Traveling down the long driveway, through the moss-covered forests that edge the peaceful Loch Corrib in Western Ireland, you can’t help but wonder what might be worth such a dramatic arrival. Around the final bend, you see the stately castle, imposing and beautiful in so many ways. Over a small bridge that crosses a raging river, leading out to the loch, you finally slow to a halt. And, as if you had been transported to the most magical moment possible, you realize you’re about to experience something incredibly special.
Ashford Castle is a five-star, luxury hotel that is owned by the respected Red Carnation Hotel Group. A royal residence originally built in the 1200s, the castle has been completely transformed into a destination for comfort, luxury and an opportunity to disconnect. From the moment of check-in, guests never want for anything. The staff, most of whom have been working at the hotel for over 10 years on average, make it their priority to take excellent care of you. As a guest at Ashford, you are family.
Some may think that staying at a castle built in the 13th Century might mean dealing with amenities that are, well, dated? Not at Ashford. It just went through an incredible renovation that completely modernized every square inch. The rooms, the restaurants, even the window shades – all brand new. Flat screen televisions with unlimited channels, electronically operated blinds, cooling systems, marble bathrooms, the most comfortable beds you’ll ever sleep in – this is all at your fingertips.
The main castle is huge, hall after hall filled with period antiques and artwork lead you to rooms bright with colors, rich textures, interesting fabrics and flowers. You can stop at any corner and admire the details. Carved moldings, etchings, nooks and crannies to explore. The inspiration is endless. You can simply get lost for hours in the castle itself without setting foot outdoors. But what a mistake that would be.
Ashford is surrounded by hundreds of acres of park-like grounds littered with water features, statues, gardens and secluded woods. Walking through you stumble upon the castle’s equestrian center which provides riding lessons or personalized rides through the property and beyond. You can even bump in to the renowned School of Falconry. Here you can work with expert guides who have trained hawks, falcons and owls to hunt and fly through the local forests on “missions”. The birds will disappear and then return to land on your arm when you call them. Pure magic. Ashford castle is nature’s theme park.
On the property, there are three restaurants to indulge in both local and international cuisine. They’re all fabulous. The food at Ashford is headed by chef Stefan Matz, and he’s a magician. For fine dining you can indulge in perfect tasting menus at George V restaurant. For something more casual, you can head to Cullen’s at the Cottage or the Drawing Room. There is a large variety of offerings at each establishment and menus are well-curated and utilize only the freshest, local ingredients.
Overall, I don’t think I’ve experienced an environment as grand and luxurious, yet intimate and inviting as Ashford. The entire time, you feel as if you’re staying at the home of a loving, wealthy aunt and uncle that you see only once a year. The Ashford staff is genuinely happy you’re there and happy to serve, they want nothing but the best for you in so many ways. My only regret is not spending a longer period of time at Ashford. What a shame I had to depart after only two days. I would have stayed two months if possible. But, not to worry. This is one of those places you come back to year after year. Your name will be remembered and Ashford will never leave you – even after returning home.