A medieval castle has risen out of the fields of Sturgeon County, and its owner says it’s drawing guests from across the globe.
Sturgeon County resident Barbara Ryan hosted her first guests at the Ryans Castle Bed and Breakfast earlier this month. The business is based in her home, which has been built to resemble an opulent European castle, complete with tower and battlements.
In development for about 13 years, the castle – which is about 20 minutes northwest of St. Albert – has been somewhat of a mystery to passersby, as few people outside of Ryan’s family have been allowed past its front gate.
“I’m quite a reclusive person,” said Ryan, 57, but she had been thinking of running a bed and breakfast for years to deal with the rising cost of living.
Ryan said she put her first call for guests online in early December.
“Once I put it on Facebook, it just went viral,” she said, with inquiries flooding in from around the world.
“I didn’t expect it to be this overwhelming.”
Ryan said she and her family started building this home in 2008. She based the design on European castles, particularly Odescalchi Castle in Italy (site of the wedding of film star Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes).
“It’s just my style. We’ve travelled a lot in Europe and it just speaks to me.”
The castle itself is roughly the size of three typical homes in St. Albert (780 square meters), its gray edifice leaping out of the snow-swept prairie. It features a pool, a tower, battlements and a carriage house, all encased in concrete tiles that resemble large stone slabs. It also has a moat of sorts, as it’s in the middle of Murray Marsh.
Ryan noted the long driveway leading up to the castle actually floods about a foot deep each April, turning the castle into an island.
“I love it. It’s my favourite time of year, because we’re totally separate from the world.”
Step in the front door, and you’ll see knights' helmets and a Victorian-era cast-iron umbrella stand as you sit in a 19th-century hand-carved pub chair to take off your boots. The guest room to your right features a luxurious bed and bathroom, antique furniture and a large painting of Ste. Marguerite and Jesus from the 1800s.
You’ll soon realize that virtually everything in the home – from the couches to the candelabras – is a centuries-old item collected by Ryan over the years. You’ll find 17th- to 19th-century reliquaries in the cabinets, a 15th-century illuminated manuscript on one of the shelves, and a slightly more recent inflatable swan in the pool.
You’ll also sometimes hear what sounds like a squeaky weathervane – one of the dozen or so parrots and cockatiels in the castle’s aviary.
“I’ve had these birds for 30 years,” Ryan said, and most were adopted from other owners. (Keep an ear out for Rocky, a white Moluccan cockatoo that sounds like a CB radio on account of his former owner, a trucker.)
The carriage house features an Alberta-made carriage Ryan hopes to offer horse-drawn rides in in future years. Also upcoming is a wedding hall with a four-metre-tall green-and-white marble altar from Ireland.
Ryan said guests at the castle can expect breakfast, a traditional English afternoon tea, a cello player and, on request, a candlelit dinner made by a professional chef. Come spring, you’ll be able to hang out with the chickens, ducks and dwarf goats that roam the property. She's only renting one room for now, and has set the price at $995 a night.
Bonnyville writer Carmen Verrier said she and her husband were the first guests at the castle and stayed there for New Year’s Eve.
“Even in the winter, it’s absolutely beautiful,” she said, adding it was more like a palace than a castle.
“Your eye has something interesting to rest upon everywhere you look,” she continued, and you could easily spend half a day just studying the art.
Ryan said she is now booking guests well into June, and already has visitors coming in from France and Australia.
“I didn’t expect it to be quite as busy,” she said, but she’s enjoying meeting all these interesting guests.
Verrier said anyone who’s seen it all in Alberta and wants a romantic getaway should give the castle a visit.
“They wouldn’t forget it, that’s for sure.”
Details are available at www.ryanscastlebnb.com.