How often do you get to actually live like royalty?
I was fortunate to have that opportunity last week, when I was invited by HomeAway to spend a day and night at a Scottish castle, about an hour outside Edinburgh. I was already in Ireland, so it was a quick hop over — how could I say no?
I arrived in Edinburgh in the morning, where I was driven to the small village of Duns in the “Borders” area of Scotland — so named because it is very close to the border with England. As the car turned off the small country lane, it passed under a large stone archway flanked by turrets. Tree branches formed another, natural archway overhead as the driver wound the vehicle up the drive beneath them.
Then suddenly, there it was. My first glimpse of the imposing castle that would be my home for the next 24 hours. Lucky me.
The royal adventure was to introduce about 20 travel writers and bloggers from around the world to Duns Castle and HomeAway, in conjunction with a pretty exciting contest that they teamed up with Disney to do. The new live action film Beauty and the Beast just opened in theaters around the world, and HomeAway is giving a grand prize of a 5 Day Stay in Duns Castle.
And get this: It’s not just for you or one other person. You get to invite up to 20 other people!
That’s right. A 5-day Scottish castle getaway for you and 20 of your besties. AND the prize includes airfare to get there, meals and activities.
And, oh how much fun those meals and activities are! First was a delicious lunch, followed by tea time a few hours later. In between, we explored the castle and were given a falconry demonstration. What an amazing skill, and powerful, beautiful birds!
Falconry is only one of many activities at the castle’s 1,200 acres of scenic woodland and gardens; others include tennis, fishing, archery, clay-pigeon shooting and off-road driving. The history of the place itself is fascinating.Standing proudly since 1320, when the first part of the castle was built, Duns Castle has been owned by the Hay family since 1696. Alexander and Aline Hay, the current owners, have welcomed guests to their family estate since the 1980s.
Alex Hay told family stories dating back for centuries as he gave us a tour of the castle. Royal intrigue and drama lie behind the placid, regal faces that gaze down from the oil paintings on the high walls, and a bit of fun can be found in small discoveries, like the 300-year-old graffiti on the billiards room walls.
But if I thought exploring the castle in the daytime was incredible, nothing prepared me for the enchantment that came after nightfall. I arrived to a red carpet laid out in front of the main entrance, where a bagpiper was playing, and stepped inside. It was like a fairy tale come to life. The foyer and entire grand staircase were aglow with hundreds of candles, and violinists played softly while drinks and hors d’oeuvres were served. Guests were then led into the exquisite formal dining room for dinner. The entire stay was fit for kings and queens, indeed.
The place is so incredible that The Today Show visited the same week I did, featuring Duns Castle on its segment with Al Roker and Sheinelle Jones March 13.
The surrounding grounds include a nature reserve within a glacial drainage channel from the last ice age, along with extensive landscaping work commissioned by the Hay family in the 18th century. A secret walled garden and serene lake where mute swans and various species of duck swim provide unparalleled angles from which to view the castle.
This ultimate romantic Scottish hideaway includes 12 unique rooms inside the historic castle itself, as well as six independent cottages dotted throughout the grounds. The grandeur of its surroundings is tempered with the personal and intimate character of a private family home.
One lucky winner and 20 additional guests of his or her choice will have the entire castle to themselves for five days. The winner and their guests will be free to roam the 1,200 acres, dancing, singing, reading books, looking for magic mirrors or talking to the furniture and hoping it will talk back, just like in the beloved film.
The contest will also award five runner-up prizes that include a seven-night stay at one of HomeAway’s 1.2 million properties worldwide and roundtrip travel costs. Travelers from the U.S., France, Hong Kong, Germany, Italy and the U.K. can enter the #HomeAwayCastle prize drawing by visiting homeaway.com/disney. The competition closes March 31.