Great Stays: Sleeping with the Royals
Dripping with royal trappings and a trove of history, there’s a surprising amount of regal accommodation experiences to be found in Britain. Best of all, they don’t have to break the bank. Plenty of hotels pledge to make you feel like royalty with their five-star frills. But the fact remains that not even the fanciest of facials or triple digit cotton thread count can substitute for bedding down in a real-deal royal residence, like the grand grounds of Balmoral, Queen Elizabeth II’s Scottish castle. So not why just go stay there instead? Whether you’re a royalist, a history hound, or just looking for a flavour of aristocratic life, here’s a handful of royal residences that any commoner can stay in, even if just for the night. It’s kind of like the royal version of Air B’nB.
High up in Sutherland, Scotland, the most northerly castle on the British mainland is the 16th-century Castle of Mey. This old pile’s blood-stained history was given a new lease on life when the Queen Mother bought the castle after the death of her husband, King George VI. After a tip to toe restoration to the building and its expansive 12-hectare of grounds, which took her fifty years to complete, she spent several weeks here every August and October until her death. The castle became the first royal residence opened up to paying guests, who can now stay at the Captain’s House cottage, which was the late Queen Mother’s favourite spot for an indoor picnic. As you do. It includes a 20-foot conservatory which overlooks an enclosed garden and offers sweeping sea views.
Henry VIII may well have been the Hugh Hefner of the Tudor period, with Hampton Court Palace being the 16th century equivalent of the Playboy Mansion. A pleasure palace that set the stage for seriously debauched parties. Situated on the banks of the Thames just south-west of London, the infamous king’s pad which also boasts pleasure gardens, a tennis court and even a bowling alley, is available for stays. Get your own taste of royal grandeur by renting the on-site Georgian House apartment, which comes complete with private walled garden and views over the surrounding palace rooftops.
Just off the mainland, the Isle of Wight makes for a magnificent island escape. It’s also home to Osbourne House which was beloved by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as a family holiday home. The formal entrance to Osborne House, Sovereign’s Gate, has welcomed an A to Z of European aristocracy, from Napoleon and Tsar Nicholas II. It was also where Victoria made her final departure in 1901, passing away in her favourite seaside retreat. Nowadays, the grand entrance is only used by the royal family, but two holiday apartments – each sleeping four – developed inside Osbourne House are available for rent to the public.
Synonymous with Christmas royal-style, Sandringham in Norfolk was purchased by Queen Victoria as a marital home for her son, Edward VII. Sandringham remains a firm favourite with the royal family. Since the present Queen spent her first Christmas in the property as an eight-month-old, the entire Windsor tribe converge on their Norfolk bolthole every December. But when HRH isn’t in residence, cottages that house her travelling staff on the 8000-hectare estate, are available to let. So if that invitation to Christmas lunch never seems to arrive in the mail, this is the next best thing. What was formerly the head gardener’s house is available to rent year-round. Called the Garden House, it overlooks the ornamental garden that adjoins the main building.
It is well appointed with a fully fitted kitchen, three twin rooms, one double room, two bathrooms, drawing room, sitting room and dining room, as well as the kitchen and cloakroom. More like a mansion than a cottage, it is fully furnished, providing bed linen, towels and tea towels, as well as a washing machine and microwave. Also on the estate, Park House, which was the childhood home of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. In 1983, The Queen transformed it into a hotel for disabled people and their companions. Specifically designed and equipped to meet their needs, Park House Hotel enables disabled guests and their companions to enjoy a relaxing and revitalising holiday together.
The grandest of them all? Balmoral Castle. The royal family’s hideaway in the Scottish Highlands is one of the Queen’s favourite residences. Flanked by more than 20,000 hectares of forests, lochs and glens; it is the summer home for HRH and her family. Mere mortals can follow in their footsteps by renting one of the six holiday cottages on the royal grounds. Available when the family aren’t in residence, they can be rented on a weekly basis. Like the cottages in Sandringham, they serve as staff quarters when HRH is in residence. Colt Cottage and Rhebreck Lodge, both located on Balmoral’s grounds, are the most popular. All of the properties come with the option to arrange the services of a local chef or home-cooked meals. Each property provides accommodation for up to five people and can be rented for roughly NZ$1000 a week.
Finally, when it comes to being “neighbours” with HM herself, London’s The Rubens at the Palace enjoys that unique distinction. Overlooking the rear of Buckingham Palace, the century-old hotel has long been the glorified accommodation wing for palace guests. From the windows you can watch the guardsmen in the Royal Mews, see the rollers being cleaned and the Queen’s horses in their stables. You can even hear the Queen’s piper perform his morning palace ritual. The aptly named Palace Lounge stages one of London’s most beloved afternoon teas, brimming with royalty-associated foodie fare. From coronation chicken sandwiches (purposefully conceived for the silver jubilee of George V), to the Queen’s feted “jam pennies” and bite-sized portions of William and Harry’s favourite chocolate sweet treat – every bite brims with a story. To stay at any of the above properties, just google search the property’s name and book yourself in!