Live Like Royalty in Scotland

Thanks to Austin-based HomeAway, you could win a five-day castle stay for yourself and 20 of your best friends.

Story by Shelley Seale, photos courtesy of HomeAway
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As the car turns off the small country lane, it passes under a large stone archway flanked by turrets. Tree branches form another, natural archway overhead as the vehicle winds up the drive beneath them. There, on the left, peeking out between the branches, is the first glimpse of the imposing castle. It looms imposingly above as you are driven to the massive front doorway, where a butler in full Scottish regalia, including kilt, awaits to escort you inside.

This is Duns Castle, about an hour outside Edinburgh, Scotland. Standing proudly since 1320, when the first part of the castle was built, it 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.

And now, you have the chance to spend five magical days at Duns Castle with 20 friends and family members to live like royalty in this extraordinary setting. Duns Castle has partnered with Austin-based HomeAway, the world’s leading online marketplace for the vacation-rental industry, along with Disney to celebrate the new film adaption of Beauty and the Beast by giving away an unprecedented 14th century castle stay in Scotland this summer. 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.

Round-trip travel to Scotland, meals and entertainment are included. 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.

I had the chance to preview this amazing castle experience, staying the night at Duns Castle and enjoying the fine-tuned, warm service, unbelievable gourmet meals and estate activities, such as meandering the 1,200 acres of scenic woodland and gardens and taking part in a falconry demonstration.

The history of the place itself is fascinating, and 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. Whether you’re a giveaway winner or just an intrepid traveler, make your stay in this historic Scottish castle complete with some outdoor activities, including croquet, tennis, falconry, fishing, archery, clay-pigeon shooting and off-road driving. The grandeur of its surroundings is tempered with the personal and intimate character of a private family home.

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.


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