Ashford Castle, part of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection
Cong, County Mayo, Ireland
+353 94 95 46003
From the moment we drove under the stone archway, I was in love. The drive had been nerve-racking. I was gripping the steering wheel with what I imagine was an appropriate level of excitement for a girl about to go to her first proper castle. The trek to Ashford Castle felt painfully slow, but once we drove over the river, we arrived in front of the type of castle a girl dreams of as a kid. From the outside you can tell you are in for a treat, but just walk inside and the exterior will seem underwhelming by comparison.
I’m a big fan of words – I know a lot – but I struggle to find the right words to succinctly describe Ashford Castle. The closest I can get is this: stately opulence for the luxury traveler. But, in reality, it’s really more like this: a five-star resort, where everyone was trained in hospitality by your sweet, ever-accommodating grandmother. Ashford Castle is a place where the effervescent housekeeping staff, on-point front desk and concierge, and knowledgeable sommeliers make you feel at home. The food is divine. And the surrounding 350 acres evoke a fairytale.
My time at the castle was short, but exceptionally memorable. At first, we were overwhelmed by our surroundings. The décor is rich and stately, though not like a museum meant for looking but not touching, and the common areas are welcoming. Then came the staff – they really tipped the experience over the edge. We were escorted to our room, offered their featured cocktail, and shown all of the state-of–the-art-technology in the room. Then I was given a quick pow-wow about my dress choice for dinner by the woman preparing our room for the evening. We were left in the room feeling like we had narrowly escaped a tornado, but by the end of dinner we had acclimated to the attention and started to relax.
Dinner was in the George V restaurant on the main floor of the castle. Everything on the menu sounded so good, rendering it impossible to choose. Then the sommelier walked by and recommended the tasting menu with wine pairings. And with that, the decision was made: we wouldn’t make any more decisions, just sit back and trust the chef. Course after course, glass after glass, by the end we couldn’t decide which was our favorite, but were happily in a culinary-induced coma.
To end our first evening, we headed to the bar for a night cap, and then a stroll around the back garden. When we finally returned to our room, it was the first opportunity we had to take it all in. Our room was decorated impeccably, and outfitted with the latest conveniences. Everything is operated by controls on the wall. From the bed, you can control pretty much everything in the room, from lights to window shades. In the bathroom, you are treated to different light combinations, one of the best bath and shower duo I’ve seen in a while, and heated marble floors. And as a big fan of baths, I was in heaven with the one in our room. I was so comfortable that I made my boyfriend check on me to make sure I didn’t fall asleep.
Our next day at Ashford Castle was spent taking a historical cruise around the lake, a picnic on the back lawn, and a horseback riding journey through the woods—all of which were well worth the energy expended. If those activities don’t appeal to you, you can choose from several other options. You can learn the ancient skill of archery—or maybe learning to skeet shoot is more your style. You can rest your soul in the spa, or spend the day working on your photography. Ashford Castle is also home to Ireland’s first school of falconry. If you still haven’t found an activity, then try a bike ride into Cong to experience a small Irish village untouched by the modern world. The ride is short and the bikes are complimentary, but limited in number and available on a first-come basis.
Later in the evening, we attempted to have dinner at Cullen’s at the Dungeon, but by the end of all our activities, we were beat and decided, instead, to have food brought to our room while we caught up on some Instagram and Facebook posting. I’m sad we didn’t get to see more of the castle, but in the end, we had to leave early the next morning for Dublin.
Whatever you decide to do while at Ashford Castle, it will be enjoyable. Your welcome will be first class, your tummy will always be happy, and everyone will find an activity to suit them. And if that wasn’t enough, you will never want to leave the people that make the place so special.
Have you been to Ashford Castle? What tips do you have for a stay in Ireland?
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