Ashford Castle, Ireland
I spend a lot of time in Ireland but I've never written about it on the blog - because going there is less about traveling than visiting family. Given how much time I spend there I've seen surprisingly little of the country. However, on my recent trip I decided to mix things up and instead of heading to Europe with my mother and we decided to stay at home.
The weather in Ireland is unpredictable and in February it's can be downright awful. Consequently I was looking for a destination hotel, somewhere we could hole up and enjoy ourselves regardless of the weather. Ashford Castle was at the top of my wish list. It reopened last year after an extensive refurbishment and was subsequently voted Virtouso's Best Hotel in the World. No small accomplishment because Virtuoso travel agents know their stuff and deal predominantly in the very best hotels and resorts.
Here you can see the series of additions to the original tower like castle structure on the left, including a a French inspired roofline as you move to the center. A Twentieth Century addition, along with the new glass conservatory style pool and spa can be seen below. The extensions are exceedingly well done and this is property where you don't need to worry about being in the "old" or "new" wing. as all of the rooms are furnished to a very high standard and are individually finished to very high specifications.
The refurbishment is luxurious and tasteful but also comfortable and in keeping with the building, in short it's a masterful job and if you read the blog you should know I can be a difficult customer! The public spaces are designed to impress with beautiful fabrics, paintings and furniture, not to mention fabulous flowers. We paid for the stay (as I do at all the properties I review )so you can be assured that this is an honest assessment, not some sort of hyperbolic travel agent speak.
There are a series of comfortable rooms where you can sit in front of a fire, all beautifully decorated.
There is even a room with a display of a formal silver service (below) and upstairs you can find a wall of old photos including picture of Grace Kelly, several American Presidents and previous owners of the Castle.
Our room which was a Junior Suite was breathtaking, both for the exquisite interior design and the spectacular view over Lough Corrib. First lets look at the room, as you can see we had a large four poster bed as well as a lovely seating area. Housekeeping came twice daily and overall we were very impressed by the service throughout the hotel
The bathroom featured a separate bath and shower and lots of nice amenities, there was even a mirror like television mounted on the wall, though I personally can't think of anything less relaxing than watching tv while soaking in the tub.
Below is the spectacular view over Lough Corrib which we enjoyed from our room. As you can see we looked right over the undulating glass roof of the spa. A lake view room is a must at this property, because it's just so glorious. My pictures don't capture the ethereal power of the lake, the shimmering surface, the misty quality to the light and the beautiful punctuation of the water with a series of small islands. I think you can understand why I was mesmerized by the view.
We booked through whatahotel.com a Virtuoso agent and the rate included a lavish breakfast for two daily, an upgrade where available and an 85 Euro food and beverage credit. I always recommend booking luxury properties through an agent in order to secure these benefits. At breakfast they offer both a buffet and an a la carte option, they even offered my mother Connemara whisky for her porridge!
Tip: Ashford Castle is a very popular property and is often fully booked. Don't rely on the available upgrade and make sure to book the room you want. I'd recommend booking a lough view room and contacting them direct with any requirements before your stay. The rooms are in general categories but they are all very individual. For example if you want a separate shower and bath make sure to let them know as some room have this and some don't.
Overall this was a great couple of days away with my mother, the staff went to great trouble to accommodate her and to make sure we were comfortable. There is enough indoor space in the hotel that you feel you've done plenty without leaving the property.
We had tea and read the paper, made a short walk around the grounds, in the evening I listened to live music after dinner and one morning my mother even became acquainted with the resident Irish wolfhound!
This is a delightful property and somewhere I will certainly return, one small quibble was that while the room came with a decanter of sherry it did not come with tea and coffee making facilities. It's hard to explain but to the Britis or the irish this is something we expect and it's something you'd probably find even in relatively modest properties. the fact that they don't have this counts against them particularly because you can call down for a tray but you'll find an unexpected and unwelcome charge on the bill. Frankly it seems out of step with the cost of the property and the ethos of hospitality, clearly this is one of the few areas where they could do better.
However, despite this small misstep I have to say I highly recommend Ashford Castle. This is an extremely luxurious option in a beautiful area of Ireland. We enjoyed ourselves despite the weather which is exactly what one wants on a winter trip.
I'd love to return to the hotel and further explore the grounds as well as the famous School of Falconry and the Heritage Trail through the village of Cong where they filmed The Quiet Man. Starring Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne the film made the village famous and one of the things that delighted me about our stay was the opportunity to see the movie in their private cinema. The staff set it up just for the two of us, complete with popcorn and two glasses of champagne - what a delight!
What this visit taught me was that there's a lot more of Ireland I need to see and you can do it in style! It's possible to have a great getaway in rainy February if you pick a property where there is plenty of attractive indoor space.
I look forward to visiting Ashford Castle again soon. As this review is getting rather long, I'll feature the wonderful spa in a separate post. I highly recommend considering Ashford Castle on any Irish itinerary and I can also recommend the property for anyone traveling with elderly parents, my mother loved the place too!