Shrouded in myth, mystery, and historic legacy, castles inspire the imagination to roam and fantasies to manifest—a heady setting for romance.
It makes perfect sense that historic castles, palaces, and chateaus across Europe, North America, and Asia are living on in the 21st century as unapologetically romantic hotels, while others have been built in their likeness. Whether surrounded by bucolic countryside in England, Italy, and France; anchoring well-tended estates in Ireland, Abu Dhabi, and India; or holding commanding hilltop posts in Germany, Quebec, and New York State, one thing’s for certain—the views will be sublime.
Inverlochy Castle Hotel
WHERE: Fort William, Scotland
“I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot,” Queen Victoria wrote in her diaries of her visit to in 1873. Nearly 150 years later, her words still ring true. Situated on a private loch surrounded by woodlands in the foothills of Ben Nevis—the tallest mountain in the British Isles—Inverlochy Castle is an oasis of refinement in the rugged .
While the location lends itself to days spent in nature—scenic hill walks, photography tours, cycling treks, and any number of sporting and country pursuits can readily be arranged—make sure to be home by supper. Helmed by father-son chef team , dinner is a fine-dining affair served in a trio of dining rooms decorated with period pieces, plate settings, and furniture gifted from the King of Norway.
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
WHERE: Quebec City, Canada
Located on Cap Diamant, headquarters of Québec City for more than 400 years due to it’s strategic (and impressive) views of the Saint Lawrence River, the majestic Fairmont Le Château Frontenac has presided over Old Québec since 1893. An elegant landmark of a bygone era, Château Frontenac was one of a group of hotels built by the Canadian Pacific Railway between 1890 and the 1930s to provide white-glove service and a restful respite to train passengers during the golden age of rail travel.
Today, Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is a destination unto itself, beloved as much for its history and its copper spires as for its modern comforts, which include opulent dining rooms, a new spa, and a nearly head-to-toe refresh of all of its rooms and suites, the latter of which are named in honor of famous guests including Celine Dion and the Trudeaus.
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Castello di Monterone
WHERE: Umbria, Italy
First appearing in Perugia’s historic archives in a document dated January 18, 1200, in all likelihood Castello di Monterone has watched over life in the surrounding Umbrian valleys since at least the 11th century. Regional power struggles and subsequent neglect left the castle in disrepair until restoration efforts began in the mid-1800s. Now an 18-room castle hotel—complete with a hydro-massage swimming pool and relaxation area; a restaurant, Il Gradale; and a lovingly-tended rose garden featuring 20 types of roses—Castello di Monterone is a testament to the timeless serenity of its location and the joys of simpler pleasures.
Hotel Schloss Thannegg
WHERE: Styria, Austria
High up in the , can trace its origins as far back as the 12th and 13th centuries, when the castle was a knights’ residence. (“Schloss” in German loosely translates to “castle,” “palace,” or an otherwise stately home.) The castle acquired its current name from the Knights of Thann in 1224, and in the mid-1980s, descendants acquired the castle, transforming the historic abode into the inviting mountain retreat that it is today.
INSIDER TIPOpportunities for outdoor recreation are plentiful year-round in the alpine region surrounding Hotel Schloss Thannegg, which offers a free shuttle bus the closest slopes in the winter. Summer activities include hiking and cycling, paragliding, and scenic drives in convertibles or vintage cars.
WHERE: County Mayo, Ireland
Set on 350 verdant acres in County Mayo, Ireland, Ashford Castle has had its fair share of distinguished guests and caretakers over the centuries. The Guinness family, which owned the estate between 1852 and 1939, greatly expanded and modernized the castle and grounds, laying the foundation for its future. Additions included The Prince of Wales Bar and George V Dining Room, both of which are named after one of castle’s most famous visitors from the turn of the 20th century, the Prince of Wales, who went on to be crowned King George V in May 1910. Much more recently, Ashford Castle has again been given a glamorous refresh, this time adding a private cinema, billiards room, and cigar terrace; wine cellars in former servant’s tunnels; and a new spa that is already raking in the accolades.
Umaid Bhawan Palace Jodhpur
WHERE: Rajasthan, India
Known as the Blue City for all of the blue-hued houses in its medieval Old Town, Jodhpur has a few singular landmarks that make this city on the edge of the Thar Desert in Rajasthan worth the trek. Where else can you sleep over in one of the world’s largest private residences? The Umaid Bhawan Palace Jodhpur, the youngest of the great palaces in India built between 1928 and 1943, is both a luxurious palace hotel and, in separate quarters, home to the Jodhpur royal family. One of eight palace hotels within Taj Collection, other notable properties include the iconic Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur, which appears as if to float on water; Taj Rambagh Palace, the former home of the last ruling Maharaja of Jaipur; and the commanding Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai.
Hôtel de la Cité Carcassonne–MGallery by Sofitel
WHERE: Languedoc, France
Protected by more than a mile of thick stone walls, 52 watchtowers, and its prime hilltop location, Carcassonne’s medieval citadel was well equipped to survive the Middle Ages and is today one of Europe’s best preserved fortified cities, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Safely ensconced behind the ramparts, Hôtel de la Cité, an MGallery property by Sofitel, offers guests numerous vantage points from which to admire the architecture of the medieval city and pastoral countryside of the Languedoc region. Tastefully decorated with plenty of Neo-Gothic references—leaded-glass windows, ornamental tapestries, royal reds, sumptuous dark woods—castle living has never felt so refined.
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Roch Castle Hotel
WHERE: Pembrokeshire, Wales
A lone stone tower with origins in the 12th century, has been home to conquerors and royal courtesans, Royalists (during the English Civil War), and, at times, abandoned completely. Initially rebuilt in the early 1900s, it wasn’t until much more recently that this landmark was fully restored and transformed into the six-room , which features strikingly modern accommodations inside the castle’s five-foot-thick walls.
While there’s no official restaurant on-site, guests have priority access to dinner reservations at sister property , home of the much-lauded Blas restaurant. Centrally located near St. Brides Bay, the castle is an ideal home base for day excursions into Wales’ spectacular .
WHERE: Rhine Valley, Germany
A hilltop stronghold referenced in documents as early as 911 AD, Schönburg Castle has long been a fixture on this particular bend in Germany’s Upper Middle Rhine Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. By the 14th century, the castle grounds were home to 24 families (250 people). As a fully-functional castle hotel— complete with canopied bedsteads, leaded-glass windows, turrets, and battlements—Castlehotel Schönburg features 24 rooms and suites, a restaurant, and outdoor gardens and terraces affording picturesque views of the medieval town of Oberwesel and the Rhine Valley beyond.
INSIDER TIPA hiking trail through the woods connects Schönburg Castle with Oberwesel, duration approximately 30 minutes. (Climbing the hill on the return will be the more difficult part.)
Château de Bagnols
WHERE: Beaujolais, France
Surrounded by rolling hillsides dotted with vineyards in the Beaujolais wine-growing region north of Lyon, France, Château de Bagnols has a history worthy of its own biopic (or perhaps a French version of Downton Abbey). Owned by no less than 13 noble families over the course of 800 years, the château at various times has hosted royalty—King Charles VIII famously visited in 1490—and been used as a revolutionary council hall during the French Revolution. Despite centuries of drama, the château lives on as a sumptuous Relais & Chateaux hotel composed of 27 suites, refined dining at restaurant 1217 (a nod to the year the chateau was founded), and a host of wellness offerings including a spa, pool, and fitness center. And, of course, there are those acres of French countryside to roam. Château de Bagnols is aging gracefully, indeed.
WHERE: New York State, United States
A Gatsby-era summer home designed for financier and philanthropist Otto Hermann Kahn and still one of the largest private residences ever built in North America, graciously welcomes visitors today as an elegant 32-room castle hotel and estate on ’s Gold Coast. Outside, formal gardens designed by the Olmsted brothers include eight reflecting pools and three fountains, while interior rooms provide a glimpse of refined living from another time. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Oheka Castle has in recent decades undergone major restorations and updates that have returned the property to its Gilded Age splendor.
Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi
WHERE: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Marble imported from 13 countries, 1,002 chandeliers, a pair of decorative carpets from Thailand weighing one ton each, 12 outdoor fountains, 114 domes—Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi, which opened in the early aughts to the tune of $3 billion, features a few palatial touches, to say the least. More than 100 elevators service 394 rooms and suites primarily located on two wings, each of which measures about a quarter-mile in length.
The good news is that the beach—and the rest of Abu Dhabi’s attractions—are never very far. The hotel sits on prime beachfront real estate, just down the road from the UAE Presidential Palace and on the periphery of the city center.
WHERE: Vysocina, Czech Republic
Of all the incarnations of Chateau Herálec, and there are many—rock-solid medieval fortress, 20th-century textile school, private residence reconfigured and remodeled to suit the tastes of owners over hundreds of years—the historic estate has likely never been better cared for than it is today under the stewardship of self-proclaimed Castle Lady Alexandra Kasperova and the Kasper family, who acquired the property in 2004.
Paintings from the Regional Gallery of Vysocina serve as the muse for the castle hotel’s 19 rooms and suites; the originals hang on display throughout the hotel. Chateau Herálec’s English park has been restored to its intended design, based on plans from the 18th century, and the Czech Republic’s only L’Occitane Spa has transformed the chateau’s former horse stable and ground floor of one wing into a modern spa oasis.
Thornbury Castle Hotel
WHERE: South Gloucestershire, England
When it comes to a castle befitting Maid Marian and Robin Hood’s romance, look no further than in England’s . A Tudor castle from the 16th century—complete with period pieces and décor, spiral staircases, original fireplaces, even a dungeon dining room— once belonged to William the Conqueror and even hosted King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, on their honeymoon.
While that particular royal marriage was ill-fated, it is possible to book the room in which they slept, today called the . For a romantic getaway with less macabre undertones, opt for the , which might just have the largest four-poster bed in all of England, measuring some 10 feet across.
The Castle Hotel
WHERE: Liaodong Peninsula, China
Inspired by the fairytale castles of Bavaria, , is an unlikely landmark for the seaside city of Dalian, China, which is part of its charm. A popular beach destination and international business hub, Dalian is known as the “Pearl of Northern China.” Awash in light each night from its commanding post on Lotus Mountain, The Castle Hotel shines like the city’s crowning jewel.
INSIDER TIPPopular local beaches include Xinghai, Tiger, Donghai, Fujiazhuang, and Bangchuidao. Beach hop from one to the next via walking trails that offer scenic views, too.