If there’s one Old World travel experience that can be found nowhere else, it’s castle living.
Other than the new Duchess of Sussex (AKA Meghan Markle), few expats live in castles. But we can live the castle life, if only for a few days. And staying in a castle can be quite affordable.
Here’s why: If you inherited a castle, what exactly would you do with it?
Castles were mostly built pre-20th century (other than our first listing), when labor was cheap and you could always pillage the neighboring kingdom if you needed to raise funds to, say, upgrade your dungeon.
These days … well, options are limited.
For the unfortunate scions of aristocracy who inherit these monsters, there are essentially three choices:
- Live in them.
- Sell them to a celebrity. J.K. Rowling, Brangelina and Elton John all either own or have all owned castles at one time or another.
- Just sell them to anybody. There are literally dozens of castles around Europe where the owners are pretty much willing to give them away to a good home. There’s even a reality show, “Escape to the Castle DIY,” about people crazy enough to buy fixer-upper chateaux.
- Rent them out.
One of the most popular ways to keep the ol’ citadel in one piece is to turn it into a B&B. If you live in Western Europe, one of the amazing facts of expat life is that there’s a castle danged near anywhere you want to go from Scotland to Greece. France has the Loire Valley, which is pretty much nothing but castles. That said, little Belgium might have the most castles per square hectare of any country in Europe, with an estimated 3,000. And in Belgium in particular, they’re open to guests.
In fact, there are sooo many, this is a two-part travel feature.
The castle experience often means living like a king/queen in expansive rooms and strolling ornate gardens … indulging in luxury and la vie royale without having to worry about how you’re going pay the taxes on Tara or patch the roof on le tour.
So, let’s dive into our list before the summer passes us by …
Martin’s Chateau du Lac: One of the younger castles in our guide, Martin’s Chateau du Lac on the shores of Genval Lake in Genval was built in 1906 by the Société des Eaux Minérales as mineral water bottling plant and health spa. The Martin family bought the castle from Schweppes Belgium in 1952, continuing the bottling business until moving it out of the castle in 1981. By 1985, Martin’s Chateau du Lac opened its doors as an exclusive luxury hotel.
And how! The Emperor of Japan, Albert II of Monaco, Paul-Loup Sulitzer, Al Gore, the French national football team, all of them stayed at Martin’s during the hotel/castle’s three decades of operation.
Outside is Walloon-Brabant province, one of Belgium’s loveliest regions which includes Lake Genval, Brussels and the Waterloo battlefield.
Inside, you can enjoy elegant fine dining and traditional bar atmospheres, shape up in the fitness center, melt away into a new you in the thermal and spa, and wind-down in any one of Chateau du Lac’s five types of rooms.
Room rates: €99 – €155/night
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 4 out 5 (1,033 reviews)
Czechia (Czech Republic)
Zámek Lednice: Near the Austrian/Czechian border in the town of Lednice is Zámek Lednice, one of the grandest estates in the whole of Czechia. The Liechtenstein family owned the castle and its grounds for 700 years beginning in 1249. The castle began life as a fortress before being transformed into a Renaissance-style estate in the 16th century, then remade into the Baroque style in the late 17th century before adopting its neo-Gothic style in the mid-1800s.
In the garden of Zámek Lednice is the hotel itself, Zámecký hotel Lednice; the gardens are a part of the Lednice-Valtice area, which was entered into the UNESCO World Heritage List 7 December 1996. The hotel originally served as a guest home for the many visitors to the Liechtenstein family, and serves as the starting point for all guests today to explore the Zámek Lednice complex. The non-smoking hotel has a pastry shop famous for its offerings, a wine cellar featuring the finest wines from the wine-growing Chateau Valtice – Vinné sklepy Valtice, and 25 rooms of various sizes and bed counts.
Room rates: CZK 450 – CZK 3,500 (€18 – €137 per night)
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 4.5 out 5 (19 reviews)
Sangaste Loss: Sangaste Loss in Lossiküla was born from inspiration: the last Lord of Sangaste, F. G. M. von Berg, built a new mansion styled after the greatest of English castles, including Windsor and Balmoral, with help from Tallinn architect Otto Pius Hippius. Seven years later in 1881, the 99-room castle would serve as the von Berg’s home until his passing in 1938.
The Soviet Army took over the castle during WWII, turning it into a 149-room camp with room for storage for goods and horses.
Today, the castle is open to guided tours, which go to pay for renovations. The nearby manor hotel boasts 16 rooms, while the restaurant serves local culinary delights and rye vodka made from Sangaste rye. The castle and manor can be rented out, with catering provided by the castle’s restaurant, perfect for weddings or big business meetings.
Room rates: €99 – €179/night
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 4 out 5 (10 reviews)
Le Vieux Chateau Le Renouard: More than 1,000 years ago, Le Vieux Chateau Le Renouard was established in the valley of Le Renouard, in what would become the Normandy region of France. The castle was the home of the Balliol family for 12 generations until after the French Revolution. Over a century later, the German army occupied the castle during WWII before the Allied Forces drove the Nazis out.
In this century, current owner Donna McDougall took ownership of the castle in 2012, opening its doors to travellers in the autumn of 2014. Four rooms and one studio make the perfect starting place for guests to explore the valley, from visiting the World War II memorial at Montormel and the D-Day landing sites, to sampling the local wines and cheeses after a round of 18 holes at the nearby Golf du Bief.
Also: Le Vieux Chateau was featured on U.K.-based Channel 4’s “Escape to the Chateau DIY” earlier this year.
And of course, there are two ponies available to carry your lunch and a picnic to a nearby spot. Even better, you can bring your own horse to stay at one of the four stables at the castle, where you and your equine friend can explore 25 acres of post and rail grazing, and ride in the tranquility of the Normandy countryside.
Room rates: €95 – €195/night
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 5 out 5 (25 reviews)
Burg Colmberg: Take a journey back to the Middle Ages, where aurochs roamed and the future lords of Prussia and Germany would stake their claims on history, at Burg Colmberg in Colmberg.
The castle is more than 1,000 years old, first established during the Carolingian dynasty (AD 714-1124). Burg Colmberg was then purchased 17 July 1318 by Burgrave Friedrich IV of Nuremberg, where it would be a part of the House of Hohenzollern for the next five centuries.
Today, under the ownership of the Unbehauen family of Colmberg, the castle is a comfortable hotel, full of fairy-tale romance, elegance and history. The restaurant takes this further, with its selection of meats from the castle’s own game reserve, from red and fallow deer to wild boar.
Whether you’re looking for the perfect wedding setting, or just a couple of nights in history, you can’t go wrong with a stay at Burg Colmberg.
Room rates: €110 – €225/night
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 4.5 out 5 (838 reviews)
Arapakis Historic Castle: Greece has plenty of castles to go with its temples, such as Arapakis Historic Castle in Charia in the Laconia region. The castle was one of many fortifications owned by the Arapakis family. The 200-year-old castle was restored in accordance with the history of the building and the surrounding traditional architecture of the Mani peninsula.
Guests staying at Arapakis Historic Castle can choose from one of eight rooms, including a handful of studios and apartments, each one capable of hosting two to five people. The castle also serves a buffet breakfast with homemade jams, local honey and fresh fruit. Afterward, you can take a stroll on the cobblestone trails, swim in the sapphire waters of the Bay of Diros, explore the Diros Caves, and take in the many Byzantine and early Christian churches.
Room rates: €80 – €180/night, depending on the season; other room rates available on request
TripAdvisor’s crowd-sourced rating: 4.5 out 5 (11 reviews)