THORNBURY, U.K., October 1, 2014 – Thornbury Castle is a stunning 500 year old Tudor masterwork that boggles the mind with its historical resonance, architectural beauty, and sanctified presence as a living relic of its glorious past.
It is the only Tudor castle reincarnated as a hotel, and staying there is a mixture of grand English style, exceptional fine dining, and delicious respect for both its history and its transformation into a distinctive 5 star retreat for the senses.
Located on the edge of the Cotswold’s just outside the city of Bristol in the tiny village from which it takes its name, Thornbury Castle is a uniquely treasured destination resort that will delight with its amenities even as it indulges its historical presence.
Built between 1511 and 1521 by the Duke of Buckingham, Edward Stafford, it was presumed by King Henry VIII to be a centerpiece of Edward’s alternative claim to the throne of England. Henry had Stafford arrested for treason, took his lands and property for the crown, and had him beheaded.
Fourteen years later Henry and his new bride, Anne Boleyn, spent 10 days of their extended honeymoon tour here, indelibly stamping their names on its historical palate.
Somewhere soon afterwards, of course, things went south for the couple.
Transformed into a hotel in the 1970s Thornbury Castle remains one of England’s most exclusive and delightful destinations. Twenty-six richly appointed rooms, most with luxurious four poster beds, are each designed with individual style and grandeur.
Ranging from the very bedroom that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn shared in the tower turret to the chamber suite that was Brooke Shields favorite in the 1980’s, every room is distinguished with its own unique aura and conceptual feel.
Many of the rooms still have the original exposed stone façade and cross shaped windows, while rich wallpaper and beamed ceilings adorn the others.
The bridal suite in particular feels like something swept from the pages of a romance novel, with sumptuous furnishings and a gorgeous set of windows overlooking the gardens below.
The grounds are simply magnificent, a combination of castle ruin facades and elegantly restored architectural statement. Vast lawns and an enclosed garden surrounded by castle walls lend an otherworldly air to what can only be called a dreamscape of England’s past melded with a luxurious present.
The great rooms of the main house are stunning, with 20 foot ceilings in the living room and library and leaded windows fit for a cathedral. Outside the walls the ancient steeple of St. Mary’s Anglican Church tower over the grounds, enhancing an already overwhelming visual landscape.
Dinner is a grand affair, with drinks and amuse-bouche appetizers in the living room and library, before being escorted to the dining room on the ground floor of the seven walled tower turret. The sense of elegance and class combine with burgundy wallpaper and the ever present ghosts of history to transform dinner into an evening of exceptional cuisine and unforgettable memories.
Chef Mark Veale has gone a long way to return the restaurant to the grandeur it held in the 1970’s when original Chef Kenneth Bell was the first chef outside of France to be awarded a Michelin star.
Local ingredients are emphasized, such as succulent grouse and lamb from nearby farms, and a full and imaginative vegetarian menu is also available for the tastes of a changing time.
Scallops with pork belly and gnocchi is succulently brilliant, and both the fresh hake and the sea bream are lovingly textured delightful presentations of whitefish.
A Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste 1998 Pauillac Bordeaux is a perfect complement to a wonderful meal, thanks to the expertise of Sommelier Jerome Pidoux.
For special occasions, guests can have dinner in the ancient wine cellar itself, and a fabulous upstairs private dining chamber with thick wooden beamed ceilings is also available for large dinner parties and private events.
Walking the grounds of Thornbury Castle in the glow of the early morning it is easy to feel the essence of an historical time long since past, yet here to behold before your eyes. The power and the glory of Tudor England, the England we all think of when we think of English Kings and Queens, of Elizabeth I and Henry VII, is all around.
The front façade is exactly the same as what Henry VIII must have seen as his carriage drew close to the thick stone walls. The view from his room onto the open courtyard below is identical. The glories of England’s past come alive in the midst of a luxurious present in settings that are as magnificent as the Thornbury Castle experience itself.
Rooms start at around $300 per night and luxury suites can be had for around $600 per night. The deluxe double room that was the honeymoon suite for Henry VIII starts at about $500 a night, and the exceptionally grand Tower Suite at the top of the castle turret is available for around $750 a night.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds @BigAlPeoplesPal