Spectacular! If I could only choose one word to describe this hotel, that would be it! Honestly, I might have guessed; I knew that it had been named the world’s best hotel in 2015 by the famous luxury travel site, Virtuoso. But it was far better than I’d imagined! Follow me for an idyllic hotel experience!
Staying in a castle has always been a dream of mine. Maybe it’s the part of me that wants to be princess, but it has always been one of those unusual places I wanted to spend a night! And for my first castle, I have to say that I was not disappointed!
To give you a bit of background story, Ashford Castle was built in 1228 by the Burgo family, and is one of Ireland’s oldest castles. After changing hands many times, the structure was transformed into a 5-star hotel in 1939. Soon thereafter, it developed an international reputation as wealthy travelers from around the world began clamoring to stay there. The hotel has welcomed some of Ireland’s best-known celebrities.
Since 2013, it has become part of the Red Carnation Hotels group, and it’s the group’s own founder and president, Mrs. Beatrice Tollman, as well as her daughter Toni Tollman, who redesigned the place entirely before undertaking a major refurbishment. I should mention that the clientele for this kind of establishment is highly demanding, and that the building needed to be rejuvenated, particularly if it was to offer the same kind of comfort provided by the best luxury hotel chains. The old house has therefore maintained the splendor of days gone by while featuring contemporary amenities and comforts.
This legendary place is in an ideal location: it’s only five minutes from the charming village of Cong, 45 minutes from Galway, and only 30 minutes from the edges of Connemara (feel free to read my blogpost featuring my best photos from Ireland and see what this country has to offer!). This drop-off point is perfect for exploring the region, but before that you should check out the domain, which spreads out over no fewer than 150 hectares along Lough Corrib. And for those who fear they might get bored, think again! My stay lasted for nearly 24 hours, and I was always on the run; there are so many activities that you’d need to spend at least three nights at Ashford to take advantage of everything this gem has to offer. As a side note, I’ll devote a separate blogpost to these different activities!
As you pass through the main gate on the domain, you can’t help but feel like a princess (or a prince, for my male readers!). We weave along a little path bordered by a perfectly-manicured lawn (a necessity on a golf course), and after leaving the car, I’m greeted by a highly professional and welcoming staff member!
I’m accompanied to one of 86 rooms and suites—for me, it’ll be a Deluxe Room. The décor in each room is a bit different, with a variety of colors and one common theme: a beautifully-mastered classical style, with old-fashioned furniture, rugs, and chandeliers. The marble bathroom fits with the castle theme as well.
It’s already 4 p.m.: time for an afternoon tea, an Anglo-Saxon ritual that’s been practiced at Ashford Castle since 1868. For this, I walk down to Connaught Room, a room featuring a pure Rococo style with an abundance of fine and precious materials: enormous paintings, an imposing fireplace, and flowered tablecloths that match the carpet. Standing here, I feel like I’m in an episode of Downton Abbey!
I’ll just have a cup of tea, so I head off to the Drawing Room, which offers an exceptional view of the flower garden and the lake in the background. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a hot drink, a light lunch, or an informal dinner.
At 7 p.m., I settle comfortably into a leather armchair at the bar for a pre-dinner drink! The bar’s great fireplace lends a warm and pleasant atmosphere to the room.
To continue my evening, I head to the Georges V dining room, magnificently decorated with oak-paneled walls and Waterford crystal chandeliers. The hall has tremendous charm, and it’s in this luxurious ambiance that we enjoy the sophisticated culinary dishes brought to us by chef Stefan Mata. The procession of courses begins, each tastier and more creative than the last. This dinner is an opportunity to try gourmet Irish cuisine: I’ll admit I have a soft spot for the veal, which was very well-prepared with seasonal asparagus.
And a few more surprises …
After this exceptional dinner, it’s time to explore the billiard room! This room is truly enchanting, as if frozen in time! In its center stands a huge billiard table, with brown Chesterfield sofas and small tables decorated with antique books creating a cocoon, the perfect place to relax. There’s even a humidor for cigar connoisseurs. I’m still astounded by the atmosphere—it really feels like I’m in another era!
But Ashford Castle has yet more excitement in store for me: it even has its own movie theater! Yes, you got that right! A movie theater, in an antique style, and there’s even a popcorn machine! When I said you should spend at least a few nights here, I wasn’t kidding! There’s a film projection every night, and even if you’re not interested in the movie, it’s no big deal as you can still enjoy the setting!
After a relaxing evening, I head back to the room Georges V the following morning for an excellent breakfast: I can’t remember the last time I was so surprised by the quality of the food on offer, and the incredible choice! A perfect score for the service, which is just as impeccable now as it was at dinner the night before.
To my great regret, it’s already time to pack up my bag and head back out on the Irish road. This stay has been exceptional, and completely respectful of tradition. I can easily understand why this hotel has been at the top of so many rankings! It’s extremely well-executed Anglo-Saxon luxury, a veritable institution, a destination in and of itself, which I heartily recommend to all lovers of prestigious hotels!
As for the numerous activities offered by this palace, don’t miss my next post on that subject!
And you, have you already stayed the night at a hotel? How did you enjoy your experience? Don’t hesitate to share your comments or questions with me in the comments section or on social networks.
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About Florence Consul
Editor of Experiences Luxe since 2015, I love discovering new exclusive and authentic experiences all over the world. I left my home country (France) 6 years ago to become a global citizen, traveling 365 days out of the year. I am a foodie person and I make a point of tasting local specialities.