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The Top 10 Castles

Eloise Napier takes a look at some of the most beautiful residences Europe has to offer for that perfect royal retreat

Château Bagnols, France
With its moat, formal gardens and twelve metre thick, honey-coloured walls, the 13th century Château Bagnols rapidly transports visitors back to a bygone age of romance and chivalry – without doubt one of the reasons why it has such a high profile list of guests, including Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The other-worldly sensation is enhanced by four-poster beds, vast, intricately carved open fireplaces and beautiful trompe l’oeils. A Michelin starred restaurant serves mouthwatering food and a complimentary decanter of wine is delivered to your room each day. Situated in the heart of Beaujolais country, there are vines as far as the eye can see – true paradise for oenephiles.

Ashford Castle, Ireland
Close your eyes and picture your ideal fairytale castle. The chances are that it will bear an uncanny resemblance to 13th century Ashford Castle, which positively bristles with crenellations, turrets and arrow-slit windows. The interior is a panoply of oak paneled walls, simmering portraits and crystal chandeliers; the bedrooms are more cosy, with lashings of chinz and comfortable armchairs to sink into. The estate covers 350 acres of wooded parkland and the activities on offer are numerous, including falconry, horse-riding, golf, archery and salmon fishing. Its picturesque setting, overlooking Loch Corrib, as well as its friendly staff has made it a favourite with Hollywood celebrities looking for discretion and originality.

Dromoland Castle, Ireland
Domoland Castle’s history stretches back over 1,500 years; suits of armour guard its corridors, while huge life-size portraits cling to the walls. The atmosphere is one of stately grandeur – ideal for guests, such as George W Bush, in search of splendid isolation. Having said that, the castle is only a short drive away from Shannon airport so it is easily reached. Last year saw the launch of its luxury spa which features 100% organic products from Voya; it provides the perfect recuperative haven after a couple of rounds on the castle’s 18-hole golf course. There is also an on-site golf academy where you can perfect your swing under the expert guidance of a resident PGA professional golfer.

Château Les Crayères, France
The monarchal grandure of Versailles meets sublime haute cuisine at this palatial establishment in Reims, “the champagne capital” of France. A former protégé of international super-chef Alain Ducasse, Didier Elena, heads the Château Les Crayères’ formidable restaurant (two Michelin stars) where you can expect to eat such delicacies as fois gras with white truffles and cod with peppered artichokes. Service is utterly impeccable and you will experience nothing other than ultimate indulgence. The château is set in seven hectares of landscaped park land which provides the perfect excuse for walking off lunch and building up an appetite for dinner. Leave yourself time out to explore Reims with its magnificent cathedral, cardinal’s palace and the maze-like cellars of Maison de Pommery which run underground for 18km.

Relais la Suvera, Italy
Relais la Suvera has been in the family of its current owners, the Marquis Ricci Paracciani, on and off since 1123. Once a papal villa, the palazzo has now been turned into a five star hotel. However, history is never far away and this Tuscan gem even has its own museum which houses antiquities going back hundreds and hundreds of years. The high-ceilinged interiors are decorated in sumptuous Renaissance style, with golden four-poster beds and lavishly upholstered chaise longues. Meals can be eaten outside, with gourmet specialties including pheasant paté flavoured with vin santo and pistachios, along with homemade agnolotti pasta stuffed with sirloin of senese pork. For those of an active persuasion, added entertainment comes in the form of mountain biking, horse-riding and exploring local antique markets.

Hotel Schloss Fuschl, Аustria
Salzburg is one of the most romantic cities in Austria, the birthplace of Mozart and home to a cornucopia of stunning Baroque architecture – so impressive that it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. Situated on Lake Fuschl, just outside Salzburg, stands Schloss Fuschl – a former hunting lodge that was built in 1450. Guests can either stay in the main building, where there are 39 luxurious suites, or in one of six lakeside cottages, each of which has its own sauna and private terrace. A 24-hour butler service is available, as well as limitless tours in one of the hotel’s vintage Rolls Royces. There are three restaurants to choose from, as well as an impressive cellar to sample. Visitors in the winter should make the most of the skiing opportunities, which include 130km of cross-country tracks; Kitzbuhel, famous for its downhill ski race, is just over an hour’s drive away.

Inverlochy Castle Hotel, Scotland
Standing almost in the shadow of Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest and most imposing mountain, Inverlochy Castle is the quintessential Highland baronial abode. When Queen Victoria came to stay for a week in 1873 she wrote of the castle: “I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot.” Little has changed in the intervening century – elegantly apportioned rooms have panoramic views over the adjacent loch, open fires roar in the hall and drawing room, and the food in Matthew Gray’s restaurant (one Michelin star) is sublime. As you delight in Isle of Skye crab or grilled fillet of turbot with calvo nero, stop eating for a moment or two to appreciate the elaborate furniture in the dining room which was donated to the castle by the King of Norway.

Amberley Castle, England
A true mediaeval stronghold built relatively shortly after the Norman invasion of England, Amberley Castle sports many of the accoutrements that you would associate with ancient warfare – a 60ft high surrounding wall, crenellated battlements and a two tonne oak portcullis which is ceremoniously lowered at midnight. Peacocks roam the grounds outside, regally ignoring the nearby guests playing croquet. It might look old on the outside, but on the inside the castle is über luxurious; each bedroom has an en-suite whirlpool bathroom and more antiques than you would find in Buckingham Palace. As one critic put it: “It’s the perfect place to play Henry VIII for a day – but just take one wife.”

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