When it comes to a preference for accomodations, many travelers thrive on surprises. If they are touring the Loire Valley or the Austrian Alps, they want accommondations that can be found nowhere else -- hotels as steeped in history and distinct cultural flavor as the regions themselves.
It is for this group of travelers that the castle hotels of Europe exist. Whether they are baroque palaces dripping in gold leaf and crystal or stern medieval fortresses enclosd behind tooth-edge ramparts, whether the are government-run or still the residences of royalty, all are genuine castles that bring the touch of a fairy tale to real life.
There are castle hotels in most European countries. But the largest and choicest assortments are in Austria, France, Great Britain, Grmany, Ireland, and Spain. Many were converted to hotels because the cost of maintaining them as private residences became too high for individual families, no matter how lofty their ancestry, to bear. .
Surprisingly, there are castle hotels to fit even less-than-princely budgets. While you can expect to pay over $100 a night for a room at the sumptous Inverlochy Castle in Scotland or the Schlossel Kronberg in Germany, some charming mountain castles in Austria and medieval paradoresm in Spain charge less than $50.
A guidebook calld "Castle Hotels in Europe" by Robert E. Long (Hastings House , New York) lists and briefly describes many of the castles, abbeys, palaces, and manor houses that welcome overnight guests. The following is sampling of what you can expect to find in the way of royal retreats.
Austria: Although one of the smaller countries of Europe, Austria is filled with the palatial reminders that it once presided over an empire many times its current size. Among these is the Hotel im Palais Schwarzenberg, a baroque-style confection sitting on 75 lushly-forested acres outside Vienna. It is the home of Prince Karl Johannes von Schwarzenberg. As befits the home of a prince, its rooms are furnished in French and Austrian antiques, its walls are hung with rich tapestries, and its exquisite meals are served in a romantic dining room with vaulted ceiling.
Further up the Danube in the lovely Wauchau district is the ancient hamlet of Durnstein, where Richard the Lion-Hearted was held captive in 1192. Visitors to Durnstein today fare much better than the English crusader did if they lodge at the Hotel Schloss Durnstein, a castle that dates to 1607 and overlooks the village and the slow-moving Danube. A brochure called "Castle Hotels and Mansions in Austria" is available from the Austrian National Tourist Office, 545 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017.
France: Waht could be a more delightful way to visit the chateaux country of the Loire Valley than by staying in a real chateau? Castle hotels exist throughout France, vut are most abundant in the fertile heartland surrounding Tours. Among the most elegant is Chateau D'Artigny, a replica of an 18th-century palace built with a lavish attention to detail by perfumer Francois Coty in the early 1900s. Among its features are: a guest pavilion that is a replica of the chapel at Versaillles, a grand rotunda with a frescoed ceiling, and a 50-acre park for strolling, swimming, tennis, and riding.
Further information on France's castle hotels may be obtained from the French National Tourist Office, 610 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10020.
Germany: Sometimes visitors to Schlosshotel Kronberg on the outskirts of Frnakfurt are surprised to find what looks more like an English Tudor manor house than a German castle. The castle's first owner, the Empress Friedrich who was the daughter of Queen Victoria, obviously wanted to create a bit of her native land in her new domain. Guests still find such English touches at the castle as afternoon tea, Gainsborough portraits, and a sweeping, impeccably manicured lawn.
A helpful booklet is the "Gast im Schloss" guide available from the German Tourist Office, 747 Third Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017
Great Britain: Perhaps the ultimate way to experience the traditions and comforts of the English countryside is to stay at the Castle Hotel in Taunton. This vine-covered fortress with moat has been providing shelter from the outside world for over 900 years. Queen Victoria is among those who have enjoyed the castle's hospitality -- one that includes plenty of canopied beds, warm scones on arrival, and gourmet meals.
Queen Victoria also thought highly of Inverlochy Castle in the west Highlands of Scotland, declaring that "I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot." Besides its stunning mountain location, Inverlochy is known for the high quality fare served in its baronial dining room. A booklet called "Castle and Country House Hotels" is available from the British Tourist Authority, 680 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10019
Ireland: Ireland's castle hotels often seem designed as much for the sports-minded as for the history or architecture enthusiast. One of the most famous is Dromoland Castle, a 16th-century gem with turrets, stone walls, carved paneling -- and a champion-class golf course. It is only eight miles from Shannon Airport.
Ashford Castle on the shores of Ireland's second-largest lake, Lough Corrib in County Mayo, has a similar appeal. This 19th-century castle with paneled ceilings and formal gardens also is known for golf, tennis, and other sports opportunities. More information is available from the Tourist Board, 590 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10036
Spain: Few countries can rival Spain for its castles, whether they are hotels or not. The most sumptuous of those that welcome overnight guests is a small group of converted monasteries and palaces run by the government tourist agency, ENTURSA. Among these is the Hotel de San Marcos in Leon with its block-long facade of wedding-cake detail and interior of carved mable pillars, furnishings, and art objects that date back to the hotel's 16th-century origins.
Less grand than ENTURSA hotels, but no less atmospheric are the paradores,m a network of government-run inns often located in refurbished castles, convents, and palaces. Further information on both the paradoresm and the ENTURSA group is available from the Spanish National Tourist Office, 665 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10022.