Behind the South wing of Thornbury Castle — Photo courtesy of T. Browne Smith
Aside from being romantic, castle stays are a unique way to entrench one's self in England’s tradition and history. Castles dot the British landscape, a prominent part of the country’s identity. Dozens of remaining castles are from the Tudor era; Thornbury Castle is the only Tudor Castle where visitors can rest their heads for a spell. It's a singular experience - worlds apart from your standard London hotel.
Thornbury is a two-hour drive from London Heathrow airport. It sits on 15 acres of English hillside with views of South Gloucestershire, the Severn Estuary, and Wales, a refreshing break from the congestion of the city.
Driving up to the grounds, the symmetrically mowed lawn and dark stone facade of the South Wing don’t overwhelm as one might expect on a first visit to a castle. You won't find moats or heavy iron gates here. Technically, Thornbury is considered a Tudor country house, not built for defensive purposes.
A bed fit for a king (and three other members of his family). — Photo courtesy of T. Browne Smith
The castle has 27 bedchambers throughout the property. Most of the bedchambers house four-poster beds with the Tower Suite offering what is said to be the largest four-poster bed in England, measuring an unimaginable 10 feet across! Deluxe suites like the Stafford, located on the ground floor of the North Wing, expose their centuries old brick walls, wood beams, a stone fireplace and upscale furnishings.
All of the bedchambers have many of the creature comforts a modern-day guest may need such as a flat screen TV, sitting area, ample closet space, and even WiFi. A decanter of sherry in the room is an added bonus.
If you're in search of more opulence, just stroll into the bathroom. The Stafford's ensuite cradles stone-tiled floors, a walk-in open shower with granite slabbing and crested glass pane, a deep-set porcelain tub, brass fixtures and other design features that make the space feel more like a showroom.
The 500 year-old vineyards of Thornbury. — Photo courtesy of T. Browne Smith
If you can make your way out of your bedchamber, take a leisurely walk on the grounds of Thornbury. You’ll stumble upon the castle’s 500 year-old vineyard, ruins, and the oldest Tudor garden in England. A walk through the naturally walled gardens only perpetuates the romance of the castle.
After your stroll on the grounds, when you take tea in one of two sitting rooms or your meal in one of two dining rooms, you’ll be surrounded by proper English tradition and service. Ornate windows and open fireplaces are fitting backdrops.
Tea time. — Photo courtesy of T. Browne Smith
Dinner and breakfast are thorough affairs. A four-course meal for dinner is nothing short of a five star restaurant experience. Dining staff, all of whom were trained by the formal Royal Butler, wait on you hand and foot, ensuring that your meal is up to par and that you’re happy.
Dinner may consist of a wine from the castle’s cellars, and a decadent starter like the Vacherin Mont D’OR Ravioli with Butternut Squash, Chestnuts, and Truffle, if you please. For breakfast, typical English plates such as Grilled Kipper with butter and lemon, Poached Eggs with Haddock or Gloucestershire Old Spot Sausage are filling and worth the experience if your taste buds are open and able to make the cultural adjustment.
A stay at Thornbury Castle is no budget affair. However, neither is the experience. Don't forget, this is a place where kings and queens once roamed.