Royal Retreats: Places to stay

Thornbury Castle

From castles and estates to hotels and inns, Britain has a wonderful selection of holiday accommodation with a royal flavour.

The Queen Mother at Walmer Castle
The Queen Mother at Walmer Castle

“Queen Elizabeth I slept here” is the sort of claim one feels is often heard when touring Britain. The much-travelled monarch may or may not have made her repose at all of the places claimed on her royal progress around the country, but what’s certainly true is that there are a lot of places where we can stay, which have connections to monarchy. From Good Queen Bess through to her present-day counterpart and family, from places owned by members of the royal family to those they have stayed in or visited, there are castles and inns, hotels and holiday cottages where you can tread in those royal footsteps.

Castles are an obvious candidate – and indeed a successful one. We’ve yet to hear about apartments at Buckingham Palace being let as holiday accommodation; however you can stay at the royal Balmoral Estate in Scotland – where the castle was built for Queen Victoria by her beloved Prince Albert and which is still a favourite royal retreat today. It has special memories for HM The Queen as it was here that Prince Philip proposed to her in 1946. Holiday cottages on the estate range in location from close in among the castle’s buildings to a few miles away in the countryside. The Old Schoolhouse, for example, was where the Queen and Princess Margaret once had lessons.

Carisbrooke Castle
Carisbrooke Castle

Another retreat of Queen Victoria’s was Osborne House, the Italianate villa built for her by Albert on the Isle of Wight. Here, English Heritage runs the former cricket pavilion as a spacious holiday cottage for up to four, and guests can use a private beach once used exclusively by the Royal Family. English Heritage also has a castle on the Isle of Wight: a holiday apartment in Carisbrooke Castle. Charles I was imprisoned here before his trial, and, on a more pleasant note, BBC Gardeners’ World’s Chris Beardshaw is designing the new Princess Beatrice Garden in Edwardian style – celebrating the time when the princess, Queen Victoria’s daughter, lived at the castle in her role as Governor.

Another in the English Heritage portfolio is Walmer Castle in Kent, where a first-floor apartment looks over the walled kitchen garden and there’s a garden dedicated to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, designed by Penelope Hobhouse, to mark the Queen Mother’s role as Warden of the Cinque Ports.

Thornbury Castle
 Thornbury Castle

At Thornbury Castle, the Von Essen collection’s Tudor edifice near Bristol which is now a luxury hotel, you can sleep in the same chamber where Henry VIII stayed with Anne Boleyn, and look out of the same windows as Henry’s daughter, Princess Mary (later known as ‘Bloody Mary’), who spent some of her childhood at the castle. Thornbury had become the property of the Crown after Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, was executed but Mary later returned it to the Duke’s son. West into the Cotswolds, Sudeley Castle, frequented by Anne Boleyn, Catherine Parr and Lady Jane Grey, has holiday cottages on its estate.

Mary Queen of Scots ‘stayed’ in many places around Britain during her tragic life. What is now the Old Hall Hotel in Buxton, Derbyshire, was a house built by Bess of Hardwick at the request of Elizabeth I, in which to keep Mary under house arrest. In nearby Staffordshire, Tixall Hall, where the Landmark Trust now has a holiday cottage, was a temporary prison for Mary while her quarters at Chartley were being searched for incriminating evidence in 1586.

The George of Stamford
The George of Stamford

That other short-lived royal, Charles I, stayed at the coaching inn, The George of Stamford near Burghley House in Lincolnshire, in 1641 and 1645, and his son, Charles II, made New Park Manor, in the New Forest, now a Von Essen hotel, his favourite hunting lodge after he’d returned from exile in France. Nell Gwyn was in attendance. 
The manor became a country house hotel in 1970 and decorative acorns and oak-leaved patterns can be seen around the building, commemorating the famous oak tree in Shropshire, where Charles hid from Cromwell’s men on his escape to France in 1651 after the Battle of Worcester.

The Royal Crescent
 The Royal Crescent

Moving forward in time to the Hanoverian royal family, George III’s second eldest son, Frederick Augustus (supposed to be the subject of The Grand Old Duke of York song), was one of the famous residents of what is now The Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath. The hotel occupies houses 15 and 16 of the famous Royal Crescent, which was built between 1767 and 1774, and each of the suites are named after famous residents such as Frederick, Jane Austen, Beau Nash and the fictional Scarlett Pimpernel.

The present-day Duke of York, Prince Andrew, numbers Middlethorpe Hall among his favourites. It’s a Pride of Britain hotel in York which, as a Historic House Hotel now donates all its profits to The National Trust, as does sister hotel, Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire, where Louis XVIII and his court lived for five years during the 23 years he was in exile from France, because of the French Revolution.

Hartwell House
 Hartwell House

Queen Victoria was a great traveller: her explorations around Scotland, from her base at Balmoral, took her and her entourage to several hotels. The Royal Hotel at Comrie in Perthshire, one of The Great Inns of Britain, set in the splendour of the southern Scottish Highlands, was given its royal title by the Queen after a stay there. In Wales, she bought the white manor house near Machynlleth which is now Ynyshir Hall, a Von Essen hotel. She refurbished the hall and established the beautiful gardens, and is supposed to have slept in what is now the four-poster Hogarth bedroom.

Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred, lived at Eastwell Manor in Kent for 20 years, now a Pride of Britain hotel. There is also a photograph showing Edward VII enjoying a house party there. His successor, Edward VIII, who famously abdicated less than a year into his reign to marry the American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, used to stay at Carlyon Bay, the Brend Hotel on the cliffs above St Austell in Cornwall – which also welcomed Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Egerton Grey Country House
 Egerton Grey Country House

Egerton Grey Country House Hotel, in a secluded valley in the Vale of Glamorgan, with views down to the sea, has welcomed Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall as guests. The Cornwalls have also opened their own holiday cottages on the Llwynywermod Estate, near Myddfai, Llandovery, in Wales.

Charles’ grandmother, Elizabeth The Queen Mother, used to visit her favourite uncle at Whitley Ridge, the house owned by the Bowes Lyon family in the New Forest and learned to ride in the stables. A special royal stop was established there for trains. The Queen Mother also favoured The Goring Hotel near Buckingham Palace in London.

After this whirl of royal touring, let’s pause for a break at Plas Dinas in Snowdonia, North Wales. This country house was the ancestral home of the Armstrong-Jones family and Lord Snowdon and HRH Princess Margaret once lived there. It’s set in 15 acres, with beautiful scenery and ten luxury bedrooms, and the house still contains many of the family’s antiques and memorabilia today.

Find out more

Balmoral Castle Holiday Cottages (5-star): tel: (013397) 42534;
English Heritage Holiday Cottages (5-star): tel: 0870 333 1187;
Thornbury Castle (3-star), New Park Manor (3-star), Ynyshir Hall (3-star), and The Royal Crescent (5-star): all
Sudeley Castle Cottages (3&4-star): tel: (01242) 609481;
Landmark Trust: tel: (01628) 825925;
Old Hall Hotel in Buxton (3-star): tel: (01298) 22841;
The George of Stamford (3-star): tel: (01780) 750750;
Middlethorpe Hall (4-star), Hartwell House (4-star), Eastwell Manor (4-star), Whitley Ridge (3-star), The Goring (5-star): all
Royal Hotel, Comrie (3-star): tel: (01764) 679200;
Carlyon Bay (4-star): tel: (01726) 812304;
Egerton Grey Country House Hotel (4-star): (01446) 711666;
Plas Dinas Country House (4-star): tel: (01286) 830214;


  Cross Hands Hotel (3-star): Old Sodbury, Gloucestershire. Queen Elizabeth
enjoyed tea and scones here while waiting for the RAC
 after her car
had broken down in a blizzard. Tel: (01454) 313000;

Cawood Castle
Cawood Castle

•  Cawood Castle:North Yorkshire. A Landmark Trust holiday cottage in what was once the palace for the Archbishop of York, visited by Henry III, Edward I and Queen Margaret, Queen Isabella,
and Henry VIII and Queen Catherine (Howard).
•  The Swan at Alton (3-star): Hampshire.Legend has it that Sir Francis Drake, Queen
Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex all broke their journeys here at this

old coaching inn. Tel: (01420) 83777;

•  The Royal Glen Hotel (3-star): Sidmouth, East Devon. Formerly a house named Woolbrook Glen, this was the home of young Princess Victoria and her
parents lived here before she became Queen (Room 15 has a plaque with the inscription, “This room was occupied by her most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, 1819-1820.”
The Duke of Kent, Victoria’s father, 
died here in
1820. Closed for refurbishment until 1 March 2010. Tel: (01395) 513221;


The Victoria Hotel
 The Victoria Hotel

•  The Victoria Hotel (4-star): Sidmouth, East Devon. Built in 1903 in the five acres of landscaped grounds of the house occupied by the Kents and the little Princess Victoria. The hotel stands at the western end of the South Devon resort’s esplanade. Tel: (01395) 512651;