What trip to Ireland is complete without a stay in a castle hotel? Ashford fulfills even the wildest castle fantasies with its crenellated towers, medieval-looking canopy beds, and esteemed falconry program that lets guests explore its 350 woodland acres with birds of prey on their arms. An hour north of Galway on the Cong River with views of Lough Corrib, Ireland’s second-largest lake, Ashford Castle is so straight-from-a-fairytale that it’s a favorite wedding locale: Pierce Brosnan, for one, so loved the castle’s lake views and wood-paneled drawing rooms that he held his wedding reception here in 2001. (Other celebrity guests range from Oscar Wilde to Brad Pitt to Princess Grace of Monaco.)
First built by Anglo Normans in the 13th century, the castle’s current look owes mostly to the Guinness family, who overhauled the site in the 1800s. It’s been a hotel since the 1930s and is currently undergoing renovations including updates to the nine-hole golf course.
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Walk 10 minutes across a bridge to the 200-person village of Cong, where a few pretty pubs, shops, and a historic abbey give a taste of the Ireland of yore. Set between the counties of Mayo and Clare, Ashford Castle is more remote than others—it’s not quite as convenient for sightseeing in the Burren and the West Coast.
Need to Know
Rooms: 83 rooms, 6 suites. From $170. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: Paneled in dark wood, lit by Waterford crystal chandeliers, and lined with cushy velvet banquettes, the George V Dining Room is Old-World fabulous, and serves just the sort of roast lamb and seared monkfish you’d expect from such an opulent space. A traditional thatched-roof cottage on the grounds holds Cullen’s, a pub serving burgers, steaks, and salads. The bright Drawing Room, which overlooks the castle’s formal gardens, is an elegant spot for afternoon tea, while the Prince of Wales Bar is as clubby, leathery, and regal as can be—it was built in the 1800s for a visit from the then-Prince of Wales, who later became King George V. Spa and gym details: Get scrubbed with sea salts or wrapped in seaweed in The Spa, which has three treatment rooms and uses Voya products, made from Irish seaweed. The 2015 renovations will add a glass-enclosed swimming pool and four new treatment rooms. The gym is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Who’s it for: Those looking to spend a few nights playing out country fantasies with long walks, cozy armchair chats, clay-pigeon shooting, falcon walking—and some spa days, too. Our favorite rooms: Ask for an upgrade for views of Lough Corrib. Or opt for the corner suites, which feel like plush 19th-century apartments with marble fittings and roomy dressing rooms. Local highlight: Don’t miss taking a Hawk Walk with the falconry school; it’s the best way to explore the hotel’s misty forests—with a feathered friend in tow.
Living in a Castle
White staying at Ashford Castle in Ireland, I wandered into as many nooks and crannies as I could. I delved into the history of the stunning, historic estate. I chatted with the maids and waiters. The young lady at the front desk had so many wonderful little details to relate about the castle and its grounds. There were gorgeous, well-kept and manicured grounds, the shimmering lake, quiet gravel paths, and profuse foliage. The stone walls, the castle, and the gate were imposing - you could just imagine living there centuries ago. In 1228, the castle was built on the site of a 6th century monastery. By 1715, the castle was established as an estate. In 1852, Sir Benjamin Guinness extended the estate to 26,000 acres. By 1915, the castle was considered a first class hotel. Today, Ashford castle is considered to be one of the finest hotels in the world. The estate has a fine spa and beautiful dining rooms and public rooms. Ashford Castle is a very popular venue for the wedding of your dreams. Fishing, boat trips, lake cruises, falconry, horse riding, archery, bike riding, and kayaking are all offered at this luxury hotel. I would definitely stay at Ashford Castle again if in western Ireland.
In 1228, an castle was built in Cong, Ireland on the remains of a 6th century monastery. The castle became an estate by 1715 and the estate was enlarged as time went by and acres were added to it. By 1915, this estate became a first class hotel. many celebrities and royals stayed at the Castle. King George V of the United Kingdom visited. And Prince Ranier of Monoco was also a guest with his famous wife, American actress Grace Kelly. In 1951, John Ford arrived in Cong to produce the film "The Quiet Man" which starred John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara among others. Most of the film stars and producers stayed at Ashford Castle during the filming. John Ford used many sites on the Castle grounds in the film. Other famous guests were President John F. Kennedy, President Ronald Reagan, Oscar Wilde, John Lennon, and Brad Pitt. When you stay at this luxury hotel and spa, you can see why the famous, well-to-do, or any traveler enjoys being pampered there. Ashford Castle is a luxury hotel for a special visit while in Ireland. For info: www.ashford.ie/index.php
If you are staying at or near Ashford Castle, stop by the First School of Falconry. In addition to flying the awesome falcons, you can also fly Dingle, Ashford's resident owl - if he is feeling like it.