Rudyard Kipling slept here - so could you

The former homes of writers, monarchs and celebrities have been turned into upmarket B&Bs, writes Juliet Clough

"UNEASY LIES the head that wears a crown," said Shakespeare's Henry IV - and who are we to argue? But even ungarnished heads can now rest on famous pillows, or at least between the walls where monarchs once tossed and turned, dictators plotted, or literary figures burned the midnight oil.

If you get off on sleeping with classy ghosts, there are an increasing number of properties that once belonged to celebrated owners that are now available for rent. Here are just a few of the homes which offer the ultimate in up-market holiday retreats.

Culzean Castle,

Ayrshire, Scotland

When, in 1946, the National Trust for Scotland took over Robert Adam's final architectural masterpiece, the top floor was given to General Eisenhower as a "thank you" present from the people of Scotland to the American hero of the Second World War.

Ike liked Culzean, visiting his cliff-top apartment on the wild Ayrshire coast four times, once as President when this flat was, briefly, his Scottish White House. His longest stay was during his retirement when he golfed, painted and walked in the castle's beautifully landscaped grounds and seashore, now a country park.

The windows of the delightful round sitting room frame sensational views across the Firth of Clyde to the mountains of Arran. Some of the best golf in Scotland, notably at Turnberry, Troon and Prestwick, is close at hand. "This is a place I can relax," wrote Ike.

B&B prices vary from pounds 300 a night for the Eisenhower Suite to pounds 100 for single occupancy of one of the five smaller bedrooms. Contact the administrator, Culzean Castle, Maybole, Ayrshire KA19 8LE (tel: 01655 760643; fax: 01655 760615).

Mar Lodge,

near Braemar, Scotland

Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of Mar Lodge in 1895 for her granddaughter, Princess Louise, who had married the Earl of Fife; the house remained in the family until 1962. The imagination takes a bit of stretching here as today's Mar Lodge, having been virtually gutted by fire in 1991, is a faithful restoration job rather than the real thing. However, while mod cons may have replaced spartan Victorian conditions, most of the furniture, pictures and stuffed sporting trophies were saved to confer authenticity on its now snug interiors. The property of the National Trust for Scotland, Mar Lodge overlooks a 77,500- acre estate, prime Scottish countryside where visitors are welcome to walk, birdwatch, climb four Munros or set out to explore Royal Deeside. Flats sleep two to 15 people. Each has its own public rooms and the Lodge's library, dining room, sitting room and billiard room are open to all.

Prices for a self-catering, two-person flat per week are pounds 400; for a four-person flat pounds 425; and for a 15-person flat pounds 1,500. Contact Holiday Cottages, The National Trust for Scotland, 5 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh EH2 4DU (tel: 0131-243 9331; fax: 0131-243 9302).

Hampton Court Palace,

Surrey

Hampton Court has been a royal palace ever since 1525 when Cardinal Wolsey offered his riverside residence as a sweetener to Henry VIII. Subsequent monarchs may not have spent much time in the royal kitchens, but Landmark Trust visitors are free to wander the gardens and most of the palace courtyards, conjuring up noble shades. "I walked there the other day by the moon, and met no creature of quality but the King, who was giving audience all alone to the birds under the garden wall," wrote Alexander Pope in 1718. The cosy Fish Court apartment, originally built for the Officers of the Pastry, lies in the service wing of the Tudor palace, added by Henry VIII, a lavish party- giver. The Georgian House was a later kitchen built in 1719 for George, Prince of Wales.

Fish Court sleeps six people. Prices for three midweek nights are from pounds 527; weekends from pounds 619; one week from pounds 927. The Georgian House sleeps eight. Prices for three midweek nights are from pounds 573; weekends from pounds 694; one week from pounds 1,031. Contact: the Landmark Trust, Shottesbrooke, Maidenhead, Berkshire SL6 3SW (tel: 01628 825925; fax: 01628 825417). The Landmark Trust is an independent preservation charity. Hampton Court Palace, Cloth Fair, Keats's House, Casa Guidi, and Naulakha are detailed in 'The Landmark Trust Handbook' (pounds 9.50, refundable on booking), along with 160 other historic buildings.

43, 45a Cloth Fair, Smithfield, London

In 1930 a small row of houses at the western end of Cloth Fair in London's Smithfield were rescued from demolition by the architect Paul Paget. No 41 is reputedly the only house in the City to have survived the Great Fire of London. After 1954, the upper floors of No 43 were for many years the home of the Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman: "We really had very pleasant neighbours," said Mr Paget. Betjeman, who fought for the preservation of old and workaday buildings, relished this ancient corner, facing the churchyard of St Bartholomew the Great and just round the corner from the robust sights and smells of Smithfield Market. No 43, above a wine bar, looks much as it did in Betjeman's day, its William Morris wallpaper specially reprinted, its original fittings all in place. The apartment has a roof garden.

No 43 sleeps two and prices for three nights midweek are from pounds 323; weekends from pounds 390; one week from pounds 557. Prices for the adjoining flat at No 45a three nights midweek are from pounds 440 Contact: the Landmark Trust (tel: 01628 825925).

Great Maytham Hall,

Kent

This handsome house was remodelled in 1909 by Sir Edwin Lutyens on the site of a much older building. Great Maytham Hall saw three of its Tudor owners convicted for treason, bubonic plague and serious smuggling. Between 1898 and 1907 it was let to the respectable Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of Little Lord Fauntleroy. It was the Georgian walled rose garden of Great Maytham Hall and a certain robin who had made it his home which inspired The Secret Garden, Burnett's best-loved novel. She worked to restore the rose garden, using the old gazebo as a quiet corner in which to write. That same secret garden, so beautifully tended now that it failed to qualify as a backdrop for the TV series, survives to delight visitors.

Membership of the Country Houses Association costs pounds 16. Members only can stay at Great Maytham Hall under the Country House Breaks scheme at a B&B price per night of pounds 35 for a single room, pounds 55 for a double. Country Houses Association, Suite 10, Aynhoe Park, Aynho, Banbury, OX17 3BQ (tel: 01869 812800; fax: 01869 812819).

Keats's House,

26 Piazza di Spagna, Rome, Italy

In 1821, aged 25, the poet John Keats died of consumption by the Spanish Steps in this lodging house. The third floor apartment, just above the rooms Keats shared with his friend Joseph Severn, has been restored by the Landmark Trust, its original painted ceiling beams and tiled floors, its period furniture and well-thumbed copies of works by or about the poet recreating a convincing ambience. A mysterious collection of owl bones found under one window are thought to date from the later tenancy of Axel Munthe. The museum below pays tribute to Keats, Shelley and Byron with an assortment of locks of hair, bones and other bits and pieces. Outside, it has to be said, the less than genteel 20th century has overtaken the Spanish Steps with a vengeance. Partial double glazing does its best to shut out the tourist racket.

Prices to stay in Keats's house, which sleeps four, are from pounds 196 per night (min three nights), or from pounds 965 per week. Contact: the Landmark Trust (tel: 01628 825925).

Casa Guidi,

Piazza San Felice,

Florence, Italy

From 1848 to 1861 this fine palazzo was the Florentine home of Elizabeth and Robert Browning. Here they wrote some of their finest poetry; here their son Pen was born and here, in June 1861, Elizabeth died. Elizabeth's published letters to her family and friends - sparkling letters about furnishing a home, living in a foreign country and bringing up a child in a flat without a garden - are among the many books and articles in the apartment which help bring Casa Guidi in its Browning period vividly to life. Casa Guidi is now owned by Eton College and leased to the Landmark Trust. The high- ceilinged rooms, still lively and lived-in interiors, are arranged as they were in 1848. The original drawing room mirror reflects furniture carpets and curtains as close as possible to those described in family letters and inventories and captured in a painting of the room commissioned by Robert shortly after his wife's death; a place to savour the creative past and the bustling Florentine present.

Casa Guidi sleeps six. Prices are from pounds 229 per night (min three nights) or from pounds 1,167 per week. Contact: the Landmark Trust (tel: 01628 825925).

Vila Bled,

Bled, Slovenia

Hollywood stars are more frequent visitors now than the monarchs and international heads of state whom President Tito used to entertain here at his summer residence in Slovenia, to show them "the better face of Communism". The vila has a serene setting, discreetly hidden among the trees overlooking Lake Bled and the little island church of Santa Maria with its bell of wishes, easily reached by boat from the hotel jetty. Tito's private cinema where, fortified by a Havana cigar and a glass of Chivas Regal, he used to watch cowboy movies, remains unchanged as a guest lounge - the projection hole is still in the wall - while the black-and- white marbled entrance hall reflects his favourite colours. This is the only Relais & Chateaux property in any part of the former Yugoslavia.

Prices for a week are from pounds 625 per person, half board, including flights and transfers. Inghams Travel, 10-18 Putney Hill, London SW15 6AX. Reservations (tel: 0181-780 4433, fax: 0181- 780 4405). Rooms booked independently are from pounds 70 per person per night (tel: 00 386 64 7915).

Naulakha,

Vermont, USA

In 1892-93, Rudyard Kipling and his American wife Carrie Balestier built Naulakha, their "jewel without price" on top of a hill looking east over the Connecticut River valley to New Hampshire. Kipling later looked back on his early years in Vermont as some of the happiest in his life. Here his two daughters were born and here he achieved some of his most notable literary successes. Thanks to thorough contemporary photographic and written records, the Landmark Trust has had a high old time during the seven years since they bought Naulakha, stripping away later accretions and identifying and restoring dozens of original items of furniture left behind by the family when they returned to England. Anyone for tennis on the Kipling court? Or a ride in the Kipling sleigh? How about curling up by the fire with a copy of The Jungle Book just feet away from the desk on which it was written?

Prices for the flat, which sleeps eight, are from pounds 216. Prices for the property from pounds 159 per night (min three nights) or from pounds 779 per week. Contact: the Landmark Trust (tel: 01628 825925).

Romanov Palace,

Borjomi, Georgia

The Russian Tsar's summer palace, built in the 1860s in a beautiful park by the Black Sea, later became Stalin's summer house. It has definitely seen better days. Stalin visited only once, and amused himself knocking nails into the former owner's elegant furniture. The palace has four huge double rooms, each of which contains four beds. There are, however, only two lavatories and one bathroom. The appeal, says Caucasus Travel, the local travel agents cautiously, is history and beauty rather than comfort. Meals are offered in the palace but are of a very low standard. Visitors tend to eat instead in the restaurants of the nearby Black Sea resort of Borjomi.

B&B per person per night, pounds 30. Regent Holidays, 15 John Street, Bristol BS1 2HR (tel: 0117-921 1711, fax: 0117-925 4866).

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