1. SKIBO CASTLE, Dornoch, Scotland
Approximately $1,800-$2,000 per night for nonmembers
Skibo, once the "ancestral" castle of millionaire Andrew Carnegie (while Carnegie was born in Scotland, his roots are squarely working-class), has been immortalized of late as "the place where Madonna got married." To make it even gayer, the Gaelic name for this 13th-century Scottish Highlands fortress is Schytherbolle, which translates roughly as "fairyland."
Rub elbows with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas at this members-only club -- nonmembers may be granted a single stay, at the rack rate, to decide whether to join -- or watch the unofficial king of Scotland, Sean Connery, play a round of golf. Odd club rules include a nightly mandatory toast to Andy Carnegie and a daily falcon flight in the great hall (watch your hairdo). Palatial rooms include working fireplaces and giant claw-foot bathtubs.
2. BOVEY CASTLE, Devon, England
Approximately $350-$2,500 per night
Peter De Savary, responsible for developing Skibo as an elite members-only hotel, sold his original property and clicked the "refresh" button in Devon, site of the original Sherlock Holmes film The Hound of the Baskervilles. In late 2006, De Savary sold the Devon property too, but not before establishing it as another must-stay castle hotel. Bovey Castle, built in 1906, is a gray stone Edwardian mansion with palatial rooms. Sporting one of the best golf courses in the area, amid miles of beautifully landscaped property, Bovey attracts a well heeled clientele nostalgic for the days of the country-house weekend.
Ask anyone in Ireland to name the best castle hotel -- in a country with as many castles as shamrocks -- and they'll cite Ashford without hesitation. The 700-year-old estate, opened to guests in 1939, is one of the oldest castle hotels in the world. A room with a view? Ashford defines it, perched as it is on the shores of Loch Corrib, Ireland's second-largest lake. It even has a Hollywood pedigree: When John Ford shot the quintessential Irish-Hollywood film The Quiet Man, one of John Wayne's most revered, in the surrounding countryside, the hotel served as mission control for many in the cast and crew.
4. CASTELO DE PALMELA Palmela, Portugal
From approximately $190 per night
This 500-year-old hilltop castle and ex-convent near Lisbon is a treasure trove of architectural styles, layered atop one another like a cake. The complex includes its own chapel and archeological museum and wine, cheese, and handicraft shops. The posada, or “inn,” also highlights the bounties of the traditional Portuguese table, with dishes like egg pudding or sole in beer marinade—coupled with excellent local wines.
Whet your appetite for the glory days of the French monarchy at the Chateau d'Esclimont. Set amid 150 acres of manicured gardens and reflecting pools, the estate, once home to the Rochefoucauld family, is a royally romantic stop just an hour's drive from Paris. In addition to rooms rich with bed curtains and Louis Quinze chairs, the chateau offers delights fit for a queen including a heated outdoor swimming pool, two tennis courts, and a wine cellar stocked with the best vintages in France.
6. HOTEL PODEWILS Krag, Poland
Approximately $75-$120 per night
The largest 15th-century knight's castle in Pomerania and Poland's only castle built over water, the "Castle of Flowers" is perched on oak piles like those supporting the canal buildings of Venice. Considered one of the most beautiful castles in Eastern Europe, the property has its own cinema and a fitness center offering traditional sauna and massage services. Legend has it that the estate's numbers of windows, doors, rooms, and towers are calendrically significant. Providing further mystery for ghost chasers, some claim that at night sympathetic guests can hear spooky minstrel music and the laughter of ghostly courtiers in the castle's mazelike corridors.
7. HOTEL SCHLOSS WOLFSBRUNNEN Hesse, Germany
Approximately $95-$240 per night
Long ago, according to local lore, a pack of wolves offered villagers their protection in exchange for being allowed to drink freely from the well now called wolfsbrunnen, or "wolf's fountain." One day a rogue villager killed the alpha wolf and the rest of the pack disappeared, leaving behind only the haunted cries of their leader's soul, which, it is said, can still be heard on moonlit nights. The old well sits in front of the Schloss Wolfsbrunnen, which was built at the turn of the 20th century in a neo-Renaissance style. Full of German gemutlichkeit, or "friendly coziness," the 60+ rooms include white wood paneling and modern amenities, with pool, sauna, and massage services offered on premises.
9. CASTILLO DE SANTA CATALINA Malaga, Spain
Approximately $200 per night
From its high interior arches to its outdoor fountain gardens, this 13th-century Arabian fortress has an Alhambra-esque appearance. Take in the views from the contemporary pastel-shaded rooms, or dive into the outdoor swimming pool. This parador, or "historic inn," offers local dishes like ajo blanco (cold garlic and almond soup), partridge, and pipirrana, a refreshing tomato and cucumber salad -- the perfect meal after sauntering in the warm Andalusian sun.
10. THE KALNOKY GUESTHOUSES Transylvania, Romania
From approximately $66 per night
After the fall of Communism in Romania, the 25th generation of the Kalnoky family, once among the most powerful in the Hungarian-speaking region of Transylvania, reclaimed their ancestral castle -- in ruins after 50 years of neglect by the state. Currently under restoration, the castle will soon be habitable by guests, but you can help fund the restoration by renting one of the rustic and thoroughly charming village homes on its bucolic property.
These fascinating guesthouses are filled with rare Romanian folk art, family antiquities, and -- for those cold Transylvanian winters -- working fireplaces to snuggle up with your S.O. The property's sauna is housed in the old castle bakery.