Want to know what it was like to live in Florence during the Renaissance or see how the cardinals of France lived during the 14th century?
You can't, of course, literally travel back in time, but you can take a vacation that immerses you in another era. And this doesn't involve checking into a Four Seasons and catching a few historical sights. We mean, say, staying at an authentic castle, villa or convent that has been converted into a hotel.
"The best way to discover a certain part of history is to live in a property from that time period," says Martin Rapp, senior vice president of leisure travel at Altour, a luxury travel consultancy with offices in New York and Los Angeles. "Most of the ones converted into hotels are in the countryside of Europe, since that is where the great country houses and castles were built."
Stateliness aside, staying in a historical property isn't always as splendid as it might sound.
While you might find frescoes on the walls and antique furniture in your room, Rapp says that some of these castles and villas, which were once the homes of kings and counts, don't exactly meet present-day standards of luxury.
"It can be difficult to make structural changes to a historical property," he says. "As a result, you might not have air conditioning in the summer or central heating in winter, or the water pressure might be weak in the bathroom."
Upping the amenity ante
But in a bid to attract more clients, travel experts say that some historical hotels in Europe are being updated to include such modern amenities as Internet connectivity, gyms, spas and deluxe bathrooms.
That's the route the 400 hotels that are part of the Paris-based Relais & Chateaux chain, most of which are former European castles, convents and mills, are taking.
"More of our hotels are making sure they have high-speed Internet, and all of them now have air conditioning," says Brenda Homick, spokeswoman for Relais & Chateaux in North America. "That wasn't always the case."
To experience a stay at a Relais & Chateaux property and relive 16th-century France, head to Chateau de Noizay in the Loire Valley, an area boasting dozens of castles. The Chateau was built by Georges de Vercle and Andrée, Lady of Noizay, and was used as a refuge by the Protestants during the Amboise conspiracy in 1560. Stained-glass windows and furniture from that time period are still intact. The 19 rooms have marble baths and views of the landscaped gardens. There is also a pool and tennis court.
There is plenty of historic sightseeing in the area, including fairytale castles like the Chateau de Chaumont, Henry II's residence, and the 440-room Chateau de Chambord, the summer home of kings like Francois I and Louis XIV.
Travel from 16th-century France to the age of the Renaissance in Italy with a visit to Villa La Massa, a sprawling property on the outskirts of Florence. The 37 rooms of this 16th-century Medici dwelling have antique furniture with wrought-iron touches and fabrics from Florentine textile mills. Modern amenities include an onsite pool, a gym and a spa with treatments like deep-tissue massage.
Is the 16th century too new for you?
Go further back with a stay at Bodysgallen Hall, an imposing property in Llandudno, Wales, that dates back to the 13th century. The castle's tower was a lookout for soldiers serving the English kings of Conwy. Bodysgallen is surrounded by 200 acres of woods and gardens full of box hedges, roses and lily ponds. The 33 rooms are furnished in antiques and enjoy views of the garden.
While you're here, visit Plas Newydd — an elegant 18th-century house mixing classical and gothic — built by famed architect James Wyatt. Also stop by Caernarfon, a castle built by Edward I in 1283 when he conquered Wales. Nearby, visit slate quarries and other relics of the Industrial Revolution in the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. Unwind after sightseeing by the hotel's pool or try an aromatherapy massage at its spa.
Sadly, prices for stays at these luxury historical hotels aren't what they might have been in the eras in which they were built. Most start at $200 a night and climb to $800 or more, depending on the kind of room you book.
But when you are visiting the homes of royalty, it makes sense to live like a king.
© 2012 Forbes.com