If you’ve ever dreamt of a fairytale escape why not start the year off as you mean to go on and book a magical castle getaway.

For those who yearn for something that brings luxury and style together with adventure and exoticism there is more than lying on a distant beach or indulging in resort comforts. If you’ve experienced cruises, river excursions and have had your share of big city excitement, then why not take a step back in time and do as the kings of old did – enjoying opulence and luxury within the atmospheric setting of a grand European castle.

Pick the right one and you needn’t put up with draughty corridors and creaky stairs, revelling instead in the style of an aristocrat as you survey the sprawling estate from your bedroom suite. You can’t but feel quite the lord of the manor as you explore the hidden delights of ‘your’ castle or roam its manicured grounds, all the while pampered and indulged like a true nobleman or woman.

As the following pages show, not all castles are battle-worn ruins eroded by the winds of time; you will find the pick of the crop to be every bit as luxurious as a palace yet full of the power and martial flair of a classic castle stronghold.

The selection below is a sample of some of Europe’s finest castles now functioning not to deter visitors but to welcome them with open arms. For an exclusive experience with a difference, we visit six of the best in Ireland, France, Austria, Germany, Italy and Portugal.

Ashford Castle, Ireland

These days you needn’t own a castle or a title, nor indeed wait for an invitation from such a person to stay at one of Europe’s castles.

Often the seat of an ancestral line dating back to the Middle Ages, the castle is the forerunner of the château or manor house – second only in status and splendour to royal palaces and in many cases one-time royal residences in their own right.

In the rugged northwest of Ireland, Ashford Castle is a fine example of a palatial castle set amid an expansive estate whose greenery rolls on as far as the eye can see. Founded in 1228 by the Anglo-Norman De Burgo family, the castle would remain their stronghold for over three-and-a-half centuries.

From then on the estate would grow and be updated until it was converted into a luxury hotel in 1939. In the 1950s, it was home to Hollywood stars shooting a movie nearby, in 1970, a golf course was added and by the 1980s it was recognised as one of the finest resort hotels in Ireland – and Europe.

To enter this grand property is to feel like a privileged visitor to a landed estate, capable of transporting one into a Downton Abbey scene in the present. For this reason you almost feel that you should arrive in style, traversing its imposing long driveway in something suitably luxurious and classical…

Words Michel Cruz

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