There is a reason little girls dream of being princesses and little boys have make-believe sword fights. Living like kings and queens is a fantasy for all ages. Now, families can experience a taste of the life of royalty, with luxury holidays in gorgeous countryside castles.
Aldourie Castle, Scotland
Scotland is a place rich in history and beautiful countryside, famous for its clans, kilts and medieval castles, as well as poetry and festivals. Its fresh water lochs expand over 600 square miles – the most famous being Loch Ness where a mysterious monster is said to lurk in the depths of the water and has been the subject of children’s programmes, stories and films for years.
Monsters apart, the Loch has a romantic and mysterious allure all of its own and its extraordinary beauty has mesmerised visitors for centuries. With its deep waters and mountainous, tree-clad sides, Loch Ness fills most of the Great Glen, a spectacular gash dividing Highland Scotland in two. The area boasts some of the most outstanding and scenic attractions in Scotland: Urquhart Castle, the battlefield of Culloden, Moray Firth dolphins, whisky distilleries, Highland Games, and the city of Inverness, to name a few. In addition, there are outstanding golf courses, walks and cycle routes, rivers and lochs for fishing, boat trips, and even ski slopes.
Aldourie Castle located directly on the shores of Loch Ness, is the only habitable castle on the Loch and has occupied the site for hundreds of years. It doesn’t get anymore Disney than this place. With its picture perfect turrets, flags and towers you half expect to see Rapunzel letting down her hair or a Prince appear on a horse, wielding a sword. The castle has been beautifully restored – from the deepest wine cellar to the tip of its spires – to create a luxurious yet intimate home, in which the attention to heritage and period detail is matched by the quality and comfort of the furnishings.
The castle and the surrounding 500-acre estate are available for private house parties and family celebrations, on an exclusive basis. The helpful in-house staff (they have their own team of managers, chefs and housekeepers) can arrange pretty much any experience, from falconry displays to learning the bagpipes. In addition, there is the Nursery Kitchen on the second floor, ideal for catering for younger members of a party. Most of the 15 bedrooms tend to have taller ceilings and larger windows, as befits the traditions of an authentic historic castle. Some also inter-connect with other rooms, which is often convenient for family groups. If you are seeking grandeur and comfort, Aldourie offers both in a breathtaking setting, fit for kings and queens.
Bovey Castle, England
England is bursting with historical sights and a monarchy which is the envy of the world, therefore it is no surprise there are countless castles scattered around the English countryside. But many are merely ruins – that is, except for Bovey Castle.
Standing proudly since 1907 in the Dartmoor National Park, in the heart of Devon, this Grade II listed building, (which was a convalescent home during the First World War) re-opened as Bovey Castle in 2003. It has since continued to expand – with the addition of 14 three-story country lodges (each sleeping up to eight people), and a stunning spa and pool, making it the perfect retreat for a family break.
The main building was originally built in Jacobean style, with a Great Hall, into which a floor was later inserted in the 1980s, adding extra space. The interior is typical of that era, with panelled rooms, elaborately carved features, bursting with antiques. The front garden is set above generous terraces overlooking a pretty lake and the River Bovey, which are ideal spots for a summer’s day stroll or a picnic lunch.
Children are incredibly well looked after, with plenty of on-site activities organized by the ‘Bovey Rangers’ club. Bovey Rangers introduces children (7–14 years) to indoor and outdoor activities throughout the estate, such as apple pressing, survival skills, archery and raft building – playing on Jacobean traditions. LEGO lovers will enjoy the complimentary LEGO room service menu. Toys vary from pre-school LEGO DUPLO to LEGO Star Wars, and will be delivered to your bedroom door.
Off-site, the wonderful Miniature Pony Centre (located only minutes away) is one of Dartmoor’s most popular family attractions. Children will love the miniature ponies and donkeys, pony rides, and indoor and outdoor play areas. Bovey Castle is filled with history, with fantastic adventures for children and enough sophisticated glamour for parents.
Ashford Castle, Ireland
Ireland is for families with children of all ages. With its vast countryside and medieval castles, it is simply a fairy-tale playground for kids. If that is not enough, then Celtic mysticism, leprechauns and shamrocks will soon engage a young enquiring mind.
Ashford Castle sits in County Mayo, Ireland’s third largest county, boasting a beautiful coastline and the picturesque villages of Ballina, Castlebar and Westport. Just half an hour from the medieval city of Galway, the area offers exciting family activities from horse-riding to falconry to clay pigeon shooting. One of the highlights of staying here is experiencing the ‘lake cruise’ led by a local historian – which takes you on a voyage of discovery to the island of St. Patrick and the monastic site on Inchagoill Island.
For over 700 years, Ashford Castle and its 350-acre private estate have offered a real Irish experience. The hotel offers ‘hawk walks’ as well as many other activities to keep families entertained. Children under age two receive a teddy, baby pack and ducks for the bath, and older kids are given a bathrobe, slippers and chocolates. The ‘state rooms’ offer the most authentic experience.
The castle also organizes special themed activity weekends during the February and October mid-term breaks. For children, this can includes a visit to the hiding place of “Dingle” the resident owl, an afternoon of Witchcraft & Wizardry, dinner in the Castle Dungeons, a hidden garden treasure hunt, as well as viewings of the latest family blockbusters, all fully supervised.
In the meantime, adults can enjoy the best of local produce from Michelin award-winning chef, Stefan Matz, and a celebrated wine list from the castle’s sommelier, Robert Bowe. Add to this an outstanding programme of activities, professional entertainment, plumped up cushions and roaring fires, and you have a memorable family adventure.