During a recent train trip through four European countries, I booked as many unique accommodations as I could find. One was a 16th century castle in Italy called Castello di Roncade.
Rapunzel was locked in a tower. Belle fell in love with a beast among enchanted clocks, teacups and candlesticks. Cinderella swept the castle that her stepmother took over. Everything I know about castles comes from fiction.
More specifically, I grew up watching Disney movies about princesses and princes living lavishly or, perhaps more often, trapped inside grand castles with protective walls and dramatic architecture.
But until recently, I had never seen a castle in real life, except for the one at Disneyland.
So when I was looking for exceptional lodging with my partner during a recent train trip through four countries in Europe, I was excited to find Castello di Roncade outside of Venice, Italy.
I saw the castle on Airbnb, which is known for having a variety of unique accommodations, but ended up booking it through the company’s website, paying $360 for three nights, including daily breakfast.
I was eager to find out what castles are really like outside of the movies and magical stories. Here’s how my stay went, and the surprising things I learned about living a true adventure.
One of my biggest surprises with Castello di Roncade was learning that it is not technically a castle. It is actually a villa, but looks so much like a castle that it became known as one.
When my partner and I arrived at the castle, I thought Castello di Roncade looked completely authentic with its medieval walls and towers.
However, while speaking with a representative of Castello di Roncade, I learned that it is actually a Venetian villa that was built in the 16th century to be used for an agricultural company with products such as fruit, vegetables and wine.
Originally called Villa Giustinian for the Venetian aristocrat who built it, I was told by the same source that locals often referred to it as a castle because of the walls and towers, which were built for decoration rather than defense.
In 1930, Baron Tito Ciani Bassetti bought the villa to live in with his family and transformed the property into a vineyard and winery, according to the company’s website. When the family bought the property, they decided to change the official name to Castello di Roncade, the representative said. Then, in the 1980s, Vincenzo of the Ciani Bassetti family opened accommodation in the castle’s tower and main villa, according to the same source.
I was surprised and impressed to find that a villa could look so much like a castle and even have a formal reputation as one.
When I arrived, I had no idea that the main building would be under construction.
To me, castles in movies look like they could stand the test of time with their spiers and solid walls.
But in reality, according to The Foundation Experts, a restoration and repair company in Canada, old buildings often need to be restored to last for hundreds of years.
When we checked in at Castello di Roncade I expected to see an opulent facade on the main building, but the exterior was undergoing restoration. According to the representative from Castello di Roncade, work was being done to add new plaster to balconies, columns and arches, as well as attempts to revive historical artworks that once decorated the facade.
The same source told Insider that the restoration work began in 2020 and should be completed in 2022. However, due to some delays, it is taking longer, according to the same source, who added that they hope it will be completed in the spring of 2023.
I was also surprised to learn that there was a working vineyard on the castle grounds.
I have previously always thought of castles as a means of protecting royalty. But when I booked my stay at Castello di Roncade, I discovered that the property served another, more unexpected purpose—it’s a working winery with 270 hectares of vineyard, according to its website.
When the Ciani Bassetti family bought Castello di Roncade in the early 20th century, they established a winery of the same name, according to a company representative.
My stay included a tour of the wine cellar. I’ve never been on a winery tour before, and don’t drink, so I didn’t know what to expect. But I found it fascinating.
My tour guide led us and a couple from Colombia, who were also staying on the property, into a dimly lit room filled with several rows of giant wine barrels – more than I could count. The air overwhelmed me with thick smells of wine and wood. Walking down a narrow path between two rows, I was shocked at how massive the wine barrels were. Just a barrel on its side towering over my body.
I was surprised to learn that this ancient cellar was built 500 years ago, according to the Castello di Roncade representative, who also said that wine is the castle’s main business, producing 400,000 bottles a year.
I lived in one of the castle’s towers. I thought it was much shorter than the Rapunzel-like building I envisioned when I ordered it.
When I booked a room in one of the castle’s towers, I wondered if I might feel a bit like Rapunzel hidden atop a tall, medieval structure.
But Castello di Roncade’s towers were built for decoration rather than defense, and mine was only three stories tall, a representative from the company told Insider. So in reality it didn’t tower over the countryside like I imagined.
Our room was on the top floor, and although it wasn’t as high up as I expected, I still had a nice view of the grounds. I enjoyed waking up in the morning and looking out the window to the sound of birds chirping.
I was also surprised by the 16th century tower’s high-tech interior. It had a lift and energy-saving technology.
Since castles are usually historical, I was amazed at the high-tech features I saw inside my tower.
While the tower was built along with the rest of the castle in the 16th century, the Castello di Roncade representative told Insider that it was being restored in 2021 to serve as guest accommodations. Before that, the tower stored wine, according to the same source.
Inside the building I expected to climb three flights of stairs, but the tower had an elevator. I thought this made my stay more relaxing.
Also, inside the room, my key had to be inserted into a slip near the door to use the lights. This is an energy-saving feature I’ve seen in modern hotels, but I never expected to find it in a castle, and I appreciated it.
Inside my tower room, I was surprised at how modern it looked. Apart from exposed brick walls and a beamed ceiling, there was nothing about the room that screamed “castle” to me.
Based on castles I’ve seen in movies, I thought my room would look frozen in time with classic, royal decor like a knight’s armor or old paintings. But aside from the exposed brick walls and beams, I thought the room looked and felt quite modern.
This is because the building was renovated in 2021, according to the Castello di Roncade representative, who added that the exposed beams were part of the original building before restoration.
I also thought my room was bigger than most hotels I have booked. The 480-square-foot suite came with two sitting areas, a bedroom with a queen-size bed, a walk-in closet, and a bathroom.
While my room was recently restored, the representative also told me that other accommodations on the property were restored in the 1990s and 2010s. As I looked at pictures of all the rooms online, I thought that these other rooms included more of the decor I envisioned, like tasseled pillows and sparkling chandeliers. If I stay at Castello di Roncade again, I will try one of them.
Although staying in a castle wasn’t quite as enchanting as I imagined, I thought Castello di Roncade gave me a unique, memorable experience.
My stay at Castello di Roncade didn’t quite match the fantasy in my mind of castles I’ve seen in movies or books I read growing up.
But maybe that’s a good thing.
I stay in unique accommodations when I travel because I want to be surprised during my adventures. I never thought I would find myself taking an elevator in a tower to explore the grounds of a villa that looked so much like a castle it was called one. And in the end, it still felt like living in a castle to me.
Whenever I reflect on my trips, I find that the unexpected moments are the most memorable. And my stay at Castello di Roncade certainly gave me many surprising moments that I will not soon forget.