Anything born in 1228 that is still standing today is certain to have lived many lives, and the five-star hotel Ashford Castle is no exception. Located near the small town of Cong and on the banks of Lough Corrib (the second largest lough, or lake, in the country), the castle had its not-so-humble origins as an invading Norman family’s stronghold. More than 400 years later, it changed hands and became Ashford Estate with the addition of a French-style Chateau to the property. When Ashford found itself in a state of disrepair over a century later, one of Ireland’s favorite families, the Guinesses, picked up the property and ushered Ashford into its current state of opulence by adding two Victorian-style extensions, planting one million trees and rebuilding the entire property in a Baronial style using local stone. Today, Ashford Castle is one of the most unique properties in Ireland, offering luxury accommodations, a comprehensive spa and an abundance of activities. Plus, after two years of renovations, the hotel recently reopened and boasts a fresh aesthetic that makes it one of Ireland’s top luxury retreats.
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Arriving at Ashford Castle is an experience unto itself, as guests drive through an enchanting, moss-covered forest before reaching the driveway, where they are greeted by a staff lineup (complete with a bagpipe player) and escorted into the grand hotel. The castle’s 70 guest rooms and 15 suites each feature bespoke furnishings, including antique pieces, intricate fabrics and original artworks. The common spaces are just as ornate as the guest rooms, with highlights including the Prince of Wales Bar, George V dining room, billiards room, library, 32-seat cinema and games room.
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Outside the castle, the expansive grounds boast walled gardens, biking and running paths, tennis courts and acres of land to explore. It is no surprise, then, that Ashford’s main focus is its onsite activities. The offerings include classics like tennis and golf, as well as horseback riding, archery, shooting, fishing, ziplining, tree climbing and falconry taught at Ireland’s oldest Falconry School.
In addition to myriad activities, the castle also offers excellent dining options. The George V dining room—originally built by the Guinness family to commemorate the Prince of Wales’ 1905 visit—is the property’s most formal dining option, and gentlemen are required to wear a jacket and tie. More relaxed spots include The Dungeon, which serves casual Irish cuisine, and Cullen’s at the Cottage, which is open during the summer months and highlights seasonal fare. Ashford also features multiple grand rooms for tea and cocktails where guests can easily spend hours relaxing like a visiting duke or duchess.
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Rounding out the luxe amenities are the stunning spa and gym. Featuring a hammam, steam room, manicure and pedicure area, an indoor/outdoor relaxation suite and five treatment rooms, the spa offers a multitude of treatments and is housed in a beautiful facility featuring Celtic-inspired designs and breathtaking views of the Lough Corrib.
It is difficult to capture the magic of Ashford Castle in words, as its grandeur and mystique have evolved along with the property over eight centuries. Yet in its current incarnation, the estate has never seen better days. Given that there are few luxury hotels of this caliber in Ireland, the triumphant return of Ashford Castle feels all the more majestic.
Who Should Go: Couples, families and anyone looking to explore the Irish countryside without sacrificing luxurious accommodations and top-notch service.
When to Go: The hotel is open year-round, but some activities are seasonal and can only be enjoyed in warmer months.
Getting There: There are direct flights to Dublin and Shannon from most major cities, and Ashford Castle can be reached by private transfer from either airport in 2-3 hours.
Good to Know: Reservations for activities and dinner should be made prior to arrival.