Castle Stays in Europe

Loch Lomond, Scotland
Loch Lomond, Scotland // Photo by unknown1861/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

 

Lismore Castle
Lismore CASTLE dates back to the 12th century, and has eight acres of gardens.

 

While few nobles still live in castles as grand as what one might see on “Downton Abbey,” visitors to Europe can still experience a bit of that Old World sophistication if they know where to look. Some castles have been turned into hotels, but others have been kept low-key and private, and are available for exclusive rentals. Here are three worth exploring:

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Althorp’s Oak Bedroom
Althorp’s Oak Bedroom has an 18th century bed with 17th century embroidery.

Ireland

The Dukes of Devonshire have owned Lismore Castle in County Waterford since the 1750s, and they still visit it today. The Castle dates back to 1185, and it was featured in the TV film “Northanger Abbey.”

For exclusive overnights (great for family gatherings, we say), the Castle has 15 bedrooms and can accommodate up to 27 people. Guests can explore the drawing room, two sitting rooms, a dining room, a Banqueting Hall for large receptions, a library, a games room (with a full-size snooker table) and a playroom/nursery for the kids. 

Cool Details: We hear Lismore has some of the best examples of domestic Pugin furniture still in private hands. Visitors with green thumbs will want to explore the eight acres of gardens, and art aficionados will enjoy wandering through the West Wing, which has been renovated and turned into a contemporary art gallery. 

Schloss Ossenberg
Schloss Ossenberg has a peaceful rose garden for unwinding.

All meals are planned and arranged with each guest—even mealtimes can be customized. The kitchen uses locally sourced produce (some of it home-grown), and the Castle’s wine cellar is also open to guests...but if they already know what vintages they want, the team will have it delivered and available for dinner.

Guests at the Castle get dedicated butler and concierge service; breakfast, tea and dinner each day; laundry service; and use of estate facilities for activities like tennis, golf and fishing. The estate has its own nine-hole golf course and a hard tennis court—rackets, clubs and balls are provided, of course, as are fishing rods for sitting by the Blackwater River, which goes right by the Castle walls. Clay pigeon shooting and archery can also be arranged, and for entertainment during rainy weather, the Castle has its own cinema screen with a surround sound system. 

ADVISOR INSIGHT:

Daniela Harrison of Avenues of the World in Flagstaff, AZ, recommends Balfour Castle in Scotland’s Orkney Islands for an over-the-top regal experience:

“I had researched the Orkney Islands last fall for one of my upscale families. That were unique and offered a tennis court.

“Balfour Castle popped up, and won me over with stunning countryside and amazing architecture.

“Upon further research, I found out that you can only rent the entire Castle at once, not just a few rooms. It was perfect for the family I was working with, which was very concerned about its privacy.

“I needed something in a stunning location, with a bit of adventure for the whole family. Balfour Castle offers so much to do—tennis court, golf course, hiking trails, bird watching, cooking classes, fishing, shooting, seal watching and more. They even have a maze in the garden. You won’t get bored easily.

“I was very intrigued by the private charter boat to get there. No regularly scheduled ferries will go to the Castle. Very private, which is important to most of my upscale clients.

“There is a nice selection of local foods with a French twist—very pleasing presentation and taste.

“The history on this property dates way back, and is reflected in the old gardens, decorations of the rooms and public areas.

“Only [downside] with this property: I wasn’t able to find a single U.S. vendor that sells it. I had to book directly with the Castle.”

 

And for those who want to meet with nobility, the Castle’s owner, William Cavendish, Earl of Burlington, often flies over from London to interact with guests. For an American connection, the Castle is linked to the Astaire family: Adele Astaire married Lord Charles Cavendish, second son of the Ninth Duke of Devonshire and owner of Lismore Castle. Even after Lord Charles died and the Castle passed back to Devonshire ownership, Adele would take over the Castle and host parties with her famous brother Fred.

Getting There: Long-haul flights will usually go to Dublin, which is about 2.5 hours from the Castle, or Shannon Airport, which is about an hour and a half. Short-haul flights will arrive in Cork, one hour away. Private jets can land at Cork Airport, and personal helicopters can land right at Lismore on the field beneath the Castle walls.

Good to Know: High-season bookings for the summer start a year ahead and the season is usually fully booked by the previous March. During the off-season, guests can still take part in most of the activities, with the exception of fishing.

Luxury travel advisors should reach out to Guest Liaison Manager Maura O’Keeffe ([email protected]; 011-353-58-54288).

England

In Northamptonshire, Althorp is not technically a castle, but it is certainly linked to royalty. It has been home to the Spencer family for 19 generations, and is probably most famous today as the childhood home of Lady Diana Spencer. The late Princess of Wales was laid to rest on a small island in the middle of a lake near the estate, and visitors come to pay their respects in July and August.

The house has 29 bedrooms, five of which are considered State Bedrooms. We hear the top pick is the King William Bedroom, where King William of Orange slept in 1695 (the bed canopy at the time was decorated with ostrich feathers). For a more contemporary option, the Georgiana Suite has an open-plan layout. The Oak Bedroom, meanwhile, has an oak bed that dates from the mid-1800s with embroidery that goes back to the 17th century.

Dining at Althorp can be customized by Lord Spencer’s private chefs. Guests can host a champagne reception in the Saloon, have dinner in the Picture Gallery and take after-dinner drinks in the Library. (Tip: Ask for the fireplace to be lit.) For another option, guests can unwind in the Sunderland Room before moving next door to the Marlborough Room, which has a 42-seat table and squiggle-back chairs.

Activities on the estate include game-shooting, clay pigeon shooting, archery, falconry, quad biking, and rides in everything from horse-drawn carriages to hot-air balloons. A cricket pitch and croquet lawn make for a truly English experience. Good to know: Lessons are available for shooting, and competitions can be arranged for groups or families. The estate even has falconry displays and invites participation.

Getting There: Heathrow Airport is about 90 minutes from Althorp, and there are several private airports nearby. Sywell Airport is 25 minutes away.

Luxury travel advisors should reach out to Director Alan Campbell ([email protected]) with any questions or requests.

Germany

Those who dream of spending their vacation not just like nobility but with nobility will want to head to Rheinberg in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, where the Duke and Duchess von Urach call Schloss Ossenberg home. The castle dates back to the 1700s and was rebuilt in the 1950s after World War II.

Schloss Ossenberg’s Red Room
Schloss Ossenberg’s Red Room has great views of the surrounding parkland.

The castle is decidedly intimate, with just three double bedrooms and one suite (called the Red Room), which is the top pick for guests (we hear it has great views of the park and the yard). Since so few guests can stay at any one time, all experiences can be arranged from scratch for families or small groups. There is no restaurant at the castle, but meals can be organized upon request (with advance notice), and the nearby town of Orsoy, Rheinberg, has a good range of traditional cafés and restaurants.

The castle is close to the Rhine, and we hear the stretch between Rheinberg and Buederich is great for walking or cycling. Tip: Wild geese can be seen from late October to late spring in the meadows by the river. Kamp-Lintfort Golf Course is six miles away, while Geldern is 12 miles. For sightseeing, the first-ever Cistercian monastery in Germany (dating back to 1123) is nearby. The Kloster Kamp (Kamp Abbey in English) has a panoramic terrace and a park that’s ideal for strolls or picnics.

Keep an Eye Out: We hear that Rheinberg is the hometown of Claudia Schiffer, and that the supermodel sometimes stays nearby.

Getting There: Düsseldorf airport is 30 miles from the castle, and limo service is available for guests. Private helicopters can land on-site, but advance notice is required.

To arrange a stay or make special requests, contact Duke von Urach himself ([email protected]; 011-49-2843-160395) and then brag to your friends that you have a real nobleman helping you plan a vacation.

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