Nestled outside Cong, in County Mayo, home of “The Quiet Man”, is Ashford Castle, a five-star, imposing hotel - one of the most famous in the world.
It is quite simply magnificent. If you want to stay somewhere truly special then Ashford Castle should be among your top choices. The week before I arrived golfer Rory McIlroy had tied the knot in the most glamorous wedding of the year. It is hardly surprising he chose Ashford.
There is something undeniably idyllic about a stay at a castle in Ireland but being a guest on the 26,000 acres of the Ashford estate is just magic. After an overnight stay, over a sunny May weekend, it was clear to see how Ashford Castle won the title of the Best Hotel in the World in 2015. Once a property of the famed Guinness family, the castle dates back to 1228 and has been welcoming distinguished guests through its doors for almost 800 years.
The castle became hallowed ground to fans of the Oscar-winning classic “The Quiet Man”, back in 1951. Many of the outdoor scenes in the beloved movie, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, and directed by John Ford, were filmed on the estate. To this day, the movie is omnipresent in the village of Cong where guests can visit replicas of the movie sets in The Quiet Man Museum and Pat Cohen’s Bar while guests at the castle can watch the classic movie in the 32-seat private cinema.
It is the details such as a private in-house cinema that make a stay at the castle so very special. Upon entering the grand building, you are greeted by the Oak Hall, a stunning original feature from the Guinness period. This room, bedecked with a spectacular crystal chandelier and a huge display of fresh flowers, is where guests are often lucky enough to meet the castle’s Irish wolfhounds, amazing docile gigantic dogs who weigh 80kg a piece.
Above the hall, on the mezzanine is a library of over 800 antique books and even more enticing is the hotel’s guest book surrounded by a rogue’s gallery of the famous and distinguished folks who have visited over the decades. From John Lennon and George Harrison, to Oscar Wilde and Brad Pitt, their photo gallery will leave you reeling. It is such a wonderful place it is little wonder that it has become a favorite for celebrity weddings, including Pierce Brosnan and, most recently, Rory McIlroy.
Everything about this castle is distinct and exciting. From having coffee in the drawing room overlooking Lough Corrib and the stunning gardens, to stepping back in time and entering the Billiard’s Room and Cigar Terrace. There are a multitude of spaces to enjoy the sumptuous menus of drinks and foods.
During our stay, we dined at the George V Restaurant, which was built by Arthur Guinness along with the Prince of Wales Bar, in honor of the monarch’s 1905 visit. The tasting menu we enjoyed for dinner, and our breakfast the next day, were exquisite. Created from locally sourced and even foraged ingredients, from the kitchen of acclaimed Chef Philippe Farineau and much-loved recipes of Beatrice Tollman, the meals, and its service were truly a delight.
The dining options at the castle are many - from the high-end dinner room of George V, to afternoon tea in the bright and beautiful Connaught Room, to a wine and food experience in the vast cellars, or a more relaxed meal in The Dungeon. Guests are simply spoiled for choice.
As for the bedrooms, well, they are literally fit for a king. Each of the 83 rooms are individually designed and decorated with original art, antiques and the most amazing tapestries and textiles. Highlights of their lodgings include the Regan Presidential Suite and The Kennedy Suite, named for Senator Ted Kennedy, both men visited the castle in the early 1980s.
The main castle isn’t the only lodging option on the 26,000-acre estate. There is also a two-bedroom, completely private Hideaway Cottage, which would be perfect for a true escape. There’s also the Lodge at Ashford Castle which is a smaller boutique hotel on the castle’s grounds.
Yet another highlight of our visit was taking a cruise on Lough Corrib. Captain John’s commentary, around some of the 365 islands, provided amazing tales and insight into the history of the area, the property and what made it quite so special. From tales of the Guinness family landing their seaplane on the lough to pointing out the small cabin where Arthur Guinness’ wife would paint, his guide really added to our understanding of the estate and the area.
As well as other lake activities such as kayaking and fishing the castle can also organize activities including archery, clay-pigeon shooting equestrian activities, cycling, tree climbing and zip lining, falconry, golf, and tennis. Or if you’re visiting to really unwind their fairy tale spa, located in a stunning brass conservatory on the lake is exactly the ticket. There is literally something for everyone and even a spot of on-site shopping at Mrs. Tea’s boutique and bakery, which as a beautiful collection of foods, Irish gifts and clothing.
As we entered the castle the century at the gate told us “You know once you go in you won’t want to leave.” That was certainly the case. When we finally tore ourselves away we promised we will be back. A stay at Ashford Castle is truly a once in a lifetime experience where you’ll make memories that will last a lifetime.
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