Great British Escapes’ review of Thornbury Castle, Gloucestershire
However hard modern hotels work, they are never going to be able to offer the atmosphere and intrigue of an historic property that has seen the world change over hundreds of years. Thornbury Castle is one of those places: it has an ingrained charm which can only be produced by centuries of history.
Building work on the site began back in 1511 as a home for Edward Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham. The castle was almost finished by 1521, when the Duke’s distant cousin, Henry VIII, accused him of treason. In a sad turn of events for the Duke, the King, as was his prerogative, had the Duke beheaded and confiscated his castle. Obviously we weren’t the only ones to be keen to spend a night at Thornbury!
A few years after Henry VIII took the castle from the Duke of Buckingham, he enjoyed a ten-day retreat at Thornbury Castle as part of a honeymoon tour with his new bride, Anne Boleyn (and it is possible to stay in the very room they slept in!). The castle has a few other ‘celebrity’ claims to fame. Much more recently, in the 1970s, Thornbury’s restaurant had a Michelin starred reputation (and is still excellent – more on that below) and it hosted a number of international stars, including Sophia Loren and Laurence Olivier.
So, historic pedigree in abundance, does this Tudor castle hotel manage to live up to its illustrious reputation and combine its historic credentials with the sort of luxury people look for in a hotel today? In short, yes.
The entrance driveway, while not overly grand in itself, sweeps up to the castle and straight through the arched gatehouse into the main castle courtyard. The modern world melts away and it feels like you’re suddenly part of a period drama. As you would expect, décor is traditional and the entrance and corridors are full of suits of armour, oil paintings and heraldic images and crests, which comes across as perfectly in keeping, rather than trying to create a cheesy castle experience.
Once you’ve had chance to take in your surroundings and the obliging staff have checked you in, it’s away to explore your bedchamber for the night. All the rooms are unique and are fitting for the castle setting. It definitely feels like you are staying in the castle, rather than a modern interpretation of what a castle should look like. We stayed in ‘Bedford’ which is reached via a spiral staircase and though two huge wooden doors. The room was massive with a four poster bed and stunning fireplace. Ornate plasterwork ceilings and rich tapestries complete the scene. Spa treatments can even be arranged in your room if you are looking for some extra indulgence.
If you can tear yourself out from in front of the fire with a glass of complimentary sherry, there’s plenty to explore outside. The traditional Tudor gardens are laid out as they have been for centuries and the produce from the kitchen garden makes the short journey to the kitchen. Inside, the grand drawing room with its huge original Tudor fireplace and comfy armchairs is the perfect place for whiling away the afternoon over tea. The surrounding area gives way to unspoilt countryside and flows into the lovely rolling hills of the Cotswolds. Immediately outside the castle is the pretty high street of Thornbury village where you can follow the area’s Heritage trail.
Come the evening, dine in the octagonal Tower Dining Room. The head chef, Mark Veale, trained under Gordon Ramsay and is right on trend with his use of fresh season local produce (much of it out of the kitchen garden). The food both tastes and looks immaculate. The dining room is quite a formal setting but the staff are attentive without being overly fussy and, as with the rest of the hotel, the setting is beautifully atmospheric. To top it off, you can buy a bottle of the house wine made with the grapes from the on-site vineyard (they’ve been producing white wine here for 500 years!).
Staying in a castle is a dream for a lot of people and, at Thornbury Castle, they have managed to avoid the temptation to modernise every element, allowing guests both a luxurious stay and to feel like they have really stepped back in time!
Please do get in touch if you would like any help planning your UK self-drive holiday and let us know if you want to fit a night at Thornbury Castle into your trip!