We all have our addictions. You know?...those guilty pleasures that offer up momentary escapes from reality? I've had many of them through the years – Nutella, foster dogs and "Making a Murderer", to name a few. My most notable and enduring addiction, however, has been the finding and exploration of historically rich buildings. A typical lazy Saturday for me entails scouring real estate sites like Christie's or Sotheby's gazing at elegant homes of architectural and historical grandeur.
So, last year when the opportunity to travel to the U.K. and Ireland for Christmas presented itself, I looked for one thing straight away – a castle to stay in! After all, what's a trip to Europe without a castle? Shortly after beginning my search I discovered there a few challenges when it comes to booking an Irish or British castle hotel:
availability is scarce during Christmas week, with many being booked up to a year in advance
if there is vacancy it's usually because the nightly rate is high, ranging anywhere from $300-$500 USD/night
they're rarely located within city limits (ruling out the use of cheap public transportation to get there = $$)
Not wanting to spend an arm and a leg or having the added burden of a rental car, my search filters eventually led me to Melville Castle, a three-story Gothic castellated mansion just 7.5 miles southeast of Edinburgh's city center. Melville isn't a true "fortress", but rather a mansion made to look like a castle. The land it sits on is the former hunting seat of Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Victoria herself stayed at the castle in the mid 1800's.
At a reasonable $130 USD/night it's just enough "castle" for the average tourist on a budget. Here is a synopsis of my one-night stay at Melville Castle:
What I Loved Most
The staff were beyond accommodating. A few hours ahead of check-in, they invited us to make ourselves at home. I set up camp in their Library Bar which included me scattering photography equipment across two tables along with piles of used tissues (I caught a head cold the day before in London). The staff didn't seem to mind and smiled as they walked by. They even gave us kettles of afternoon tea free of charge (normally £15.95).
The hotel inspired imagination. Stepping into the building, we were greeted by a large, stone floor foyer, a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, classic Christmas music and a warm, crackling fireplace. The massive ceilings, doorways and windows throughout the castle were-breathtaking. From the center staircase to the life-size paintings and mirrors at every turn, everything felt larger than life. It was easy to daydream about what it may have been like to be nobility living in the castle back when it was a stately family home. Melville offers modern amenities like wireless internet and cable TV, but the castle beckoned us to experience more – the "less is more" kind of more. We spent much of the evening together reading books, playing board games, and drinking tea in front of a warm hearth.
The food was dee-lish-us! Melville Castle did not disappoint with their cuisine which was a relief since there was no other place within walking distance to get food at. Every meal was cooked from scratch. For lunch we ate at their on-site restaurant, The Brasserie – the best fish n' chips I've ever had (the fish was so fresh)! For dinner we had a three course meal in the ballroom with a few other families. Every course was michelin-star-exceptional. The inclusive breakfast buffet the next morning also did not disappoint with several healthy and equally tasty foods to choose from.
What I REALLY Loved Most
Free run of the castle for one night. Nothing says "home" more than having free run of a place, right? It just so happened that the night we stayed at Melville (December 23rd) was also the night that the night porter was scheduled off which meant that there was no one on site to supervise the castle or the guests. While others my be turned off to this bit of information, I have to admit I truly felt like a kid on Christmas Day! I had no real desire to walk around in my pj's or to rummage through the chef's fridge, but the mere fact that I could if I wanted to as well as explore around a bit was thrilling. That is, until I found out about the ghost stories.
Yes, the ghost stories. After booking my room at the castle, the first thing I did was Google for any paranormal stories about Melville Castle. Nothing turned up. I was a little disappointed to say the least (all castles should come with ghost stories!), but within a few hours at Melville it became apparent to me that it had a story or two to tell. So when the opportunity finally came in the late evening hours of December 23rd, I asked the staffer assisting us if he knew of any weird happenings around the place. He hesitated at first and then this was his reply:
He had me reeled in eating up every word until the Mary, Queen of Scots part. It just seemed too easy of a fabrication given that she's mentioned in the history on the hotel's website and she was only on the land for hunting (years before construction ever took place). But then I recalled the eerie feeling I had upon first walking into our room (room 107), the room that shared a wall with room 109. I also recalled the boarded up room in the basement from earlier in the day which I stumbled upon while trying to find someone to seat us. This boarded up room had a 12"x12" dumbwaiter-like door which I opened it up hoping to see staff on the other side, but there were only old chairs stacked in it. It was beyond creepy. So creepy I closed the door lightning fast and ran straight back to my younger sister waiting in the dining area.
Maybe this guy wasn't pulling my leg. Maybe the story of Mary, Queen of Scots is plausible. I didn't dare find out and I didn't roam the castle that night as I had originally intended. Although I love a good ghost story, I don't enjoy seeing apparitions first hand. So, I spent the remainder of the night in our hotel room (next to my snoring sister) wide awake with the bathroom light on...my gaze fixed on the wall we shared with room 109.
Melville Castle delivered in every way possible. The hotel was clean and well-kept, the food was outstanding, and the staff went out of their way to make our stay every bit as regal as the estate itself. We felt right at home which was important to us being thousands of miles away from our family during Christmas season. Despite being far from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh, Melville had plenty of fun activities to keep us occupied rain or shine, many of which we were unable to try out due to our short time there – activities like horseback riding, archery and falconry to name a few. An award winning hotel, Melville is the perfect amalgamation of history, location, price, and comfort and I can promise you that it will not disappoint. After all, if a queen from beyond the grave can't keep away, I must be good.