Eating with your hands, drinking honey mead out of a goblet and being entertained by colourfully-dressed minstrels – medieval and Renaissance banquets look like riotous fun.
Here are the six best places in Europe to enjoy an immersive, historical feast experience.
Bunratty Castle, Ireland, UK
Be welcomed to the banquet to the tune of a kilted piper at Bunratty Castle
Ireland‘s Bunratty Castle was built in the 15th century by the Earl of Thomond, a nobleman with a reputation for hospitality and decadent banquets. 50 years ago, this tradition was resurrected and the Castle has been hosting medieval banquets ever since. Welcomed to the tune of a kilted piper, banquet guests cross the drawbridge and are ushered into the Great Hall. Here, entertainment comes in the form of melodious medieval songs accompanied by Irish harp and fiddle, the history of the Castle explained by a group of passionate performers in period dress, and the odd dramatic scene unfolding (like the discovery of a ‘traitor’ in your midst). Enjoy the honey mead and four-course meal served on long, oak tables in mellow candle light, before a good night’s sleep at Bunratty Castle Hotel.
Coombe Abbey, Warwickshire, UK
Coombe Abbey hosts medieval banquets on wooden benches in the candle-lit dining hall
Built as a Cistercian Abbey in the 12th century, Coombe Abbey is now a stately hotel within 500 acres of manicured Warwickshire grounds. For the past 40 years, the hotel has been regularly hosting medieval banquets on long, wooden benches in the candle-lit dining hall. Guests are invited to dress up and clink goblets of mead and beakers of ale while feasting on hearty stews, game and other medieval dishes, served by a bevy of chanting, cloaked servants. And to be totally authentic, cutlery isn’t provided. End an evening of rowdy sing songs and dancing, by piling yourself into a carved, wooden four poster bed with steps leading up to its altar-like platform, in the Abbey itself.
Tavern Brabant, Prague, Czech Republic
Experience a rowdy feast at this medieval tavern in Prague
Tavern Brabant is one of the oldest pubs in Prague, found at the foot of Prague Castle and decorated with skulls hanging from the ceiling timber beams and hay covering the floor. Be entertained by belly dancers, medieval music, swordsmen, fortune tellers and a fire show, while enjoying a Czech feast with a medieval slant; duck marinated in honey, corn on the cob, goulash and, of course, unlimited Czech beer. Stay at the restaurant’s own Apartments U Krále Brabantského, with parquet floors, chandeliers and period furniture.
Marksburg Castle, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany
Dine in a 12th-century, hilltop fortress in Germany
At Marksburg Castle, you can dine in the Gothic Kitchen, the Tavern or the Ballroom, depending on the size of your party. Each venue is equally atmospheric, with timber beams, candle chandeliers and a bard and travelling artist to entertain you for the evening. Prior to the formidable feast including free-flowing, local red wine, get a guided tour of the 12th-century Castle and learn of its history as a hilltop fortress built to protect the town of Braubach below. Walk home to the raspberry-coloured Gästehaus Wieghardt, an accommodation in Braubach’s Old Town.
Palazzo Borghese, Florence, Italy
Enjoy a Renaissance banquet at the historic seat of Italy’s noble Borghese family
In the hallowed halls of the 16th-century Palazzo Borghese in Florence, the main seat of Italy’s noble Borghese family, visitors can take part in an extravagant evening of Renaissance entertainment. Upon arrival, guests are welcomed by staff dressed in traditional Renaissance costume and then escorted through mirrored rooms with ornate golden walls, Venetian glass chandeliers and marble statues, to the dining room. Serenaded by harpists and flautists, the evening includes singing, dance lessons, ballet performances and a court jester, as well as a four-course, Florentine feast. And you can stay one minute’s walk away at the Borghese Palace Art Hotel.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London, UK
Heston Blumenthal’s historically-inspired ‘Meat Fruit’; a genius concoction of chicken liver parfait disguised as a mandarin
While it’s not the place to behave raucously, the medieval-inspired fare at Heston Blumenthal’s London restaurant was borne out of chef Heston Blumenthal’s fascination with the story of British gastronomy. Dishes like ‘Meat Fruit’, ‘Rice and Flesh’ and ‘Frumenty’ are inspired takes on historic recipes dating as far back as the 14th century; the former is a miraculously-light and fluffy chicken liver parfait disguised as a mandarin via an elaborate gastronomic process. Another highlight is the Tipsy Cake (c.1810), a dish of caramelised, spit-roasted pineapple and cream-filled, baked brioche. Stay at the grand Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, the very hotel in which the restaurant is located.