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The Castle Craze

Enchanting, elusive and extraordinary, European castles are huge attractions that catch the eyes of powerful people from all over the world. They provide the stunning backdrop desired by celebs and the wealthy for whatever event they may have in mind: from wedding, to hotel, to filmsite and even homes! These hot spots can never be too old!

A Man and His Castle

Pierce Brosnan, also known as the savvy British Secret Agent James Bond, 007, has a particular fondness for the lovely Ashford Castle in Mayo County, Ireland. Born in Ireland in 1953, Brosnan leaves his current home in Malibu to return quite frequently to the charming countryside, where the castle sits on the stunning island-dotted shore of one of Ireland's largest lakes. This luxury five-star castle was the site of many happy vacations Brosnan spent with his late wife Cassandra Harris in the early '80s. With her death in 1991, Brosnan found himself as the single father of three children - Christopher and Charlotte from her first marriage - and Sean from their 10-year marriage. Ashford Castle is a nostalgic setting for Brosnan, who loved it so much he convinced Hollywood directors to film one episode of his hit TV program Remington Steele there. Brosnan even decided to use the castle as the site for his next marriage to long-time companio, former model and TV reporter Keely Shaye Smith.

The newlyweds invited 120 close friends and family to the castle in 2001 to celebrate their wedding in fairytale fashion. The couple worked with wedding planners for weeks to achieve the perfect effect, which Keely described as A Midsummer Night's Dream meets The Secret Garden. They surrounded themselves with gorgeous flowers, flickering candles, glittering lights, delicious food, and incredible entertainment.

This castle is no stranger to movie stars, however. John Wayne and John Ford filmed Academy Award-winning film A Quiet Man there over 50 years ago. The Ashford Castle is located on the West Coast of Ireland, 30 minutes from Galway. It boasts 83 unique rooms and 350 acres of private woodlands, as well as a nine hole golf course, walking and hiking, sight seeing, fishing, game-shooting, and horseback riding in the picturesque countryside.

Paul McCartney's Magical Marriage

Although in 2002 Sir Paul McCartney was reported to wed Heather Mills in New York, the former Beatle also followed the latest trend amongst celebrities and marrying in the European country-side. The blissful couple wed at St. Salvator's Church near Glaslough in County Monaghan, Ireland. Celebrities flew into Belfast from Heathrow, London and Liverpool in the mere hours before the ceremony. Some guests thought to have attended were former U.S. President Bill Clinton, guitarist Eric Clapton and John Eastman, brother of McCartney's late wife Linda.

Mills wore a lace dress designed with the help of two London designers and carried a bouquet of 11 McCartney roses and two peonies. McCartney wore a three-piece brown suit. Mills entered the church to "Heather," a song McCartney wrote for his recent album. The beautiful ceremony was followed by a champagne reception and Indian vegetarian dinner served to 300 guests in three tents on the banks of the lake on the grounds of Castle Leslie. The wedding was estimated to cost US $3 million, supposedly complete with a 40-foot yacht, a fireworks show, and thousands of flowers.

Owned by the Leslie family for generations, the estate includes 1,000 acres of the lush, green countryside a few hours north of Dublin. The family still lives in one wing of the castle and encourages their visitors to feel at home and relaxed in the hotel of 14 bedrooms, without the distraction of television, telephones, or clocks. The estate can be rented for weddings -- as traditional or unconventional as desired. Ceremonies can be held in the castle itself, the Fountain Garden or the 17th-century church, as the McCartney's preferred. Yet another celeb tops all by a romantic setting for their guests, as well as themselves with a castle wedding!

Madonna - Holiday at Skibo Castle

The enchantress Madonna also chose a castle to be the site of her wedding to British filmmaker Guy Ritchie in 2002. This incredibly powerful woman, mother of two children (Carlos Leon's daughter Lourdes and Ritchie's son Rocco), decided to tie the knot fairytale-style in the extravagant Skibo Castle near Dornoch Scotland. The couple also baptized baby Rocco at the Church of Scotland's 776 year-old Dornoch Cathedral.
Madonna opted for seclusion and elegance for her wedding at the castle, situated in one of the last great wilderness areas of Scotland in the Highlands. Singers Sting and Elton John performed at the reception, and stars such as Rupert Everett, Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman attended. Gwyneth Paltrow was the maid of honor. While Madonna reportedly wore a dress by confirmed guest Stella McCartney, her husband followed his grandfather's Scottish heritage by wearing a MacIntosh Hunting tartan and a kilt pouch.

This castle is also no stranger to the rich and famous, however. The first major power player to notice it was Scottish-born steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. As one of the wealthiest individuals in the world during his time, he acquired the property in 1898 after he and his wife Louise had searched the country extensively. When they saw Skibo, Carnegie called it his "Heaven on Earth," and the couple spent fortunes rebuilding the estate. They used the magical location for their active social life and philanthropic undertakings. The Carnegies' castle guest book includes King Edward VII, the Rockefellers, Rudyard Kipling, Edward Elgar, Lloyd George, and Helen Keller. Now, the estate is home to the Carnegie Club and available to be rented out for special occasions.

With this Scottish discovery, Madonna and Guy Ritchie showed other stars what's en vogue. Racing driver Dario Franchitti and his wife, actress Ashley Judd, along with Stella McCartney and Alasdhair Willis, all later pursued the charms of a romantic Scotland castle wedding. This trend has even influenced the general public's choice of wedding locations, a third of which include couples where neither groom nor bride was born in, or a resident of, Scotland! Get into the groove… as Pierce Brosnan and Madonna show us, the magic of a castle wedding is alluring to just about everyone!

A Bit of Castle Catastrophe for Jeremy Irons?!?!?

British actor Jeremy Irons knows the challenge of conquering a castle. Ever since he moved into his 650 year-old castle home in Ireland, he has been consumed with renovation. At 54, the actor and director (winner of an Academy Award in 1990 for his chilling portrayal of Claus von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune) struggled for a few years with the work on his Kilcoe Castle in the County of Cork. He says, "Renovating a castle is worse than directing a movie; your entire life becomes consumed with this big project."

In 2001, however, his castle renovation became a castle controversy when the color he restored it to was not approved by the locals. After 35 months of work, the scaffolding was removed and layers of lacquer, as well as years of grime were cleaned off to expose a brilliant color that some people would prefer not to see: instead of the expected white, Irons chose the color of rust, or, for some, peach. Even his neighbor, who has supported him throughout the renovation process, did not find the color agreeable, though Irons believed it to be the best option in order to prevent the tower from leaking and match the landscape surrounding the castle. In a humorous yet sincere explanation, Irons wrote in the Irish Times:

"Time and the elements will work their unstoppable magic, and just as my mother's new hairdo always looked better the day after it was done, so the castle will look better tomorrow. Change is something I find as difficult as the next man, and there's no doubt Kilcoe has changed. But it has also renewed itself and, like much of Ireland, become forward-looking and proud of itself."

Regardless of approval, Irons' endeavor to restore the castle is endearing and important to preserving the history of this castle built around 1430. Irons is one of many stars using his power and money to be "castle-conscious."

Mohamed Al-Fayed's Fairytale Estate

The first Lord Arbinger built the astonishing Inverlochy Castle in the Scottish Highlands in 1863 next to the original 13th century fortress. For over 100 years, this castle served as a family residence until 1969 when it was transformed into one of Scotland's finest hotels. What power player set their sights on this historical beauty? None other than Egyptian business tycoon, Mohamed Al-Fayed.

If this name isn't familiar for being the extremely wealthy owner of Harrod's department store in London and the Ritz Hotel in Paris, then his name is most certainly identified with that of his son, Dodi Al-Fayed. Dodi is the boyfriend of the late Princess Diana, who died beside her in the disastrous car accident of 1997 after they left the Ritz Hotel in Paris. Mohamed believes that the tragedy is in fact a conspiracy.

The beautiful setting of the Interlochy Castle Hotel, however, reflects nothing of Al-Fayed's tumultuous history. The Automobile Association has named it one of the UK's best luxury hotels, offering beautiful gardens, hiking, fishing, Loch Ness cruises, pony trekking and skiing. With 17 rooms and high standards, this hotel attracts stars such as Robert de Niro and Mel Gibson! Al-Fayed also reportedly owns Balnagown Castle by Ivenress, Scotland where he has commissioned his own Scottish tartan and has staff who wear it!

Jane Seymour's Country Manor

While we may know her best as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman from her hit television show, actress Jane Seymour was also once best known to her British neighbors by her birth name: Joyce Penelope Wilhelmina Frankenberg. By whichever name, this talented British and Welsh woman also holds court, owning an A-grade country castle that dates back to the 14th century. St. Catherine's Court, Seymour's luxurious home, is a beautiful manor built in the Renaissance style. Though its original oak spiral staircase, fireplaces, and decorative stonework were built during the reign of Henry VIII, Seymour has altered the interior of the castle to provide a comfortable family setting, while maintaining its ancient aura.

Seymour lives at the manor with her husband director James Keach and their two children, twins John and Kristopher Keach. The actress, famous for her television series and work in various films (she acted alongside Roger Moore in the 1973 James Bond film Live and Let Die), is also a painter, clothing, furnishings designer, author, world-class traveler, and dedicated mother who always puts family first. The Master Suite, among other rooms, is decorated in Seymour's own exclusive fabrics. The castle has eight double bedrooms and two children's bedrooms, all of which closely resemble the historical characteristics of the estate. The ballroom, with its phenomenal acoustics, is perfect for musical events and parties and the Elizabethan dining room features banquets by candlelight and stained glass windows.

Though St. Catherine's Court is the private home of Seymour and her family, the castle, which is outside Bath, England, is also available for four-night stays as an add-on to Cunard Lines' Queen Elizabeth cruises. While they promise that the manor is a charming respite, they do not actually promise meeting the lovely Jane or James!

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