah du Toubkal (www.kasbahdutoubkal.com) usually arrive on the back of a mule – or on foot. Nestled on a promontory at the base of the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains, about an hour away from Marrakesh (and another 15-minute uphill trek), this rustic 17-room hotel served as the summer residence (one complete with dungeon) of the local French caid (ruler) from the 1940s until Moroccan independence from France, in 1956. Today, it's an award-winning ecotourism hotel (that also served as the setting of the Tibetan Monastery of Dungkar in Scorsese's 1997 film, Kundun); it's popular with hikers and those who just want to bask in the abundant fresh air and sweeping views of the Atlas Mountains.
Palácio Belmonte, Portugal
Built atop fortified Roman and Moorish walls, the Palácio Belmonte (www.palaciobelmonte.com) is not only the oldest building in Lisbon, but the oldest palace on our list. Built on foundations dating back to 130 BC, and occupying a hilltop with views of the cobblestone-blanketed city and the Tagus River, the Palácio’s incarnation as a castle hotel is a fairly recent one, thanks to a major renovation that restored its regal status. Its last private owners, the Earls of Belmonte (and their descendants), resided here for 500 years; you can spend a night in one of 11 palatial suites decorated in colorful silks, with sitting areas and terraces with superb views. But that’s not all: There’s an extravagant black-marble infinity pool on site, a 4,000-book library, African and Japanese artifacts, 7th-century brick ceilings, and close to 30,000 18th-century Portuguese tiles that have been combined with imported antiques to create a luxurious and refined air.
Taj Lake Palace, India
If you want to feel like a maharajah, there’s no better place than the romantic white-marble Taj Lake Palace (www.tajhotels.com), afloat on India’s Lake Pichola, in Rajasthan. This majestic palace looks so ethereal, you’ll be pinching yourself to see if you’re dreaming. Built as a summer retreat in the mid-1700s for Maharajah Jagat Singh II, the Lake Palace was intended solely for leisure pursuits – rest assured, the same principles apply to the place now that it’s become a grand, 83-room castle hotel with 17 suites done up in luxurious silks, intricate murals, and rich wood furnishings. Distinguished guests to its marbled halls have included Queen Elizabeth II, Jackie O., the Shah of Iran, and the King of Nepal.
For more trip-planning information, see our India Travel Guide.
Waterford Castle, Ireland
Offering an extraordinary escape from the mundane, the secluded and majestic Waterford Castle (www.waterfordcastle.com) is situated on a sprawling 310-acre island, encircled by the flowing waters of the River Suir, in southern Ireland. Reachable only by the castle hotel’s private ferry, there is little distraction at this remote property, other than an 18-hole championship golf course, horseback rides in the surrounding woodlands (set just off the island), or water sports and fishing. The 16th-century stone castle maintains an eye-catching assembly of turrets, towers, and gargoyles; the interior houses 19 luxury bedrooms and opulent main rooms decorated with colorful tapestries, antiques, and period decor. Owned by the illustrious Fitzgerald family from the 15th through mid-20th centuries, the castle was converted to a luxury hotel in 1988.