For a luxury weekend away where a royal adventure begins the minute you pass through the grand stone gates, look no further than the magical 800-year-old Ashford castle. Located on the West Coast of Ireland and widely considered to be the country’s number one castle destination, I was fortunate enough to recently spend a weekend here. Once home to the Guinness family, it is now part of the luxurious Red Carnation group. Set in 350 stunning acres of woodland on the shores of Lough Corrib in County Mayo, this multi-award winning property has been superbly restored by its new owners, successfully marrying its splendid history with modern touches, resulting in it being voted ‘Best Hotel in the World’.
The staff are wonderfully hospitable and warm without a touch of pretentiousness. Their smiles and good humour is an amazing way to be greeted upon entry and to be made to feel instantly welcome. Indeed, what’s especially remarkable about the staff here is the loyalty they’ve dedicated to Ashford Castle, many of them working here decades. These characters are a very special part of the place, helping make it what it is. Their passion is evident and their stories are plentiful, so expect them to greet you at every turn.
The interiors are breathtakingly exquisite with unique artwork, Waterford crystal chandeliers, panelled oak walls, hand-carved fireplaces, and sumptuous fabrics bringing to life each one of the 83 individually styled rooms.
There’s never a dull moment at Ashford, far from it. It’s home to Ireland’s first School of Falconry, which I couldn’t recommend highly enough. It’s amazing to learn more about the birds of prey and to explore their backyard with them in company (just as long as you’re not averse to feeding them body parts of small rodents!)
There’s also opportunity to enjoy a round of golf on a course that’s been designed by Eddie Hackett, as well as archery, clay shooting and equine activities. An incredible in-house spa will help you find your inner zen and make the stay that little bit more relaxing.
Definitely take a lake cruise to explore the stunning scenery and surrounding islands, it’s an hour well spent that’ll provide an insight into the history of the area along with the beautiful views.
Extraordinary dining experiences also await in the Dungeon, the George V Dining Room and in the fantastic wine cellars beneath the castle. This is fine dining Irish cuisine of the highest quality, made from fresh seasonal produce, homegrown ingredients from the estate and sourced locally from artisan suppliers; the local fish is superb here, while the cheese trolley is not to be missed!
In the evening retreat to the Billiards Room for a night cap or to The Prince of Wales Bar where you can sample one (or more) of the 60 Irish whiskies there. Another must is a night at the movies; Ashford has its own 32-seater cinema that plays classic films.
Flights from London are just an hour away or the castle has its own helicopter landing pad if you’d prefer. However you choose to get there, you will not be disappointed. Ashford Castle is an unforgettable slice of classic elegance that offers a luxurious way to slow the pace down for a few days.
For more information visit www.ashfordcastle.com