Capturing the Castle
Ashford Castle is a stellar place to launch an Emerald Isle adventure, where the sky is the limit. By Martine Bury
On the shores of Lough Corrib, Ashford Castle conjures fantasy against one of Ireland’s most sweeping and romantic backdrops—a moody, blue-gray lake dotted with islands, leafy forests nestling up to the picturesque village of Cong with its stately stone church, and the first inklings of nearby Connemara National Park’s untamed landscape. Famously, John Wayne and Maureen Ohara’s The Quiet Man (1952) showcased this beautiful setting.
Dating back to Anglo-Norman times, the 13th century castle has had many illustrious owners, including the Guinness family, who rebuilt it in the Victorian fashion, nurtured and developed the surrounding woodlands, and ultimately gifted the property to the Irish government. Eventually this sprawling royal retreat was converted into a hotel, which served an eclectic roster of notable guests—including King George V, Oscar Wilde, Ronald Reagan, Brad Pitt, and a few members of the Beatles. Completely refurbished and relaunched in 2015, Ashford has a way of indulging you while serving up warm, gracious Irish hospitality. Take your pick of cozy guest rooms awash in fine materials and heirloom pieces (no two the same). Eat in a range of dining establishments to suit your mood, from afternoon tea with garden views in the Connaught Room and swank cocktails at the Prince of Wales Bar, to gourmet courses in the George V Dining Room and casual eats at the Dungeon, clad in red walls and Medieval style. Meet the estate’s two resident Irish Wolfhounds, Cronan and Garvan, as they make their morning rounds.
All that is fit for a queen or king, you can do. Channel your inner genteel sportsman at Ireland’s School of Falconry at Ashford Castle, with horseback riding, archery or clay-shooting. There’s also golf, lake cruising, zip-lining, tree climbing and bicycles to explore the sprawling grounds.
After play days, tuck into serious comfort. Housed in an imposing bronze and glass conservatory designed by French architect Phillipe Bonino, Ashford’s Spa melds into the scenery with views of the lake. Celtic myths and legends are showcased in tile and stone details, hand-hewn by local artisans. While décor touches pay elegant tribute to the Gothic past, five treatment rooms offer state-of-the-art pampering using organic, Irish products.
Town to Country
While Ireland’s rolling countryside offers an impressive lot of storied castles and grand estates, you can experience a taste of how aristocratic city dwellers lived at The Merrion in Dublin. A lavishly restored Georgian-era building, the hotel is ideally located to see the best of the creative and intellectual hub that spawned great artists, from James Joyce to Bono. It’s across the street from Parliament and a quick stroll from modern eateries and lively watering holes—as well as main attractions like Trinity College, Stephen’s Green, the National Gallery and the historic Guinness Storehouse. A leisurely way to spend your time between high tea and the cocktail hour is to take The Merrion Art Tour with a local art historian, viewing the hotel’s coveted collection. A stay in this gracious home sets the scene and tone before taking in the bucolic landscape on your private, chauffeured drive to Ashford Castle.