Editor’s Note: NEA Member Benefits understands how much you love to travel. And, while now isn’t the time for unnecessary trips, we’re here to help you plan future vacations with helpful travel guides and tips. That way, when the novel coronavirus is under control, you’ll have everything you need to get back on track and plan memorable trips for your family.
Royalty does not have to be limited to the other side of the pond. You can find doses of that same elegance closer to home. These lush estates all across the country invite you to tour quaint castles and marvel at elegantly appointed gardens and manicured lawns for a generous dose of escapism. Soak in a side of history as well at these jewels that provide an inviting weekend getaway or add a sprinkle of charm to cross-country trips.
Heart Island, New York
Photo courtesy of iStock.com/Vladone
Imagine the opulence of New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, translated to a magnificent castle on a small island. The 1000 Islands region of New York state boasts this impressive castle, along with five other structures to explore: the Power House, the Alster Tower, the Hennery, the Arch and a stone gazebo. George Boldt, the Astoria’s proprietor, built this charming getaway for his wife Louise. Visitors can tour the first floor which recreates the family’s living quarters toward the beginning of the 20th century. You can reach the island by boat only. Don’t miss the eye-catching gardens, spread out over 5 acres, and the Yacht House.
Driving distances: 1 hour 45 minutes from Syracuse, New York | 2 hours from Ottawa, Ontario | 3 hours from Rochester, New York | 3 hours 40 minutes from Albany, New York | 5 hours 40 minutes from New York, New York
Newport, Rhode Island
Photo courtesy of The Preservation Society of Newport County
America’s Gilded Age is on prime display in the summer playgrounds of the rich and famous at the Newport Mansions. A cliff tour walk takes you by the most striking estates, including The Breakers. Together the mansions boast a range of architectural and decorating styles from Colonial, Victorian to Gilded Age. While stunning gardens complement the mansions, you can also tour the Green Animals Topiary Garden in Newport, which features more than 80 pieces of whimsical topiary to charm garden-lovers. The mansions are especially worth visiting over the holidays (Rosecliff offers an Easter egg roll and brunch) and the Newport Flower Show every spring, when the estates are bedecked in seasonal finery for even more breathtaking beauty.
Driving distances: 45 minutes from Providence, Rhode Island | 1 hour 30 minutes from Boston, Massachusetts | 3 hours from New York City, New York
San Simeon, California
Photo courtesy of California State Parks
Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst conceived Hearst Castle and a visit to this dramatic estate yields breathtaking panoramic views of California’s Central Coast. The ranchland overlooks the town of San Simeon and includes Casa del Mar, Spanish for “House of the Sea,” where Hearst spent his last days in the castle. The estate broke ground in 1919 and includes three guesthouses and 127 acres of terraced gardens with seasonal blooms all year round, fountains and the world-famous outdoor Neptune pool, with an eye-catching turquoise shade. (Note: Hearst Castle is temporarily closed due to coronavirus.)
Driving distances: 2 hours 30 minutes from Monterey, California | 4 hours from San Francisco and Los Angeles, California
Photo courtesy of Ryan Inman Photography/Castle Farms
This breathtaking stone castle and grounds in the resort town of Charlevoix is modeled after similar structures in ancient Normandy, France. Originally built by Albert Loeb, who was the acting president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., the estates have changed hands over the years and welcomed the public through a variety of tours and events. The public can also host special events here; the castle grounds are a popular wedding destination. Castle Farms feature a lush variety of gardens, including a majestic butterfly garden and a whimsical alphabet patch, which includes flowers from A (astilbe) to Z (zinnia). You can add a farm-to-table dinner or fairy garden “Make and Take” to a range of estate tours.
Driving distances: 3 hours from Grand Rapids, Michigan | 4 hours from Ann Arbor, Michigan | 4 hours 30 minutes from Detroit, Michigan
Asheville, North Carolina
Photo courtesy of The Biltmore Company
Probably the closest approximation of royalty, the jaw-dropping 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate was home to the Vanderbilts. Tour how George and Edith made this lovely castle their home nestled in the mountains of North Carolina. You can check out three floors and the basement filled with vintage clothing, art and furniture. Tickets, which range from $60 to $90, are discounted by $10 if you purchase at least a week in advance. They grant access to the extensive Biltmore Gardens, Antler Hill Village and wine tasting. Visitors can also stay overnight on the estate in casual or luxury hotels.
Driving distances: 2 hours from Charlotte, North Carolina and from Knoxville, Tennessee | 3 hours 30 minutes from Atlanta, Georgia, and Durham, North Carolina
George and Sarah Joslyn were entrepreneurs who moved West from Vermont and made Nebraska their home. The 35-room castle is an Omaha Landmark Historic Structure and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can tour the extensive gardens, which are part of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. The castle offers both cultural programming, such as theater performances and art shows, and public tours.
Driving Distances: 1 hour from Lincoln, Nebraska | 2 hours from Des Moines, Iowa | 3 hours from Kansas City, MissouriWhere to Stay: Holiday Inn Omaha Downtown-Airport | Hyatt Place Omaha/Downtown-Old Market | Hilton Garden Inn Omaha Downtown/Old Market Area