Thursday, July 23, 2009

Staying in Castles and Palaces

Many people, for economic reasons, are dreaming of travel this season instead of actually doing it. We say: why not dream big? Here are some of the most luxurious Castles and Palaces in Europe where you can spend the night as a knight or even a member of royalty. We have been lucky enough to visit a few of these ourselves.

Palazzo Gritti

Commissioned in 1525 as the residence of the Doge of Venice, the swank Gritti Palace 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 classy interior is also loaded with antique-filled lounges and over 82 guest rooms and suites adorned with ornate Venetian-style furnishings.

Château de la Bourdaisière

If the fairytale castle that played host to Fox’s hit 2003 reality show, Joe Millionaire, sets your heart aflutter, you can court and dine your significant other here for as little as €120 a night. Constructed in the 15th century for the royal mistress of King François I, the castle today is a popular honeymoon destination (for officially married couples), but single ladies shouldn’t despair, as the Bourdaisière is owned and operated by two brothers, who just happen to be the real-life princes 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), 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.

Château de Castel Novel

Tucked away in a serene pocket of the French countryside, the elegant Château de Castel-Novel 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 centuries brought a soft Renaissance flair to the property; 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 Château property, with 27 personalized rooms and lavish suites open for public lodging.

The Xara Palace

A short distance away from the beachside resorts and the cruiseship bustle is the Xara Palace typical of the sedate elegance of a Maltese noble residence. Enter the main gate of the charming historical town of Mdina, and you'll spot the palace just ahead. Easily the most luxurious hotel on Malta, everywhere you look in the public rooms exquisite period pieces contribute to a gracious atmosphere. A gorgeous 18th-century wooden door, crafted by Italian sculptor Paulo Cellini, highlights one end of the lobby. An open-air atrium with a pair of 200-year-old olive trees makes an inviting place to relax. Each guestroom is completely different; some deluxe suites have private terraces, Jacuzzis, and wonderful views. Furnishings and fabrics in soft neutral tones are imported from France. All rooms feature selected antique pieces and original artwork. CD players supply a bit of musical ambience if you wish. Marble bathrooms are fully equipped with heated towel racks and amenities.

Mad Ludwig's Dream - Neuschwanstein Castle

Perched over one of the world's prettiest gorges, Neuschwanstein Castle is everyone's fantasy dream. It's the image you've seen everywhere that makes you want to start planning your trip to Germany. Why not rent that Porsche and hit the romantic road? Neuschwanstein Castle, one of the most popular destinations in Europe, is located in the German State of Bavaria close to the Germany's border with Austria, not far from the popular ski resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The closest airport is Munich, 128km to the north east. Although the Castle is not a hotel, it does boast a new cafe where you can dine as you enjoy your visit. It may seem rather familiar to anyone who has visited Cinderella's Castle in Disneyworld. It served as the model.

Adare Manor, Ireland

And now a place we can speak of from personal experience. Rising from emerald green fields in County Limerick, Ireland, Adare Manor sits on 840acres of parkland, including formal French gardens laid out by P.C. Hardwick in the 1850s. The grounds surrounding Adare Manor encompass cultivated gardens, mature trees, ancient ruins, and the meandering Maigue River. Built in the Gothic Revival style, Adare Manor has towers, turrets, woodwork, stonework, 52 chimneys, and 365 leaded glass windows. At first glance, Adare Manor resembles a French chateau, but many of the details suggest famous Irish and English homes. Bill and Hil stayed here during his Presidency and Adare often serves as official residence for visiting Presidents.

TBF and Family at Adare Manor

Dromoland Castle

We have also been lucky enough to stay at Dromoland Castle, where we actually met Bono of U2 at breakfast. Dromoland, one of Ireland's finest castle hotels, offers guests the experience of living like landed gentry, surrounded by luxury, beauty and service. Dromoland is one of the few estates tracing its history to native Gaelic Irish families of royal heritage. Today, blending old world elegance with modern day comforts, the castle serves as one of the most desired destinations in Europe. Here, the vitality of the castle lifestyle endures. Dromoland Castle's commitment to providing the highest level of service is absolute. On entering this tranquil world, the worries of life recede under the gentle care of the accommodating and friendly staff. The castle, a magnificent Renaissance structure built in the 16th century, was once the royal seat of the O'Brien clan, direct descendants of Irish King Brian Boru. Refurbished and transformed into a luxury hotel in 1962, it retains priceless reminders of the castle's historic past. Splendid woodcarvings and stone statuary, hand-carved panelling, brilliant oil paintings, romantic gardens and fine antique furnishings surround guests during their stay.

TBF at Adare Manor (sorry about the Yankees cap Boston!)

So don't let this economy get you down and keep dreaming everybody.

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