On The Road
Halloween’s Top Five Haunted Houses
From a ghostly chateau in France to Count Dracula’s castle in Romania, we round-up the spookiest places to visit
Bran Castle in Romania. Photograph courtesy of Bran Castle
What people forget about Count Dracula is that before all the unpleasantness he was actually a rather good host.
When Jonathan Harker first arrived at the Count’s country pile in the Carpathians, he was thrilled to see a “well-lit room in which a table was spread for supper, and on whose mighty hearth a great fire of logs, freshly replenished, flamed and flared”. Frankly – besides the various supernatural near-death experiences – we’ve stayed in worse-sounding hotels.
So, this Halloween, take a leaf from Harker’s journal and head into the unknown – to immerse yourself in some of the finest places on the planet to be terrified. In comfort.
Photograph courtesy of Banff Lake Louise Tourism
Think of Fairmont Banff Springs as Canada’s answer to The Shining’s Overlook Hotel. Sure, it may not offer blood pouring out of the elevators, and the number of axe-wielding caretakers has stayed at a steady zero since it opened as a grand railway hotel in 1888 – but its spooky past is just one of the charms of this Fairmont resort in the heart of the Unesco-listed Banff National Park.
Besides skiing in the winter and a championship golf course, guests can also enjoy the company of “the Ghost Bride”, who has been Miss Havishamming it up in the Cascade Ballroom since falling down the stairs on her wedding day in the 1930s. There’s also the ghost of a Scottish bellman named Mr Sam McCauley who – so goes the legend – threatened to come back and haunt the place when he died in the 1970s. And duly did.
Also look out for an apparition adopting the form of a barman, who encourages drunken patrons to head to bed, as well as a headless man, who – despite his impairment – plays the bagpipes.
But more disturbing is the riddle of Room 873 – something that the hotel is less keen to trump on its website. The suite was the supposed venue of a bloody murder, where a man dispatched his wife and daughter. The story goes that guests who stayed in the room afterwards claimed to have heard the shrieks of a little girl and staff found bloody handprints on the mirror. Now, head to the eighth floor of the hotel and between rooms 872 and 874 there is… nothing. You know what they say in Canada, “All work and no ‘eh’, makes Jack a dull boy.”
Stay: rooms at Fairmont Banff Springs start at around £270 a night
What to pack
Photograph by Mr Istvan Kadar/Getty Images
When Mr Bram Stoker took inspiration for the home of Count Dracula, he did so not by traipsing to Transylvania like his hero Jonathan Harker, but by describing a castle illustrated within Mr Charles Boner’s exciting-sounding 1865 book Transylvania: Its Product And Its People. That was Bran Castle. And the rest, as they say, is history. Or maybe fiction.
Since Dracula was published in 1897, the castle has become the de facto home of the character thanks to Mr Stoker. But there’s more to it than that. Mr Vlad “the Impaler” Tepes – often thought of as the historical inspiration for Mr Stoker’s character – was imprisoned here for two months. So, it’s not the ghost of a fictional character you should be worried about, but that of a real man with a charming habit of burning people alive.
The castle itself is a Mitteleuropean masterpiece to compare with Neuschwanstein. Its ownership was tossed around in the 20th century between the royal family, the communist regime and the state before it finally opened as a museum in 2009. Yours to visit for less than €8.
Stay: head along the windy mountain roads to Alpine Escape Studios – a set of log cabins at the top of the Carpathians with views to die for. Not literally, the host Vlad (naturally) is said to be charming…
What to pack
Photograph by Ms Nina Dietzel
This 400-year old stronghold in the Rajasthan countryside is said to be the most haunted place in India – no slim boast in a country so vast and old. So haunted, in fact that signs in it erected by the Archaeological Survey of India suggest that it is “legally haunted”. The claim may not stand up in court, but it’s a good way of keeping vandals out after sunset – it’s said that those who stay after the sun goes down, never leave.
Built by Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh I, the ruler of the state that would later become Jaipur, two legends surround the fort. The first is that a Hindu sadhu decreed that no houses in the area should be built higher than the fort or else it would be destroyed. Predictably, someone ignored those stringent planning codes and down came the phantoms. The other is that a love-spurned wizard, fluent in black magic, cursed the town before being crushed by a boulder. Expect to hear the howls of the fort’s lost residents as you step through its rocky ruins.
Stay: the Oberoi Rajvilas in Jaipur is five-star opulence set in a 32-acre estate with tiger safaris, tennis, herb gardens and more. It’s a 90-minute drive from Bhangarh.
What to pack
Photograph by Ms Stephane Compoint/Onlyfrance/SIME/4Corners
The story of “the Green Lady” has all the classic hallmarks of a ghost story. Murder! Royalty! A spurned lover! The legend of Château de Brissac’s resident ghost boasts that, plus its setting is one of the the Loire Valley’s most beautiful grand houses.
First built as a castle in the 11th century, Brissac was rebuilt as a chateau by Mr Pierre de Brézé in the 15th century. His heir, Mr Jacques de Brézé, was married to Ms Charlotte de Valois – an illegitimate daughter of King Charles VII. Ms de Valois is thought to have been caught in flagrante with a local huntsman and was murdered in revenge by her husband. The husband was later imprisoned and had his property confiscated by Ms de Valois’s furious half-brother – King Louis XI. For generations, the Dukes of Brissac, who took over the chateau, claimed to have seen an eyeless and noseless woman in a green dress haunting the Chapel tower where Charlotte was murdered. Sacre bleu!
Stay: rooms in Château de Brissac are only available until the end of September. For Halloween, try the Chateau De Noirieux, half an hour north on the banks of the Loir – a small 19-room hotel set in a park with Michelin-starred food from its new chef, Mr Marco Garfagnini.
What to pack
Photograph by Mr Jay Golian
If any one of Scotland’s grand castles is going to be haunted by its past, it’s Dalhousie. In 1400, the Ramsay clan – who occupied it for hundreds of years – withstood a six-month siege, repelling King Henry IV’s English forces. Later, it was captured by Mr Oliver Cromwell, who used it as his Scottish base (and was not exactly known for his equable temperament). In its many centuries, Dalhousie has also hosted King Edward I, Queen Victoria and Sir Walter Scott.
Visitors to the castle have reported a tap on the shoulder from the apparition known as “Lady Catherine”. The history is murky, but she is thought to have been the mistress of one of the Ramsays back in the 17th century whose treachery was uncovered by her lover’s wife. That or she was one of the clan who fell hard for a stable hand, much to the annoyance of her parents. Either way, she wound up locked in a tower, where she starved to death. Which, given the experience of other historical Scottish aristocrats, is certainly cleaner on the hands than a dagger.
If you don’t get the tap from Lady Catherine, Dalhousie is only eight miles outside of Edinburgh, and if you can’t spot a ghost in the spooky surrounds of the Old Town then, frankly, you’re not trying hard enough.
Stay: the castle has 29 rooms decorated in Scottish tartans and tweeds.