Castle Hotels


by Pamela L. Barrus

On the Origin of Castles and Palaces
When the great English jurist Sir Edward Coke declared back in 1623 that "a man's house is his castle", he couldn't have known what a home in a castle was actually like. By that time, castles were already useless relics left to deteriorate throughout the European countryside.
No one living knows for sure what life was really like in a castle. Poetry and fairy tales have created romantic images of valiant knights who rescue beautiful young maidens from dragons and then live happily ever after in elegant clothes and surroundings while dining at great feasts.
It's a lot of fun to think of castles in this way, but in reality they were built for military purposes: for defense, to store arms, to house troops, and to protect a strategic geographical position. Never designed for comfort, they were dark, confined, and unsanitary, especially during times of siege. (One castle in England was surrendered during a siege in 1088 because the stench inside became overpowering.) Usually the owners preferred living in nearby halls built of wood or stone, with plenty of doors for ventilation (windows weren't happening yet).
Medieval kings seldom had their own castles to live in. Instead, they traveled constantly through the country, squashing rebellions or presiding over courts while staying in whatever castle or hall was available. All costs of feeding such a retinue were borne by the host.
Life in these early days was lawless and brutal, as described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, one of our first English-language histories of medieval times. In England during one war in 1137, a monk wrote:

If a man undertook military service, he would be given protection or land. The better he was at riding a horse, the more potentially successful he could be. Of course, only the very wealthy could afford their own horses or hire cavalrymen. These knights attained a privileged status and followed a code of chivalry and brotherhood among themselves--but certainly not toward men of lesser birth or their enemies during the Crusades.
The castles fell because the nature of warfare changed with improved siege techniques brought back from the Crusades. Kings grew more powerful and governments became more centralized. Industry and trade in growing towns drew attention away from warfare, and knights were replaced by mercenary soldiers. Each country also had its own reasons for the decline of its castles, whether it was the Hundred Years' War, the Thirty Years' War, or Oliver Cromwell.
When comfort became more important than defense, medieval life came to an end, and the castles were eventually abandoned. As the nobility became increasingly civilized and stylish, they built huge and fashionable manor houses, often resembling the ancient castles with towers and crenellation. While castles had strictly a defensive function, the palaces that replaced them were royal residences designed to reflect the architectural fashion of the time.
The word "palace" comes from the Latin palatium, meaning the hill on which the Roman emperors built their residences. From the time of the Renaissance, every nobleman in Italy built his own private palazzo, and the idea soon spread throughout Europe. Architects went to Italy to learn their craft and returned to their own countries with new ideas. Conspicuous consumption became popular as royalty built bigger and more luxurious homes. The beautiful Renaissance chateaux in the Loire Valley began as hunting lodges, and the Baroque palace of Versailles became the ultimate model of splendid living.
The kings and knights of long ago and the nobility who followed would be envious of the comfort, warmth, and hospitality of today's castle hotels. Dungeons are now lounges or bars, and great halls have been converted into dining rooms where chefs prepare elegant cuisine for their guests. Mighty towers that once witnessed sword fights and heroic defenses now house comfortable rooms where guests can dream peacefully of long-ago times.
I invite you to indulge your adventurous soul and get the royal treatment at one of these magnificent castle or palace hotels, which successfully combine the glory of yesteryear with the creature comforts of today.


It's not every day an American inherits a real castle. But Christopher Kump and his wife Margaret Fox, owners of the well-known Cafe Beaujolais restaurant in Mendocino, California, did, and now find themselves commuting halfway around the world to extend their hospitality Austrian-style.
Situated high in the Austrian Alps in the picturesque northwestern province of Tyrol, their cozy castle bed and breakfast is surrounded by twenty-five hundred acres of parkland. It is just ten minutes from excellent skiing, a half-day from Vienna, and conveniently close to Italy, Switzerland, and Germany--making it a convenient stopover spot.

THE PAST A Roman sentry first stood watch on this strategic site above the Inn river valley over two thousand years ago. Only a tower existed then. Using smoke signals to spread important news through the empire, from tower to tower, the site served as a vital communications link for the ancient world. The Romans named the site "Masciacum," the name Schloss Matzen was taken from this word. It is one of the few castles in Austria that has always remained in private hands.
The present structure dates back to 1167 and the first family of record--the Freundsbergs. Over the years, they fortified the castle with a second tower and extensive walls.
During the fifteenth century the wealthy Turndl family bought the property and turned the castle into a stunning home. Parapets were transformed into cloistered arcades, and glass--an unheard of luxury--was set into the enlarged windows. Then a succession of families, most of whom were involved with the silver and copper mines in the valley, took over the castle.
Life was prosperous until the Napoleonic Wars, when the ancient Roman tower of Schloss Matzen supported field guns in defense of the town. A peasant army led by Andreas Hofer stood up to Napoleon's army. Though Napoleon won the battle and Hofer was killed, he was highly regarded for leading the revolt. (A castle room is named in honor of Hofer.) The war devastated this area of the Tyrol, and with no money for upkeep, the last owners moved out of the castle and into the stables.
In 1873 Fanny Read Grohman, an Irishwoman, bought the property and restored it. Her son William Baillie-Grohman continued her work, wrote a number of books about the history of the valley, and once even hosted Theodore Roosevelt on a hunt. The family maintained the castle through two World Wars, returning to Britain when the fighting got too close.
The fourth generation of the family sold the castle in 1957 to the American architect Ernest Kump, who was of Austrian background. Kump carefully installed modern bathrooms, plumbing, and central heating while preserving the integrity of the castle's medieval architecture. In 1994 his son Peter, who founded the prestigious Peter Kump's New York Cooking School, planned to open the castle to guests but died the next year. Peter's son Christopher carried out his plans and introduced Schloss Matzen as Austria's newest castle hotel in 1996.

THE PRESENT You don't need to pack your tiara when visiting this comfortable country castle. Its interior reveals the medieval architectural charm of Gothic cloisters, carved marble doorways, high beamed ceilings, and intricately decorated wrought iron hinges and locks.
Most of the stately guest rooms in this sixty-eight-room, five-floor castle have high ceilings and thick stone walls and feature antique furniture found by the Kumps in the attic. Choose the extra-large Baillie-Grohman Room for its marble fireplace and three-sided view of the valley, or the Teddy Roosevelt Room--the highest room--for its views of the valley and Alps.
Sherry and snacks are offered in the late afternoon. A lavish buffet breakfast, which includes regional foods and delicious pastries from the town bakery, is usually served in an interior cloistered corridor overlooking the central castle courtyard and background mountains.
You can explore the premises on your own or take a guided tour. Highlights include a five-story Roman watchtower, a Baroque chapel, a knights' dining hall, and two dungeons. Very old manuscripts and rare books and maps in the library can be perused with assistance. Among the castle diversions are playing billiards on an antique pool table, playing table tennis in the vaulted gallery, and swimming in a rock-lined pool just outside the walls.

A-6230 Reith, Brixlegg, Tyrol. Tel: 011-43-5337-62-679. Fax: 011-43-5337-66-581.

Rooms: 11; all with bath. Rates: AS1700; includes breakfast; does not include 11 percent room tax; 2-night minimum stay. Dates closed: Dates change each year. Dining facilities: No restaurant. Children: No discounts. Facilities for disabled: None. On-site recreation: Billiards; swimming pool. Nearby diversions: Hiking; alpine and cross-country skiing; ice skating; fishing; river rafting; tennis; golf; rock climbing and mineral baths in Brixlegg; excursions to nearby Rattenberg--the oldest medieval village in Austria and famous for its glass and crystal--and to Alpbach, called the most beautiful village in the Alps; cogwheel train from nearby Jenbach to lake for ride on a lake steamer. Proprietor: Christopher Kump and Margaret Fox. Operated as a hotel since: 1996. U.S. representative: Christopher Kump (owner); Tel: 888-837-0618, Tel/Fax: 707-937-0618; E-mail:; Website:

Directions: Brixlegg is located about 30 minutes from Innsbruck. Take the autobahn toward Salzburg/Kufstein. Exit at Kramsach/Rattenberg/Brixlegg. Go to the left toward Rattenberg and Brixlegg. At the traffic circle, take the road to the left, which is the main road just outside Brixlegg. Drive straight for 1 kilometer. Continue through a small traffic circle found just after a VW car dealership, and continue about 2/10 of a kilometer to a blinking yellow traffic light. Turn left onto a narrow gravel lane that leads to the castle gates. Trains run from Innsbruck to Jenbach, and from Salzburg or Munich to Worgl; taxis make the 10-minute drive to the castle. A reasonably priced shuttle bus is available from the Munich airport to the castle.

From Dream Sleeps: Castle & Palace Hotels of Europe, by Pamela L. Barrus. Copyright 1998 by Pamela L. Barrus. Excerpted by arrangement with Carousel Press. $17.95. Available in local bookstores, or by calling 800-990-9FUN.