While some castle hotels can feel a bit dusty—with all those heavy curtains and canopy beds—the Lough Eske Castle Hotel feels more airy and contemporary than you’d expect from a 150-year-old castle. Located near Donegal Town in the northern part of Ireland, it’s the only five-star hotel in Donegal County. And while the Elizabethan manor house was once at the center of a farm, today it’s fronted by a formal rose garden and surrounded by 43 acres of forest on the banks of Lough Eske, a 900-acre lake.
The hotel has a glass greenhouse-style spa, an indoor pool with views of the grounds, and a restaurant, Cedars Grill, which serves fresh-from-the-sea oysters and filets of Irish beef. But best of all is the lovely, generous staff: Concierges in particular quickly arrive at a first-name basis with guests as they arrange outings and grant even somewhat-annoying requests. And since all guests do here is spa, stroll, and feast, the only real challenge is deciphering the staff’s thick Northern Irish accents.
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On the banks of the tranquil Lough Eske 100 miles west of Belfast Airport, the castle is just 10 minutes north of Donegal Town, a charming harbor village home to a 15th-century castle and abbey. Tranquil, picturesque walks come at the nearby Glenveagh National Park, a taste of Irish village life from the 1700s on at Glencolmcille’s Folk Village Museum, and panoramic views of green headlands on the drive around Horn Head.
Need to Know
Rooms: 94 rooms, 15 suites. From $245. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: Cedars Grill is the most sophisticated option for sit-down dinners of Irish surf and turf, but you can get duck salads and Donegal Bay oak-smoked salmon at the Gallery Bar. Spa and gym details: The glass-walled indoor pool area sits next to the seven-treatment-room Spa Solis, which uses fragrant Aromatherapy Associates products and hot Irish basalt stones. The gym is in the same compound and is open 24 hours a day.
Who’s it for: Those looking for R&R who have time to explore the outer reaches of Ireland; the hotel is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Belfast Airport. Our favorite rooms: The Courtyard Rooms are spacious and modern, with French doors leading to flower-filled gardens. Indulge yourself: Some spa treatments are afterthoughts, but this one isn’t; you won’t regret booking a package that comes with a eucalyptus- or juniper-berry-fragrant massage.