I was much taken with the bold theme of the Grand Salon, the gentlemanly Blue Salon, and my favorite, the Pink Salon with its fabulous art and an oversized 1950s-inspired rug.
I longed to linger in the lounges where people laughed, drank and some sang (a group of girls on a bachelorette party), but my husband was eager to get to the bedroom where a gas fire glowing beneath a large plasma television set the scene nicely.
The views of both Galway Bay and the city skyline, and the luxurious bathroom, with its double walk-in shower, freestanding egg-shaped bath, double hand basins and another flatscreen TV, added to the romance.
We spent the better part of the next day enjoying the shops, a nice long walk along the promenade in Salthill and a feed of Galway’s finest cod and chips served in newspaper, and all too soon, we were back in our car and headed deeper into the northwest.
Our next destination – Ashford Castle. (www.ashford.ie)
Ashford, nestled in the heart of County Mayo, is surrounded by gardens and forests and accessed by an authentic drawbridge that pulls you back into the 1200s when the castle was built.
It was here, and in the nearby village of Cong, that the John Ford classic “The Quiet Man” (1951) starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, was filmed.
The setting and grounds are absolutely breathtaking.
After lingering in our room, which overlooked the gardens and lakes and exuded romance, we took a drive down to Cong.
Quaint shops and restaurants hug the main street and locals are ever so friendly.
We had dinner in a local restaurant, a lovely conversation with a couple from Virginia, and to round out the evening, back in the hotel, we sat with a house bottle of wine and laughed and wept through a screening of “The Quiet Man.”
Up bright and early the next morning we were all set for our first lesson in Falconry.
James, a fine English gentleman, took me under his wing (pardon the pun) and introduced me to Guirre, an eight-month-old Harris hawk.
Guirre and I saw eye-to-eye immediately.
He perched on my left arm, and within minutes he and I were setting off through the magnificent woodlands to a clearing where I released him to fly free.
He soared gracefully, wings and feathers spread out, circled around and returned to perch once again on my arm. Beautiful.
Too soon, it was time to say goodbye to Ashford and Guirre and settle into the three-hour journey to Donegal.
The sun shone brightly on sparkling seas as we drove through small coastal towns, catching sight of parents and children strolling on beaches and elderly Irish folks taking dogs for walks and sipping tea at the side of the road as they embraced the winter sunshine, albeit wrapped up in woolly scarfs and hats.
By the time we arrived at our destination, dusk was falling and the shifting colors made the drive up to Lough Solis Eske Castle (www.solislougheskecastle.ie), just outside Donegal town, a rare treat.
An oversized four-poster bed, an elegant fireplace (original to the castle) and complimentary desserts provided a wonderful welcome after our long drive.
After an exploring walk through the hotel, which oozes classic chic and sophistication throughout, we decided to visit Donegal town – a nifty place adorned with Christmas lights, restaurants, shops and bars. We ate at a place recommended to us by the hotel staff, then drove to Killybegs to visit friends.
Elaine Boyle and her husband Dermot showed us around the small village, one of the few coastal towns in Ireland that has an abundance of fresh fish available on a daily basis.
Trawlers lined the marina and fishermen, settling down after a hard day’s work, ate heartily.
It was a pleasure to be part of this hardworking community on our last evening in the west country.
After a hearty breakfast the following morning, we were back on the road headed towards the nation’s capital.
A late afternoon check-in at the Merrion Hotel (www.merrionhotel.com) in Dublin was welcome after the long journey from Donegal.
Staff at the reception desk exuded professionalism and hospitality, and from the moment we arrived, the hotel felt like home.
There was an infectious buzz about the place. Women, men and children sat around tables full of pastries and tea in the dining rooms.
I asked the hotel concierge if this was the norm for a Saturday afternoon. She happily informed me that it was the norm almost every day.
We settled into our oversized suite and decided on room service. I ordered what the hotel calls Art Tea, the most lavish afternoon tea on the menu.
Not twenty minutes later we were sipping tea from our china cups and delving into slices of mini pastry creations inspired by works of Jack Yeats, Louis Le Brocquy, William Scott and other artists whose works are hanging at the National Gallery of Ireland, right next door.
The hotel encompasses four Georgian townhouses and a contemporary Garden Wing, and is perfectly situated in the heart of the city.