I think back at the days I spent touring Ireland and I realize that the moments where I was happiest was when I felt the history of the place around me. There’s something to be revered about a place that has survived the test of time and the whims of humanity.
I heard about Ashford Castle from my husband who had taken a road trip through Ireland with his brother 15 years ago. He described his room as stately and large. He also recalls how much he enjoyed the falconry and how it remained one of his favorite hotel experiences.
The castle, which served as a home to the Guinness family for over 100 years, is now one among the 17 luxury and award-winning hotels in the Red Carnation Hotel Collection. The history of how the Guinness family brought life to not only the castle but to the community around it is worthy of a day-long tour through the grounds. The work done to restore and keep the history and beauty of the place, led by Red Carnation’s Founder and President Mrs. Bea Tollman, beautifully melds contemporary amenities with old world charm and sophistication.
We arrived to the castle on a rainy afternoon. Before I could take it all in a bagpiper started to play and lead us across the castle’s bridge over the Lough Corrib.
I understood why my husband loved this place so much. It is warm and inviting with every turn leading into a new experience for the senses. Guests first walk into the Oak Room, your eyes quickly gravitating up towards the gorgeous chandelier that centers the room. Portraits hang on almost every wall, while beautiful carvings adorn the edges of the wooden room.
The Drawing Room, over looking Lough Corrib, is perfect for relaxation and enjoying a cup of coffee or tea. Adjacent to the drawing room is the George V dining room for a fine dining experience, though I also enjoyed the more casual experience at Cullen’s At The Cottage, a short walk away from the castle on the estate. Delicious seasonal dishes are served, but come hungry as the servings are generous and you won’t want to waste a bite.
This room next to the Oak Room holds the castle’s collection of silverware, much of which is used during tea time, a must while enjoying your stay.
My room was like a dream. I felt myself melt in my bed and I fell asleep smiling. Yet no two rooms are the same, each delivering a different view, feel, and memorable stay. Check out the video below mini-tour of my room!
There’s a cinema that seats 32 of your closest friends and family, should they ever be so lucky to join you. Movies rotate periodically to guarantee you have something new to watch each time. A big hit is The Quiet Man filmed right there in the castle and in the village of Cong.
There’s also a billiards room, a wine cellar, an incredible spa – and really, that’s an understatement, and more. As I mentioned before, I highly recommend a tour of the estate grounds as well as taking a bike ride around the same. The garden is picture perfect and ever-changing.
Restoration is still ongoing around the estate, so I was happy to get a glimpse into the past in some areas.
A glimpse into the past: the old gardener’s working cabin.
Aside from touring the grounds, other fun includes kayaking, equestrian, golf, tennis, fishing, clay shooting and archery, as well as traditional boat excursion. Forgot your rain boots and jacket? No worries. They have you covered!
For a special treat, take a sunset lake cruise. Sure, it’s a bit windy and maybe even a tad chilly, but the views are worth it and you get to enjoy some drinks and music along the way.
The bagpipes sent us on our way to explore a bit of Lough Corrib, a boat tour led by the family owned Corrib Cruises.
Martin Noone, 85, has been serenading guests on the cruise for decades, many of them celebrities. He is not only a beautiful singer, he is quite the character and has some fun stories!
Of course, you can’t miss out on the falconry. Ashford Castle is home to oldest established Falconry School in Ireland. I can see why this was a highlight for my husband when he visited. I was both terrified and fascinated.
If you are an animal lover, a dog-lover especially, be ready to fall in love with the Ashford wolfhounds, Cronan and Garven. They even have their own Instagram account!
Don’t leave without venturing into Cong. It’s a sweet village with small shops, eateries, and pubs. Even on a lazy, rainy afternoon you’ll feel like your walking through the pages of a picturesque storybook.
My stay in Ashford Castle was special. One of the most luxurious experiences I have had in a long time. But what left me most impressed was the level of hospitality. The smiles and friendly demeanor of everyone I met, from management to cleaning staff. Though my stay was wrapped in the lap of luxury, it never felt pretentious or impersonal to me. The Irish warmth that I have so grown to love about this country was present every step of the way, as was the sense of humor that always makes me feel so happy inside.
Of all the awards Ashford Castle has won, I think what it’s got going for it the most is just how much the people who you will meet there love it, which has a funny way of working itself into the magic of the overall experience. And which makes me want to go back for more.
The Ashford Castle Experience with Insight Vacations
Ashford Castle is a 5-star luxury boutique hotel, with only 85 rooms and suites, despite its 350-acres estate, making it an intimate stay where every guest is catered to with great attention and care. It is part of an Insight Vacations Signature experience and was acquired by the Red Carnation Hotel Collection in 2013.
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