I travelled in August 2021 and stayed in the Catherine of Aragon Tower Suite, which starts from £569 bed and board. Other fabulous rooms start from £229.
Thornbury Castle Hotel
To stay at Thornbury Castle is to travel back in time, enjoying the pomp of Tudor elite with the pampering of modern-day high-end hospitality. The castle was built by Edward Stafford, the third Duke of Buckingham, in 1510 with a licence from the king, Henry VIII. In those days, all castles needed a licence so they could be used as defence from the king.
Stafford had grand designs – not only for the castle but to rival the king’s power, for which he was eventually tried and executed. Ever present, the Stafford knot, his emblem, can be seen throughout the castle as well as in the serene Knot Garden.
To give your visit historical context and enrich the experience, you can book a tour with historian and author of Thornbury Castle Revisited, Tony Cherry. Or book an activity such as longbow archery, axe throwing or falconry – or simply live like an aristocrat and absorb the surroundings.
Décor and vibe
The recent multi-million pound refurbishment of the hotel, which is now under new ownership, has been respectful of the heritage, with advice sought from historians. The attention to detail is immense, from matching Tudor rose motifs on the carpet, mirrored on the ceiling, to comfortable throne-like chairs. The rich trappings exude a voluptuous vibe with a sense of a story.
The imposing 1514 Cotswold stone fireplace, now in the hotel lounge, is the oldest part of the castle interior. The peripatetic duke would often take his furniture with him as he moved between his houses, though some original items remain.
For me, the most impressive part of the castle exterior is the intricate geometric oriel windows, which create a bay window inside the lounge, where private conversations – and perhaps some rebellious plotting – would have taken place.
The allure extends to the gardens where you’ll find straw skeps (beehives) hiding in alcoves in the Goodley Garden, reminding us how the king and his guests would have still had ample honey, mead and beeswax candles all those years ago.
Services and facilities
- Room service
Rooms (and suites)
One would think such a grand castle couldn’t be cosy, yet it is. Molton Brown toiletries, bath robes and slippers, filter coffee and complimentary 6 o’clock sloe gin make you feel at home immediately.
The grandeur of the suites is in inescapable. After climbing the winding staircase in the tower, I reached the top suite, in every sense – the Catherine of Aragon Tower suite houses the biggest four-poster bed in any UK hotel. The opulent 24-carat gilding, silk wall hangings and resplendent paintings contrasted against the bare stone castle walls are unforgettable.
From the bedroom, there are views over the castle grounds and beyond to Gloucestershire’s scenic countryside, while from the very large, beautifully tiled and equally stately bathroom you can see the adjacent Grade I-listed church of St Mary’s, built in 1340. Attention to detail shines through from the hand towels bearing the hotel emblem to the fleur de lis printed toilet paper.
With a few modern exceptions and enhancements, you can easily imagine little has changed since royalty and aristocracy stayed here in Tudor times; the imagination overflows with thoughts of former glories!
Food and drink
The culinary offerings created by executive chef Carl Cleghorn compliment the elaborate surroundings and it’s no surprise that Thornbury Castle Hotel & Restaurant is also a 2AA rosette restaurant.
After canapés in the gorgeous wood-panelled lounge (the cheese and fresh truffle puff was melt-worthy), and cocktails using herbs from the hotel kitchen garden, I opted for the tasting menu in the dining room sitting under a splendid chandelier.
Each course was a delight from the delicate Loch Duart salmon with cucumber, fennel, avocado and dill, to – my favourite – the beef fillet, braised short rib, roscoff, ratte potato and garden greens, not forgetting the lavish chocolate 72% Araguani, cherry, yogurt and almond dessert. We were still deliberating as to which was our favourite course as we climbed the twisted tower staircase to our regal room.
More information on the Thornbury Castle Hotel
For more information and bookings, visit the hotel website at thornburycastle.co.uk.