Make your upcoming year one to remember by experiencing some of the most unique and romantic residences around Europe. From convents to lighthouses, here’s our selection of supremely special hotels and the magical stories behind them…
- Castello di Gargonza: Tuscany, Italy
Perched high on a hill above thick Tuscan forest, this medieval hamlet boasts carefully restored houses and apartments, each bearing the names of its former inhabitants.
The earliest records of Gargonza – as a fortified village of the Val di Chiana – date back to 1150. It appeared in a quotation that mentioned a fortified castle along the road from Arezzo to Siena, where Dante stayed during his exile.
Of course, the castle’s location in Tuscany means gastronomy is high on the priority list. Chef Susi Brogi focuses on traditional and authentic Tuscan dishes, including ribollita and grilled wild boar in a juniper sauce. Ingredients are sourced locally – in fact, most vegetables are picked from their own garden, right next to the restaurant.
Also enclosed in its ancient walls are a glorious panoramic swimming pool, endless views and a fairytale ambience for guests to enjoy.
- Chateau de Reignac: Reignac-sur-Indre, France
This 18th century castle hotel is the former estate of the Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat and military officer who fought for the United States in the American Revolutionary War.
Built over the ruins of a former fortress that protected a crossing over the Indreriver, this French aristocratic haven is a unique experience in the heart of the Val de Loire.
With the memories of famous figures who lived there, guests are able to take in the refined chateau’s 18th century spirit, savour intimate dinners in the music room and enjoy the beautiful park of 11 hectares that surrounds the castle.
And what dinners they are: the food is a speciality but the hotel is within easy reach of the legendary vineyards of Amboise, Cheverny, Vouvray, Villandry, Chinon and Sancerre, among many others.
- Clare Island Lighthouse: Co. Mayo, Ireland
There’s something desperately romantic about a lighthouse; beacons of light shining out on a dark stormy night, saving ships from crashing into jagged rocks.
Now a boutique guesthouse on Ireland’s west coast, this cliff-top gem stood as a nautical landmark for almost two centuries, watching over Achill, Westport and beyond. Savour the solitude in sleek luxury accommodation or enjoy socialising in the warmth of the kitchen, drawing room or library.
You might think a lighthouse wouldn’t be a haven of gastronomic treats – but you’d be wrong. Excellent traditional butchers on the mainland boast that the Mayo lamb is ‘seasoned by nature’, raised as it is on hillsides splashed with salty sea spray.
Add artisan cheese from Irish makers and a supply of homemade preserves and chutney and you’ll discover true Irish gastronomy.
- Gimo Mansion: Stockholm, Sweden
Nestled deep in the forests of Northern Roslagen, Gimo Manor was the first manor house built in Gustavian style; the design first brought to Sweden by Gustav III.
Louis De Geer (considered the father of Swedish industry) first introduced Walloon blast furnaces to Sweden, and the impressive manor – designed by architect Jean Eric Rehn in the 1760s – stands as a monument to the heyday of these ironworks.
Take in the breathtaking scenery, indulge in first-class cuisine or take part in the many activities on offer: mini-golf, clay-pigeon shooting, wine-tasting, rowing, cycling and walks to Walloon ironworks industrial heritage sites.
- Avli Lounge Apartments: Rethymno, Greece
With a chequered history – once home to a Venetian lord and site of an olive press, soap factory and tanner – Avli’s suites pay homage to the unique architectural style derived from its Cretan, Venetian and Turkish history, dating back to 1660.
Tales of occupation and resistance still reverberate around the island but today there is peace and quiet in the seven luxurious suites, the award-winning restaurant and exhaustive wine cellar (with more than 460 different vintage wines). Don’t leave without trying the fouriarikokatsikaki, village goat cooked in honey and thyme.
- Bodysgallen Hall & Spa: Llandudno, North Wales
Bodysgallen was originally constructed as a tower house to serve as defensive support for Conwy Castle. Now owned by the National Trust, the sympathetically-restored manor house is one of Britain’s top country house hotels.
The gardens boast terraced lawns, rose gardens and rare 17th century knot garden box hedges. Indoors, the hotel offers fine dining and a superb spa and leisure complex.
If gastronomy is what you’re looking for, aside from formal dining, Bodysgallen serves what the Times newspaper described as ‘one of the top ten afternoon teas in the UK’.
Whether you opt for the champagne, or stick to tea, you’ll enjoy sandwiches made from local Caerphilly cheese and red onion chutney, handmade scones with jam and clotted cream and the unmissablebarabrith, a welsh fruit bread.
- Dalen Hotel: Telemark, Norway
Opened in 1894, this luxury hotel quickly became a must-visit destination, drawing royal guests from across Europe. Visitors included King Oscar II of Sweden, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King Leopold II of Belgium, King Haakon VII of Norway and several members of the British aristocracy.
The fairytale hotel is one of Norway’s oldest wooden hotels, built in the charming dragon style of architecture and hidden within a magnificent valley. In the restaurant, you’ll be treated to dishes inspired by the long culinary history of the Telemark region.
- Hotel Bellevue des Alpes: KleineScheidegg, Switzerland
Fans of Clint Eastwood should recognise this grand hotel, famous for being the location for his 1975 film The Eiger Sanction.
Originally an inn built in 1840, the grand hotel is all about timeless elegance, with a hint of 20s English country house.
Watercolours, writing desks, outsized revolving doors – every feature has been lovingly looked after for a true ‘time travel’ experience. Don’t leave without sampling another timeless experience – the cakes laid out for tea.
Possibly the most romantic and original way to enjoy the Alps – sunny or snowing.