If you love history, the royal family, or have been re-watching The Tudors lately on Netflix, you’re going to really love Thornbury Castle Hotel and Restaurant. Until now, I’ve not had the privilege of staying in a castle, but I’ve always wanted to; I mean, who hasn’t? But, I didn’t think the first castle I stayed at would once have been owned by King Henry VIII. Thornbury Castle Hotel has a long and storied past, one that involves the royal we all love to hate.
Located just 25 minutes outside of Bristol, England, and just under an hour from the historic city of Bath, Thornbury Castle is a true sight to see. It is convenient located on the edge of the Cotswolds, and perfect for visitors who want to experience the city, but stay in a remarkable hotel that far exceeds expectations.
The meticulously landscaped grounds and the view of the extraordinary St. Mary’s Church just a few yards away make it feel more like you’re in an elaborate movie set, rather than at a hotel. In fact, it is the only Tudor castle to operate as a hotel in England.
About the Hotel
About the Hotel
The castle was built by Edward Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham, in the early 1500s, but was confiscated by King Henry VIII after he accused Stafford – his cousin – of treason, and ordered him beheaded. King Henry later spent a portion of his honeymoon there with Anne Boleyn. Of course, it doesn’t look now as it would have then. The decor is much warmer, and modern features and amenities have been introduced, but you can still imagine it as it might have been.
If historical significance was all Thornbury Castle Hotel had going for it, it would have been more than worth it, but the experience far exceeds the historical value.
Each of the 26 rooms are uniquely decorated, and each combines historical and modern details, like luxurious bedding and comfortable seating. In the room where we stayed, uniquely scalloped windows, that replicate the ones originally chosen by Stafford, opened up to a spectacular view of St. Mary’s Church. The enormous four-poster bed was dressed with velvet linens and mounds of pillows. The bathroom even had tissue with royal crests on it. There was no detail left unattended to.
Our room had a large table with seating, a vanity area, and an antique wooden wardrobe. A decanter filled with complimentary sherry was a welcomed extra touch. Unlike many typical hotel rooms, this one felt warm and inviting.
For a special treat, you can choose to stay in the Duke’s bedchamber, where King Henry and Anne Boleyn slept while visiting the castle. Or choose the grand Tower Suite, which can only be reached by a 77-step spiral staircase. No matter which room you pick, you’ll be wowed by the etched ceilings, enormous four-poster beds and attention to detail. Renovation has been taking place at the castle to restore and upgrade the property, so more rooms may be available.
About the Restaurant
About the Restaurant
The restaurant at Thornbury Castle is run by head chef Stuart Shaw, who has been working in top restaurants throughout England for many years. His expertise and passion shines through in every dish served in the restaurant’s various dining rooms, and continuing the tradition of stellar food and atmosphere that has been carried out at Thornbury since the 1960s.
Pro Tip: Book the Dinner, Bed and Breakfast rate for the best experience and savings. The package includes a 3-course a la carte dinner, along with a lavish breakfast in the morning.
We arrived at the drawing room prior to dinner and were immediately greeted and led to a cozy spot by the fireplace for a pre-dinner cocktail. Looking around the room, we realized just how unique the experience was; almost like we had been transported back in time. Yet, somehow it felt so normal, like sitting in a centuries-old castle drawing room with oil paintings of notorious kings hanging above your head was something we did everyday. We enjoyed our drinks by the fireplace, surrounded by the conversations of our fellow diners, and loved every minute of it.
Just before our dinner reservation time, we were given a menu, along with a few canapes to nibble on before dinner. It was very nice not to have to peer over menus at our table in a dimly lit restaurant. Once we ordered, we were moved to the restaurant.
Lucky for us, we were again seated by the atmospheric fire that lit the room with a warm glow. I’d feared that the dining room might be too formal and feel stuffy, but it was just as a castle dining room should be, with a large, ornate chandelier overhead and heavy metal sconces on the walls. There was even a sword or two hanging on the walls.
When the first dish of our tasting menu was delivered to the table, we could see that care was taken to ensure quality. As expected, the food was artfully prepared and displayed, but it didn’t feel pretentious. For a starter, I had a fois gras torchon with rhubarb, golden beetroot, Sauternes jelly, and toasted brioche. Nick had seared scallops with black pudding, apple and cider dressing and pickled shallots. Both were light and playful dishes that stoked our excitement for the next dish.
For a main dish, I had guinea fowl with a sweet potato puree, braised red cabbage and a Madeira jus. There was a nice sear on the skin, and the sauce was a flavorful accompaniment for the vegetables. Nick had pork belly and braised pork cheek, with carrot and cardamom puree, spiced lentils and a five-spice jus. The pork cheek melted in my mouth. I could have eaten his whole meal AND mine.
About the Breakfast
About the Breakfast
The usual rate at Thornbury Castle Hotel includes bed and breakfast, and you definitely don’t want to miss this breakfast. They serve a full English breakfast, made-to-order, in the dining rooms. You can choose where to sit, and then make your way to the well-stocked buffet table, full of many favorites like croissants, meats, cheeses, yogurt and fruits. You can also order from the full menu.
I ordered the English breakfast, and Nick ordered scrambled eggs on toast with smoked salmon. We’d order these same dishes at Lucknam Park Hotel earlier in the week, so we were able to do a little comparison. I was really impressed with the English breakfast at Thornbury. Each of the components were cooked perfectly. The mushrooms and grilled tomato being my favorite parts.
The presentation of Nick’s egg dish was quite impressive. The eggs were wrapped inside the smoked salmon and placed atop a piece or crispy rye bread.
Sadly, we were only at Thornbury Castle for one night, which was just not long enough to full enjoy the amenities and get a true feel for the house. I would have loved to stay for a whole week to explore the grounds and explore all the nooks of the castle. For the time we were there, though, we had a fantastic time. Everyone was extremely helpful and welcoming. The room was very comfortable. We felt a little like royalty ourselves while staying there. The only thing that could have made it better is more time.
Check out the other remarkable hotels we stayed out in the south west of England.
⇒ If you’re thinking about staying at Thornbury Castle, click here to read reviews and check current prices
(As always, all thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own honest reflection on our travel experiences).
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Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.