A jet-set lifestyle doesn’t have to be all private planes and decadent digs. In our Jet-Set Bohemian series, we blend the best of high and low for just the right balance … enticing everyone from backpackers to luxury boutique hotel lovers to come along for the ride.
sommelier cracked open a new bottle of Amour de Deutz Champagne, delicately pouring it into our glasses, the sun started dipping into the horizon. Crowds gather on the terrace here at Château Eza, perched 1,300 feet above the Mediterranean Sea, for more than just apéro—although they do this French ritual of pre-dinner drinks and light bites quite well. Here, the main attraction is the sunset from the 9th century village of Eze, with views sweeping across the French coastline from the Millionaire’s Peninsula of Cap Ferrat across to Villefranche.
As I toasted with my friend visiting from Australia, she went into full tourist mode taking photos from every angle, already planning on bringing her boyfriend here for cocktails on their next trip. “You know, you can also spend the night here,” I mentioned, motioning up to the balconies overhead. The 400-year-old prince’s residence is built into the village’s ancient walls with just 14 rooms, each more charming that the next, with features from fireplaces to Jacuzzi tubs surrounded by stone walls with the only light coming from candle sticks. Home to the Prince of Sweden in the mid-20th century when fled court to pursue writing, the castle was purchased and converted into a romantic little hideaway in the 90s with Michelin-starred cuisine and some of the best views of the Mediterranean.
Castles aren’t reserved just for the society set these days. Sleep like royalty in a castle-turned-boutique hotel like Château Eza, or go for a holiday rental in the English Countryside staying at the real life Highclere Castle, the manor home from Downtown Abbey, which unsurprisingly books up fast.
Photo courtesy of Chateau Eza
The London Lodge and backdrop for the PBS British drama series with its manicured grounds and regal drawing rooms is now offering more than tourist-filled tours of the castle. While the site has housed buildings since 749 AD, each has held a completely different form, from a medieval palace in the 12th century to a red brick Tudor house. In 1793, the first Earl of Carnarvon built the present-day castle, adding lodges to the landscape around 1840.
The lodges flanking each side of the castle have been the focus of the current earl and his wife (who still live here part-time) over the past two years, as they’ve restored these country chic cottages for two to original form. Traditional lime plaster lines the walls with replicas of oak wooden shutters shielding large windows throughout the lodge. A Chesney’s wood burner serves as a focal point in the elegantly simple sitting room that seems just as place here as the Dowager Countess of Grantham would.
Ashford Castle in Western Ireland, meanwhile, has held the same name since it was established in 1228 by the Anglo-Norman de Burgo family when they defeated the O’Connors of Connaught. This castle was the main stronghold for the family for over three and a half centuries, transforming into the estate you see now when the Browne family took over, adding a French-style château.
In the early 1900s, the castle took on the role of first-class hotel, even hosting the likes of director John Ford, who used the property as a backdrop for his film “The Quiet Man.” Three years ago, Ashford underwent a $75 million renovation adding a few modern-day amenities like a 32-seat cinema and billiards room, in addition to the lakeside Hideaway Cottage, formerly an old boat shed in the château’s gardens.
Set on 350 acres along the shores of Lough Corrib, this five-star hotel has everything you need to live like past and present-day royalty, from carriage rides along woodland paths to clay shooting, archery and even falconry at Ireland’s oldest established Falconry School.
While the sprawling estate is stunning enough with its secret pathways through the gardens and woods—in addition to Rapunzel-esque towers—the castle itself is quite a draw. Suites are named after US presidents and senators who stayed there, outfitted in original fireplaces and specially sourced antiques like George III-style four poster-beds. As if the Old World ambiance couldn’t get any more elegant, wait until you step inside the Waterford crystal chandelier-strewn George V Dining Room, built in 1905 in honor of Prince of Wales’ visit to the castle.
If you want to get a gang together, you can snag an entire castle for your group thanks to Airbnb (if only those counts and countesses knew what would become of their castle!). Sure, some go for thousands a night, but others, like the 12th century Dairsie Castle near St. Andrews, Scotland (an hour’s drive from Edinburgh), is just $629 and sleeps up to 13 in its six bedrooms. Throughout the years, this castle has played multiple roles in Scotland’s history, from housing secret parliaments to acting as a safe haven for monarchs on the run. After falling into disrepair as most of these medieval beauties do, it was bought and restored to its original form in 1992—watch tower included.
Part of the fun with rentals like these is getting the chance to explore such an estate. First decision: where to sleep. And options range from the ground floor dungeon to rooms in the tower or gallery, perched above a spiral staircase. Of course then comes the dining situation, and this one is classic castle style, with the Great Hall seating 12 around a stately dining table sitting right next to the fireplace.
Lane Nieset is Paste’s Jet-Set Bohemian columnist and a freelance writer covering all things travel from her home base in Nice, France.