One of the wonderful things about a break in a historic property is immersing yourself in the stories of the past. Many of the hotels based in castles that we feature on Chic Retreats have histories reaching back centuries, full of love, loss and betrayal. To help bring these special places to life, we have put together a list of our favourite reads that take place in and around castles. So, kick off your shoes, relax on your four-poster bed and slip back into another age…
Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett
While the centrepiece of Follett’s epic novel is the mythical Kingsbridge Cathedral, rather than a castle, there’s enough here for those who enjoy talk of storming the battlements. Set during the Anarchy, the novel follows a diverse cast of characters over fifty years as the new cathedral is built. While there is much description of the soaring new edifice, the all-too-human dramas of love and betrayal well and truly takes centre stage. While the book was turned into a successful mini-series a few years ago, we think the book does a much better job of immersing us in this strange bygone world.
When Christ And His Angels Slept – Sharon Kay Penman
Like ‘Pillars of the Earth’, Penman’s novel takes place during the Anarchy. However, rather than follow figures on the fringes of epic events, this novel places us in the presence of King Stephen and the Empress Maude as they battle for supremacy over England. Interwoven themes of power, lust and destiny drive the action in this 1985 novel that has enjoyed popularity for over 30 years. Oh, and yes, plenty of castles.
The Brother Cadfael Series – Ellis Peters
During the course of her life Ellis Peters, the pen name of Edith Pargeter, wrote twenty novels featuring the medieval monastic sleuth, Brother Cadfael. A former crusader and sailor, Cadfael now turns his keen mind to murders most foul occurring near his beloved Shrewsbury Abbey. Quick, exciting reads, the Cadfael series combines the best of whodunnits with swashbuckling adventure. Highly recommended.
The Outlander Series – Diana Gabaldon
We’re all familIar with the excellent TV series, but have you read the novels that they are based upon? Highly researched and a lot more cerebral than your average bodice-ripper, these novels introduce a WW2 nurse to the Scottish Highlands of the Jacobite rebellion. There are lots of smouldering glances, devious villains and imposing Scottish towers, brought into sharp focus by Gabaldon’s masterful prose. Start today and you might be caught up for next season.
The House of Medici: Its Rise & Fall – Christopher Hibbert
Yes, this may be work of non-fiction, but it masterfully tells the dramatic story of this most famous family of the Renaissance. From relatively humble beginnings as bankers Hibbert’s text charts every twist and turn as they rose to become the ruling family of Florence. Truth is often stranger and fiction and Hibbert has an easy, accessible way of explaining some very intricate webs of relationships and power exchanges. Just the book to pack in your suitcase on a trip to Tuscany.