Ashford Castle by Larry Koester, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Ashford Castle by Larry Koester, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

15 Castles You Can Stay In

Ashford Castle by Larry Koester, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Ashford Castle by Larry Koester, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

These castles are the perfect places to visit when you're looking to get the royal treatment.


Ashford Castle was built in 1228 on an early Monastic site. While it's changed hands several times over its long history, it was originally constructed and owned by the House of Burke (originally de Burgos), an early Anglo-Norman family, and was purchased by Sir Benjamin Guinness of the Guinness brewing company in 1852. After several hundred years of additions and renovations, the castle was converted into a hotel in 1939. It served as home base and a backdrop for 1951's The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara and directed by John Ford, and was named the world's best luxury hotel in 2015 by Virtuoso.

Book it: Ashford Castle


Also known as Castle Law, this Scottish castle was built in the 15th century as a wedding present for Princess Mary, the daughter of James II of Scotland, following her marriage to Thomas Boyd, the Earl of Arran. On a slightly less romantic note, among the structure’s many authentic medieval touches are a trapdoor-accessed pit prison and a “murder hole” that was once used to pour scalding oil onto unsuspecting enemies below. Today, visitors can enjoy fresh linens, a fireplace, stunning views, and a secret staircase during their stay.

Book it: Airbnb


Located in the western Indian state of Rajasthan (which translates to “Land of Kings”), Talabgaon Castle was originally built as a fort in 1818, during a dispute between two warring states over the nearby Sambhur Lake—and its salt deposits. It was later converted into a castle in 1900 by Thakur Vijay Singh ji Rathore, and is still owned by the Singh Rathore family today.

Book it: Talabgaon Castle.


Schloss Kapfenstein is built atop an extinct volcano in southeastern Styria, a region of Austria near the borders of Hungary and Slovenia. It was originally built as a fortress in the 11th century to guard against invading Huns and Turks. Nowadays, Schloss Kapfenstein hosts travelers and wine connoisseurs from around the world, who come to tour the surrounding vineyards that are owned by the same family who own the castle.

Book it: Schloss Hotels


Chateau Aubepine is classified as a “classé Monument Historique,” the highest honor bestowed by the French government in recognition of historical significance. The private chateau, built in 1621, sits among gardens created by Le Nôtre, Louis XIV's gardener. It's nestled among 247 acres of private woodland, and the grounds contain tennis courts, a swimming pool, and a private fishing lake.

Book it: Oliver's Travels


Originally constructed around 1000 CE and converted into a medieval fortress in the 13th century, Castle Pergine was owned by Austrian dukes for a time, then became property of the Prince-Bishop of Trent in 1531. In 1900, renovations began to convert the building and today, the castle is an exclusive luxury hotel with 20 rooms and three towers, all located within what is called the “Ala Clesiana” wing, which was added in the mid-1500s.

Book it: Castelpergine


Restored in 1402 after almost being destroyed, Parador de Oropesa is one of Spain’s oldest paradors: historically significant structures converted into hotels by the government in order to pay for their upkeep and restoration. The castle was once the home of the Toledo family of nobles, and the castle’s legacy has given birth to a yearly celebration in the town of Oropesa called “Jornadas Medievales,” or “Medieval Days”.

Book it: Parador


Roger W Haworth, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

Eight miles outside of Edinburgh and overlooking the River Esk, the main structure of Dalhousie Castle was originally built in the mid-1400s. The castle has had a role in several important moments in Scottish history: King Edward I stayed there en route to meeting Sir William Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk, which was a pivotal battle in the Scottish War for Independence. Later, Oliver Cromwell used Dalhousie Castle as his base while invading Scotland. For those wishing to get a taste of historic Scotland today, the castle-turned-hotel offers a formal restaurant located in the castle’s old dungeons, as well as a recreational “falconry experience.”

Book it: Dalhousie Castle


Obidos, Portugal is a small coastal town—once an early Roman settlement—whose name is said to derive from the Latin oppidum, or “fortified city.” The town’s namesake fortifications are still around today, as is its centerpiece castle, now a luxury hotel. Because the castle and surrounding property were gifted by King Denis of Portugal to his bride Queen Isabel in 1282, Obidos is also sometimes known as the “wedding present town.” The luxury hotel Pousada de Castelo is housed in the 12th century castle in the heart of the town.

Book it: Pousadas


This 15th century castle was originally constructed as a honeymoon getaway for French noblewoman Soubeyrane Alamand. Built into the cliffs overlooking the Tarn River, this fairytale castle-turned-hotel features interiors decorated with tapestries and antiques, as well as exteriors dotted with authentic arrow slits, both recalling its medieval past.

Book it: Chateau De LaCaze


This castle, located in the heart of Bavaria, was built in the 14th century under one Ludvig von Eyb. In 1550, the castle came into the ownership of the prominent Crailsheim family, who brought the Protestant reformation to the surrounding town of Sommersdorf. After barely surviving the Thirty Years War, the castle underwent renovations that replaced its drawbridge with a permanent bridge. Today, the castle is still owned by the Crailsheim family—rather than a hotel, the castle is actually the home of Dr. Manfred Baron von Crailsheim, who enjoys hosting guests. Fun Fact: Graf Crailsheim, of the Crailsheim family, was one of several officials who in the early 19th century attempted to have then-king Ludwig II deposed and certified as insane. Ludwig II was later found dead, mysteriously drowned in waist-high water.

Book it: Schloss sommersdorf


This 13th century double-moated castle—now a luxury bed and breakfast—is located in Hever, a small village in Kent, England. The castle once served as the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the doomed second wife of King Henry VIII. The castle passed through several hands and eventually fell into disrepair until the early 1900s, when it was revived through the restoration efforts of American mogul William Waldorf Astor. Today, visitors from all over the world come to see 125 acres of formal gardens and collections of Tudor-era artifacts, including a prayer book said to be the one Anne Boleyn took with her to her execution.

Book it: Hever Castle


The small town of Sababurg is located in the heart of the Reinhardswald, an enchanting forest straight out of a fairytale—literally. The forest is said to have inspired the tales of the Brothers Grimm, and the nearby castle of Sababurg (also known as Dornröschenschloss or “Sleeping Beauty Castle”) served as the setting for the tale of Sleeping Beauty. Today, the restored 650-year-old castle houses a luxury hotel as well as a theater.

Book it: Sababurg


Jim Linwood, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

First constructed in the late 1200s, Ruthin Castle was originally known as Castell Coch yn yr Gwernfor, or The Red Castle in the Great Marsh, because of its red sandstone walls. The castle was the residence of the prominent de Grey family up until the 1500s, when it was sold to Henry VII, who then handed it to King Henry VIII. The estate continued to pass through royal hands, and was eventually sold by King Charles I before being partially dismantled during the English Civil War as part of a process of organized defortification called slighting, an effort to prevent castles from being militarily viable in the future. After centuries withstanding war and sieges, the castle was given new life by the wealthy Myddleton family, who repaired and rebuilt upon the medieval ruins. Ruthin Castle was converted into Britain's first private hospital in 1923, and finally into a hotel in the 1960s. Today, the castle retains touches of its violent past, like its whipping pit, drowning pool, and dungeon, but visitors wishing for a tamer medieval experience can attend one of the hotel’s themed Medieval Feasts, complete with period-appropriate costumes and a toast of mead. It also may or may not be haunted.

Book it:


Located in the Orkney Islands off the northeastern coast of Scotland, Balfour Castle promotes itself as “the world’s most northerly castle.” Located on the island of Shapinsay, which is said to have once served as a mooring for fleets of Viking longships, the surrounding bay now plays host to seal colonies and the occasional pod of orca whales. The castle itself is a rare example of a “Calendar House,” with architectural elements that correspond to the number of days in a year, months in a year, weeks in a year, and days in a week; Balfour Castle’s design features 365 window panes, 12 external doors, 52 rooms, and 7 turrets. The castle was commissioned by Colonel David Balfour, and constructed in 1847. It was designed by architect David Bryce, and built around an older structure built in the 18th century. If you're not able to afford the luxurious island castle, you can still ogle it here.

Book it: Balfour Castle

The History Behind Why We Eat 10 Dishes at Thanksgiving

Halloween is for candy comas, and on Independence Day we grill, but no holiday is as completely defined by its cuisine as Thanksgiving. No matter what part of the country you're in, it's a safe bet that at least a few of the below dishes will be making an appearance on your table this week. But what makes these specific entrees and side dishes so emblematic of Thanksgiving? Read on to discover the sometimes-surprising history behind your favorite fall comfort foods.


A roasted turkey on a platter.

Turkey has become so synonymous with Thanksgiving that most of us probably imagine the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans chowing down on a roast bird in 1621. Although we don't know the exact menu of that first Plymouth Colony feast, a first-person account of the year's harvest from governor William Bradford does reference "a great store of wild turkeys," and another first-person account, from colonist Edward Winslow, confirms that the settlers "killed as much fowl as…served the company almost a week." However, culinary historian Kathleen Wall believes that, although turkeys were available, it's likely that duck, goose, or even passenger pigeons were the more prominent poultry options at the first Thanksgiving. Given their proximity to the Atlantic, local seafood like oysters and lobsters were likely on the menu as well.

As the holiday grew in popularity, however, turkey became the main course for reasons more practical than symbolic. English settlers were accustomed to eating fowl on holidays, but for early Americans, chickens were more valued for their eggs than their meat, and rooster was tough and unappetizing. Meanwhile, turkeys were easy to keep, big enough to feed a whole family, and cheaper than ducks or geese. Even before Thanksgiving was recognized as a national holiday, Alexander Hamilton himself remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." The country followed his advice: according to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey in some form on Thanksgiving Day—an estimated 44 million birds!


Pan of breaded stuffing.

Stuffing would have been a familiar concept to those early settlers as well, although their version was likely quite different from what we're used to. We know that the first Plymouth colonists didn't have access to white flour or butter, so traditional bread stuffing wouldn't have been possible yet. Instead, according to Wall, they may have used chestnuts, herbs, and chunks of onion to flavor the birds, all of which were already part of the local fare. Centuries later, we're still stuffing turkeys as a way to keep the bird moist through the roasting process and add extra flavor.


Dish of cranberry sauce.

Like turkeys, cranberries were widely available in the area, but cranberry sauce almost certainly did not make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. Why not? The sugar reserves the colonists would have had were almost completely depleted after their long sea journey, and thus they didn't have the means to sweeten the terrifically tart berries.

So how did cranberries become such an autumnal staple? For starters, they're a truly American food, as one of only a few fruits—along with Concord grapes, blueberries, and pawpaws—that originated in North America. They grow in such abundance in the northeast that colonists quickly began incorporating cranberries into various dishes, such as pemmican, which mixed mashed cranberries with lard and dried venison. By the Civil War, they were such a holiday staple that General Ulysses S. Grant famously demanded his soldiers be provided cranberries for their Thanksgiving Day meal.


Bowl of mashed potatoes.

Potatoes weren't yet available in 17th-century Plymouth, so how did mashed potatoes become another Thanksgiving superstar? The answer lies in the history of the holiday itself. In America’s earliest years, it was common for the sitting President to declare a "national day of thanks," but these were sporadic and irregular. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt the holiday, and others soon followed suit, but Thanksgiving wasn't a national day of celebration until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

Why did Lincoln—hands full with an ongoing war—take up the cause? Largely due to a 36-year campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific novelist, poet, and editor, who saw in Thanksgiving a moral benefit for families and communities. In addition to her frequent appeals to officials and presidents, Hale wrote compellingly about the holiday in her 1827 novel Northwood, as well as in the womens' magazine she edited, Godey's Lady's Book. Her writing included recipes and descriptions of idealized Thanksgiving meals, which often featured—you guessed it—mashed potatoes.


Plate of turkey and potatoes covered in gravy.

Despite a dearth of potatoes, it's likely that some type of gravy accompanied the turkey or venison at the earliest Thanksgiving gatherings. The concept of cooking meat in sauce dates back hundreds of years, and the word "gravy" itself can be found in a cookbook from 1390. Because that first celebration extended over three days, historian Wall speculates: "I have no doubt whatsoever that birds that are roasted one day, the remains of them are all thrown in a pot and boiled up to make broth the next day." That broth would then be thickened with grains to created a gravy to liven day-old meat. And, if Wall's correct, that broth sounds suspiciously like the beginning of another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers!


Plate of corn.

Corn is a natural symbol of harvest season—even if you're not serving it as a side dish, you might have a few colorful ears as a table centerpiece. We know that corn was a staple of the Native American diet and would have been nearly as plentiful in the 17th century as today. But according to the History Channel, their version would have been prepared quite differently: corn was either made into a cornmeal bread or mashed and boiled into a thick porridge-like consistency, and perhaps sweetened with molasses. Today, we eat corn in part to remember those Wampanoag hosts, who famously taught the newcomers how to cultivate crops in the unfamiliar American soil.


Bowl of mashed sweet potatoes.

In the midst of so many New England traditions, the sweet potatoes on your table represent a dash of African-American culture. The tasty taters originally became popular in the south—while pumpkins grew well in the north, sweet potatoes (and the pies they could make) became a standard in southern homes and with enslaved plantation workers, who used them as a substitution for the yams they'd loved in their homeland. Sweet potato pie was also lovingly described in Hale's various Thanksgiving epistles, solidifying the regional favorite as a holiday go-to. More recently, some families further sweeten the dish by adding toasted marshmallows, a love-it-or-hate-it suggestion that dates to a 1917 recipe booklet published by the Cracker Jack company.


Plate of green bean casserole.

Beans have been cultivated since ancient times, but green bean casserole is a decidedly modern contribution to the classic Thanksgiving canon. The recipe you love was whipped up in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economist working in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchens in Camden, New Jersey. Reilly's job was to create limited-ingredient recipes that housewives could quickly replicate (using Campbell's products, of course). Her original recipe (still available at, contains just six ingredients: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions. Her recipe was featured in a 1955 Associated Press feature about Thanksgiving, and the association has proven surprisingly durable—Campbell’s now estimates that 30 percent of their Cream of Mushroom soup is bought specifically for use in a green bean casserole.


Slice of pumpkin pie.

Like cranberries, pumpkin pie does have ties to the original Thanksgiving, albeit in a much different format. The colonists certainly knew how to make pie pastry, but couldn't have replicated it without wheat flour, and might have been a bit perplexed by pumpkins, which were bigger than the gourds they knew in Europe. According to Eating in America: A History, however, Native Americans were already using the orange treats as a dessert meal: "Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey." It's likely that Hale was inspired by those stories when pumpkin pie appeared in her culinary descriptions.

10. WINE

Two glasses of wine.

Chances are good that a few glasses of wine will be clinked around your table this November, but did the pilgrims share a tipsy toast with their new friends? Kathleen Wall thinks that water was probably the beverage of choice, considering that the small amount of wine the settlers had brought with them was likely long gone. Beer was a possibility, but since barley hadn't been cultivated yet, the pilgrims had to make do with a concoction that included pumpkins and parsnips. Considering the availability of apples in what would become Massachusetts, however, other historians think it's possible that hard apple cider was on hand for the revelers to enjoy. Whether or not the original feast was a boozy affair, cider rapidly became the drink of choice for English settlers in the area, along with applejack, apple brandy, and other fruit-based spirits. New England cider thus indirectly led to a less-beloved Thanksgiving tradition: your drunk uncle's annual political rant. Bottoms up!

The Origins of 5 International Food Staples

Food is more than fuel. Cuisine and culture are so thoroughly intertwined that many people automatically equate tomatoes with Italy and potatoes with Ireland. Yet a thousand years ago those dietary staples were unheard of in Europe. How did they get to be so ubiquitous there—and beyond?


For years, the wonderful fruit that’s now synonymous with Italy was mostly ignored there. Native to South America and likely cultivated in Central America, tomatoes were introduced to Italy by Spanish explorers during the 1500s. Shortly thereafter, widespread misconceptions about the newcomers took root. In part due to their watery complexion, it was inaccurately thought that eating tomatoes could cause severe digestive problems. Before the 18th century, the plants were mainly cultivated for ornamental purposes. Tomato-based sauce recipes wouldn’t start appearing in present-day Italy until 1692 (although even those recipes were more like a salsa or relish than a sauce). Over the next 150 years, tomato products slowly spread throughout the peninsula, thanks in no small part to the agreeable Mediterranean climate. By 1773, some cooks had taken to stuffing tomatoes with rice or veal. In Naples, the fruits were sometimes chopped up and placed onto flatbread—the beginnings of modern pizza. But what turned the humble tomato into a national icon was the canning industry. Within Italy’s borders, this business took off in a big way during the mid-to-late 19th century. Because tomatoes do well stored inside metal containers, canning companies dramatically drove up the demand. The popularity of canned tomatoes was later solidified by immigrants who came to the United States from Italy during the early 20th century: Longing for Mediterranean ingredients, transplanted families created a huge market for Italian-grown tomatoes in the US.


Bowl of chicken curry with a spoon in it

An international favorite, curry is beloved in both India and the British Isles, not to mention the United States. And it turns out humans may have been enjoying the stuff for a very, very long time. The word “curry” was coined by European colonists and is something of an umbrella term. In Tamil, a language primarily found in India and Sri Lanka, “kari” means “sauce.” When Europeans started traveling to India, the term was eventually modified into “curry,” which came to designate any number of spicy foods with South or Southeast Asian origins. Nonetheless, a great number of curry dishes share two popular components: turmeric and ginger. In 2012, traces of both were discovered inside residue caked onto pots and human teeth at a 4500-year-old archaeological site in northern India. And where there’s curry, there’s usually garlic: A carbonized clove of this plant was also spotted nearby. “We don’t know they were putting all of them together in a dish, but we know that they were eating them at least individually,” Steve Weber, one of the archaeologists who helped make this astonishing find, told The Columbian. He and his colleagues have tentatively described their discovery as "proto-curry."


Several baguettes

A quintessential Gallic food, baguettes are adored throughout France, where residents gobble up an estimated 10 billion every year. The name of the iconic bread ultimately comes from the Latin word for stick, baculum, and references its long, slender form. How the baguette got that signature shape is a mystery. One popular yarn credits Napoleon Bonaparte: Supposedly, the military leader asked French bakers to devise a new type of skinny bread loaf that could be comfortably tucked into his soldiers’ pockets. Another origin story involves the Paris metro, built in the 19th century by a team of around 3500 workers who were apparently sometimes prone to violence during meal times. It’s been theorized that the metro foremen tried to de-escalate the situation by introducing bread that could be broken into pieces by hand—thereby eliminating the need for laborers to carry knives. Alas, neither story is supported by much in the way of historical evidence. Still, it’s clear that lengthy bread is nothing new in France: Six-foot loaves were a common sight in the mid-1800s. The baguette as we know it today, however, didn’t spring into existence until the early 20th century. The modern loaf is noted for its crispy golden crust and white, puffy center—both traits made possible by the advent of steam-based ovens, which first arrived on France’s culinary scene in the 1920s.


Bowl of red, white, and black potatoes on wooden table

Historical records show that potatoes reached Ireland by the year 1600. Nobody knows who first introduced them; the list of potential candidates includes everyone from Sir Walter Raleigh to the Spanish Armada. Regardless, Ireland turned out to be a perfect habitat for the tubers, which hail from the misty slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. Half a world away, Ireland’s rich soils and rainy climate provided similar conditions—and potatoes thrived there. They also became indispensable. For millennia, the Irish diet had mainly consisted of dairy products, pig meats, and grains, none of which were easy for poor farmers to raise. Potatoes, on the other hand, were inexpensive, easy to grow, required fairly little space, and yielded an abundance of filling carbs. Soon enough, the average Irish peasant was subsisting almost entirely on potatoes, and the magical plant is credited with almost single-handedly triggering an Irish population boom. In 1590, only around 1 million people lived on the island; by 1840, that number had skyrocketed to 8.2 million. Unfortunately, this near-total reliance on potatoes would have dire consequences for the Irish people. In 1845, a disease caused by fungus-like organisms killed off somewhere between one-third and one-half of the country’s potatoes. Roughly a million people died as a result, and almost twice as many left Ireland in a desperate mass exodus. Yet potatoes remained a cornerstone of the Irish diet after the famine ended; in 1899, one magazine reported that citizens were eating an average of four pounds’ worth of them every day. Expatriates also brought their love of potatoes with them to other countries, including the U.S. But by then, the Yanks had already developed a taste for the crop: The oldest record of a permanent potato patch on American soil dates back to 1719. That year, a group of farmers—most likely Scots-Irish immigrants—planted one in the vicinity of modern-day Derry, New Hampshire. From these humble origins, the potato steadily rose in popularity, and by 1796, American cookbooks were praising its “universal use, profit, and easy acquirement.”


Corn growing in a field

In the 1930s, geneticist George W. Beadle exposed a vital clue about how corn—also known as maize—came into existence. A future Nobel Prize winner, Beadle demonstrated that the chromosomes found in everyday corn bear a striking resemblance to those of a Mexican grass called teosinte. At first glance, teosinte may not look very corn-like. Although it does have kernels, these are few in number and encased in tough shells that can easily chip a human tooth. Nonetheless, years of work allowed Beadle to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that corn was descended from teosinte. Today, genetic and archaeological data suggests that humans began the slow process of converting this grass into corn around 8700 years ago in southwestern Mexico. If you're wondering why early farmers showed any interest in cultivating teosinte to begin with, while the plant is fairly unappetizing in its natural state, it does have a few key attributes. One of these is the ability to produce popcorn: If held over an open fire, the kernels will “pop” just as our favorite movie theater treat does today. It might have been this very quality that inspired ancient horticulturalists to tinker around with teosinte—and eventually turn it into corn


Person sitting cross-legged holding a cup of green tea

The United Kingdom’s ongoing love affair with this hot drink began somewhat recently. Tea—which is probably of Chinese origin—didn’t appear in Britain until the 1600s. Initially, the beverage was seen as an exotic curiosity with possible health benefits. Shipping costs and tariffs put a hefty price tag on tea, rendering it quite inaccessible to the lower classes. Even within England’s most affluent circles, tea didn’t really catch on until King Charles II married Princess Catherine of Braganza. By the time they tied the knot in 1662, tea-drinking was an established pastime among the elite in her native Portugal. Once Catherine was crowned Queen, tea became all the rage in her husband’s royal court. From there, its popularity slowly grew over several centuries and eventually transcended socioeconomic class. At present, the average Brit drinks an estimated three and a half cups of tea every day.

All photos courtesy of iStock.


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