When did you last stay in an English castle? The only Tudor one that’s a luxury hotel? Thornbury Castle Hotel is truly steeped in British history. It dates back to the 16th century when Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stayed (in 1535) and the king’s 9-year-old Queen Mary ten years later. Indeed King Henry then appropriated the castle from the owner Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who rivalled the king’s wealth and status and who was found guilty of treason, a pretext for his royal blood being a threat to the Tudor dynasty.

Lounge, Thornbury Castle Hotel

The castle is now family-owned and became an independent hotel in the 1980s and is part of the reliably classy Relais and Chateaux brand.

It’s 2 hours from London, 12 miles north of Bristol, and has Wales virtually in sight across the Severn Bridge. Not far away is the city of Bath, famous for its Roman and Georgian connections. As well as Sudeley Castle and Berkeley Castle nearby there’s also Wells Cathedral and Glastonbury Abbey. And all around are the Cotswolds with their hills and farming landscapes, their limestone villages and urban markets.

Built more to impress than to be defended, many of the original buildings remain the tower, the north and the south wings. There are arrow slits and crenellations, intricate oriel mullioned windows, and precarious-looking 1514 brick chimneys. The tower was where the Duke had his bedchamber and his Monument Rooms to keep his documents. There’s a gatehouse with grooves for a portcullis leading to a courtyard with a calming fountain center-stage, beautifully lit at night with dreamy arches that offer lovely contrasting approaches.

Chandlier, Thornbury Castle Hotel

Within the hotel, there’s plenty of historical theatre and Tudor opulence. For beneath the painted coffered ceilings of the double-height drawing room were oak paneled walls hanging portraits of King Henry 8th and Anne Boleyn as well as heavy drapes, swaggers, and pelmets. All the public rooms had impressive chandeliers and there was a Chancellor’s Lounge and a well-stocked library in which sat a shining suit of medieval armor. There are brocaded chairs, porcelain vases, and everywhere the insignia of coats of arms. I loved the reassuring stacks of firewood beside a large, open, roaring fire in the hearth, the very heart of the castle. A perfect setting for Afternoon Tea as tiers of food were brought out divided between neatly cut sandwiches, cakes, and scones and an exquisite, exotic tea-timer.

Catherine of Aragon bedroomm, Thornbury Castle Hotel
Catherine of Aragon’s bedroom

Each of the 26 rooms, or bedchambers if you prefer, starting from $400 per night, are designed differently and named after key figures from Tudor history. Heavy wooden doors open onto an eclectic wonder. So theatrical and offers a real impact. A rich and luxurious interior of palatial proportions. Indeed the ‘Catherine of Aragon Tower Suite’ boasts the largest bed (10 feet wide) in a British hotel. The exposed stone walls and wooden paneling have lit up historic portraits and tapestries. Artifacts and antiques complement the Tudor Classic décor. There are thick opulent carpets, deep comfy wool-covered tartan chairs, and velvet armchairs with trimmed cushions. Around my majestic four-poster bed was a stone-carved fireplace and drapes full of romance and history. My modern bathroom had a walk-in rainforest shower and Molten Brown products.

food, Thornbury Castle Hotel Dessert, Thornbury Castle Hotel

Old paving stones lead me along the hallway to the three rooms that constitute the dining room. Here beneath an octagonal roof, I experienced a gourmet’s paradise. From the A La Carte Menu, I chose a Confit Chalk Stream Trout with crab, pink grapefruit, and coriander followed by a pan-roasted filler halibut with wonderfully fleshy mussels and was paired with a brilliant light-yellow glass of Baron de L Pouilly-Fumé of De Ladoucette wine. It came with some lovingly tended vegetables sourced from both the kitchen garden and herb garden which were first cultivated centuries ago.

Gardens, Thornbury Castle Hotel

The lack of a spa, pool, or gym is more than made up for by the regal pursuits on offer such as falconry and archery as well as axe throwing in the grounds. I chose the timeless charm of sitting in the divine walled gardens. For within the hotel’s 15 acres of land lie circular rows of purple tulips “meandering in mazy motion” in sight of the town’s church. It’s where the helicopters land to deliver VIP guests. There’s even a Goodly Garden where ladies once would go to gossip amongst the clipped topiary of the fir trees with wicker beehives tucked within their niches. Beside a tulip tree rooks gathered at night, disrupting, in an enjoyable way, my utter tranquillity. Countryside in a historic setting. How regal.