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Castles evoke different images in different people – romance, war, history – but for the most part, they continue to be a source of intrigue. Visiting a castle is like travelling through time, and we’ve rounded up 10 amazing castles including haunted castles and peaceful monasteries that you can actually stay in.

1. The Xara Palace Relais & Chateaux

This refurbished 17th-century palazzo is not so much about showy opulence as it is creature comforts. Once the home of the noble Moscati Parisio family, the snug, 17-room cream-washed boutique establishment is the only hotel in the beautiful medieval streets of Malta’s old capital, Mdina. Original furnishings and period-era artwork adorn the common areas and each room is unique, with homely carpets, antique study desks and gilded bathtubs. Also check out the sunny outdoor pool and ask for a balcony seat at De Mondion, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant.

2. Ashford Castle

For a sleepy rural town, Cong in County Mayo, Ireland, has several claims to fame, including being the setting for the 1952 film The Quiet Man and it’s also home to the 13th-century Ashford Castle, later owned by the Guinness family. A stay at the gorgeous, three-storey vine-covered stone castle is almost like a pilgrimage for stout lovers and those who simply want to be pampered. The estate lawn is perfectly manicured and has tennis courts and a golf course, all framed by forests. The 82 rooms – some with lovely river views – are just as regal. Think shimmering turquoise upholstery and four-poster beds with grand, floral-print canopies.

3. Ruthin Castle

Another late 13th-century vine-covered medieval castle, Ruthin Castle once belonged to Edward I and it continues to strike a lofty figure in the verdant parklands of northern Wales. The original moat still stands, while the 58 individually-designed rooms mix period-era décor with modern sensibilities. Most amusing are the spacious bathrooms, some with fireplaces, others with violet cushioned bathtubs on black-and-white tile marble floors. Treat yourself to a body scrub at The Moat Spa or relish a game of giant chess in the garden.

4. Swinton Park Hotel

This sweeping 17th-century castle is set within the 20,000-acre Swinton Estate in North Yorkshire but it’s not as remote as it sounds – the hotel is walking distance to Blacksheep Brewery and Theakston Brewery. Except for a tipple, however, there’s hardly a reason to leave the luxuriant estate. Swinton is fairly self-contained and offers activities such as shooting, mountain biking and pony trekking, and, of course, a quintessential English high tea. The 32 rooms dispersed across two floors are big and bright, spruced up with a teddy bear on the bed, or an antique trunk – nothing ostentatious.

5. Dalhousie Castle

While some castles are made of the stuff of fairy tales, Edinburgh’s Dalhousie Castle, built in 1280, is enchanting in its own way. Apparently, the ghost of Lady Catherine – who was caught with a stable hand and banished to the castle tower in 1695 where she died of a broken heart – haunts the castle. Centuries before that, in 1400, the castle survived a siege by Henry IV. Tumultuous history aside, it’s a small, charming estate, with 32 rooms with colour schemes that range from bright orange to calm lavender and views of the River South Esk. Dinner at the Dungeon Restaurant is a must.

6. Castello Di Pavone 

Wood-board ceilings and gold framed oil paintings – the rooms in this castello lives up to the image of a grand, old Piedmontese castle. The castle grounds date back to the year 859, the structure originally a fortress to defend Pavone Canavese from raids by Hungarians and Arabs. Today, the original fortress walls stand tall and proud and the entwining brick passages and the well in the lovely courtyard remain. The reception is a far cry from the horse stable it once was, though the heavily patterned meeting rooms are so regal, it’s easy to imagine a gathering of knights.

7. Fairmont Le Château Frontenac

A multi-million-dollar renovation and expansion has restored this 1893 château in the historic district of Old Québec to its former glittering glory. Fairmont Le Château Frontenac cuts a commanding figure at 18 floors, its red-brick, green-roofed façade towering over the St. Lawrence River. The 611 rooms are decked in calm tones – lots of beige and white with pops of bright yellow, teal and lavender. Take a stroll or ride a horse-drawn carriage around the hotel grounds, where you’ll be able to spot some cannons, too.

8. The Grand Vígľaš

Set in a green expanse that is central Slovakia, the Grand Vígľaš is a refurbished 13thcentury castle that has withstood many battles over the centuries, including being damaged and burned during World War II. Paintings of watchful Kings in regal garb fittingly line the walls in the hotel’s common areas, and the 55 rooms are homely, with wood-board floors, carpets and maroon upholstery. But you won’t want to spend all day indoors – nearby are beautiful historic churches, while the surrounding hills are perfect for hiking.

9. Hotel Monte Pacis

Hugged by a lovely evergreen forest along the Kaunas Lagoon just outside of Kaunas, Lithuania, Monte Pacis lives up to its poetic name, which means “Mountain of Peace”. The sprawling white-walled complex was built as a sanctuary for Camaldolese monks in the 17th century, and part of it still remains a functioning monastery. Inside are loft-style guestrooms with 400-year-old wooden beams and oak window shutters that peek out to manicured lawns. Top off your stay with a nightcap at the restaurant, which stocks wine from monasteries all over Europe.

10. Pannonia Hotels Szidonia 

This gorgeous, 17th-century yellow-washed castle in Röjtökmuzsaj, Hungary, is only an hour’s drive from both Vienna and Budapest but surrounded by endless parkland. Centuries ago, Szidónia Manor House was used as a hunting lodge, and today, guests can go cycling, fishing and horseback riding when they’re not indulging in an afternoon at the palatial indoor pool where floor-to-ceiling glass windows look out into a big garden with perfectly trimmed hedges. Rooms are characterized by muted tones – sage dressers, teal carpets – a contrast to the more flamboyant common areas that boast gold chandeliers and dark-wood panelling.

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Tagged: Couple, Culture, Hotels

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