Princesses finding their prince charming in a beautiful castle are tales we often hear growing up. Throw in some mice, a pumpkin turned coach, and a magic slipper, and we are in a full-blown fairytale. When we get older, we realize that most of these stories are superfluous, but some of us still have the desire to fulfill part of the fantasy and get married in a castle. Fortunately, there are endless albeit incredible options.
The United Kingdom is home to several historic castles. Located just outside of London is Cliveden House. Built in 1666 by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, it was created as a hunting lodge, but fell peril to two fires. It has since reemerged better than ever, serving as host to virtually every British monarch, has been the home of three dukes, an earl, and Frederick Prince of Wales. It has been frequented by Queen Victoria, purchased by the richest American citizen, William Waldorf Astor, in 1893 as a gift for his son and daughter-in-law, and in 1906 it was a social landmark hosting Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt, to name a few. With an eventual plan to become a hotel, it now adds weddings to its colorful history, offering 376 acres in the Berkshire countryside overlooking the River Thames.
Also just outside of London with an original purpose as a hunting lodge back in the 16th century, and boasting 50 acres that were formerly part of the Royal Windsor Forest in Surrey, lies Great Fosters. Owned by several judges and some royalty in its time, it became a hotel in 1930. Surrounded on three sides by a Saxon moat, the Elizabethan architecture serves as a breathtaking backdrop for nuptials offering various formal gardens, a lake, grand lawn and grassed amphitheatre.
Now a five-star hotel with an 18-hole golf course, spa and more than 1,000 acres of parkland and Italian gardens with two lakes is the Luton Hoo Hotel. Beginning its history as an 18th-century grade one listed mansion house, it has served as a place of celebration for the likes of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh who visited the year of their wedding and then returned every anniversary since.
Dating back to 925 is Thornbury Castle located a few hours outside of London. Home to various royalties, it eventually succeeded to the 1st Duke of Buckingham and stayed in the family for three generations as a manor, until it received a license to castellate in 1508 at which point additional construction began. Labeled one of “the most romantic hotels,” complete with a Tudor Hall, it is known for its award-winning food, walled-in gardens and medieval architecture.
An hour and a half outside of London is Leeds Castle, which is set on 500 rolling acres. Built in 1119, it passed into royal hands in 1278 as part of the Queen of England’s dower and then changed hands amidst six other queens since then. It eventually went into private ownership and now hosts weddings in the library, dining room, Gatehouse or Maiden’s Tower.
Just outside of Glasgow is the five-star Mar Hall Golf and Spa Resort located on 240 acres of woodland. One of the seven kingdoms in ancient Scotland, its Baronial Mansion, completed in 1845, is the centerpiece of the property and overlooks River Clyde and the Kilpatrick Hills just beyond. Falling into despair throughout much of the 20th century, it wasn’t until 2004 that it reopened and now hosts weddings.
Ashford Castle is a 26,000 acre, five-star property in western Ireland. Built by the Anglo-Norman de Burgo family, it is the principal stronghold of several other castles they had built in the area. Throughout the years, many additions, including two churches where wedding ceremonies are presently held, were built. With a 1970 restoration, it doubled in size and the golf course, grounds and gardens were created.
In Belfast, Ireland, overlooking Belfast Lough and the County Antrim coastline, is the Culloden Estate and Spa. Standing high on the wooded slopes of the Holywood Hills it was built as a palace
for the Bishops of Down. It now stands on 12 acres of manicured lawns and gardens and can host weddings as intimate as five guests or as large as 500.
Complete with an 18-hole golf course, spa and restaurants is Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort in Limerick. Set on 840 acres including formal French gardens, cultivated gardens, rolling parkland and the River Maigue, the castle was built to entertain Lord Dunraven and employ surrounding villagers during the potato famine. Although Lord Dunraven passed away before its completion, it remained within the family until it was sold to an investor and restored in 1988. Adare now hosts some of Ireland’s premier weddings.
Located in southeast Ireland is Mount Juliet Hotel Kilkenny. Formerly two separate estates during the Norman association, it merged as one when “Old Mr. Kendal,” the owner of Kendal’s Grove, gifted the property to Reverend Thomas Bushe as a reward after he retrieved stolen items for him. Unfortunately Rev. Bushe was an extravagant person and had to sell the property to his neighbor, the Earl of Carrick, to repay debts. Now a thriving stud farm, the earl built Mount Juliet mansion on the bank of River Nore and named it after his wife, Lady Juliana, or Juliet, whose descendants remained there until 1914 when it was sold and became a hotel.
Originally built as a family manor and farm in the 18th century, Château la Chenevière underwent improvements nearly 100 years later, but little still remains following its occupancy by the Germans
during World War II. In 1988 it was fully restored by Mr. and Mrs. Dicker and became a hotel within the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group. This Normandy chateau now hosts weddings amidst
12-hectares of lush grounds.
Created in 1957 is Grandes Etapes Francaises, which owns a series of four-star chateaus and hotels throughout France including: Château d’Esclimont, Château de Divonne and Château de Gilly. An hour outside of Paris, positioned between Versailles and Chartres, at the center of a 60-hectare park, lies Château d’Esclimont. The former residence of the La Rochefoucaudl family, it is a preserved jewel dating back to the Renaissance complete with a moat and lake.
Located in the heart of Burgundy (where some of the finest wines in the world are made) is Château de Gilly. The former residence of Cistercian Monks, it boasts 14th and 16th-century architecture including French gardens, vaulted restaurant, terraces and a river pool. The property also encases three locations for your nuptials including the dining room, Gothic Hall and a private room.
Château de Divonne dates back to the 19th century and is located 15 minutes outside of Geneva between Lake Geneva and the Jura Mountains. Presented on a 220-hectare park, it hosts weddings up to 150, offers a terrace with panoramic views of Mont-Blanc, and is a two-minute walk from the Divonnes-les-Bains Casino, Golf Course and Health and Beauty Centre.
One of the hardest parts about planning a wedding, especially a destination wedding, is committing to the venue because it sets the tone for the entire event. If you decide that you want to begin your journey as husband and wife by exchanging vows in a castle, there is a bounty of options full in rich history, complete with immaculate grounds, impeccable service and impressive architecture where you can enjoy all the whimsy of living happily ever after—just like in the fairytale.
Location: Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort, Adare, County Limerick, Ireland