If you’ve ever wanted to live a real-life version of a fairytale, you’ll want to add Ireland to your bucket list. The lush greenery, picturesque towns, and jaw-dropping natural landscapes are the backdrop for something you’d see in a storybook. But the cherry on top is the rich history of the country, which is embedded into hotels like Ashford Castle. As someone who takes any opportunity to romanticize my life, you can only imagine how excited I was to stay at this massive 13th-century estate.
After an hour and a half ride from the Shannon Airport, the castle’s 336 acres came into view. With its perfectly manicured green lawns, long, winding road, and gray-stoned exterior, it felt like something I could’ve only ever seen in my dreams. From the moment I stepped out of the car, I felt like royalty. The staff greeted me by name, took my baggage, and escorted me to my suite.
All of the 83 rooms and suites are uniquely decorated with antiques. My room, The Kennedy Suite, was housed in the oldest wing of the castle. It featured a 19th-century canopied walnut bed, a chandelier, large, oversized windows with views of Lough Corrib, and a cozy in-room fireplace. The marble bathtub, heated floors, and luxe amenities brought a modern touch to the historically inspired decor. Transparently, I easily could’ve spent my entire time at the castle taking in the scenery from my bed with the coziness of the fireplace, but there was simply too much to do.
Originally named Ashford Manor, Ashford Castle was first built in 1228 and was far from what it is today. In 1852, the property was acquired by the Guinness family, before shuffling through other owners over the years. In 2010, it was purchased by Red Carnation and restored through a multi-million dollar renovation. Throughout history, it transformed from a family home to a party house to a hotel. The storytelling told in the castle is what keeps its rich history alive.
During my first day, I opted to head down to the serene onsite spa for a massage and facial combination to help combat the jetlag. With heavy rain as a backdrop, I sat in the relaxation room and went into the gorgeous indoor spa pool post-treatment. Taking in the sights of serene nature through the large windows around me, I felt like I was at home. The evening ended with a multi-course meal filled with comfort foods (like the onsite pastry chef’s heavenly apple pie) within the property’s private event space, called Squire Danaghers.
With an early start the next morning, I took a short ride to the woods for the onsite falconry school. Unique to the property, it entails bonding with a hawk while it trails you through the woods (an instructor is present, of course), zooming through the trees before landing on the glove you’re wearing for a treat. The hotel also has other nature-oriented activities, such as horseback riding, clay shooting, fishing, kayaking, and archery.
Later in the day, afternoon tea was served in the elegant Connaught Room. An extensive tea menu was offered alongside a three-tiered stand filled with finger sandwiches and pastries. Warm scones, clotted cream, and jam were also placed on the table. The afternoon was spent strolling through the incredible onsite gardens, which had gorgeous seasonal foliage on display. There was also a pit stop at the recently opened onsite wellness center, ÉALÚ. It had a full fitness center, essence-infused steam room, sauna, and more.
When the sun started going down, we met up at the fanciest dining venue in the castle, the George V. Dining Room for a meal filled with caviar, wagyu, and endless Champagne. During every meal, the hotel staff paid special attention to all of our dietary restrictions, and it made the experience all the more memorable.
Before retreating for the evening, a stop in the Drawing Room for bespoke cocktails and live music is necessary. However, there are also two other fabulous places to grab a drink: The Prince of Wales Bar, which offers pre or post-dinner drinks, or The Billiards Room & Cigar Terrace that is the location for private gin and whiskey tasting experiences.
On my last morning, I joined the resident Irish wolfhounds, Cronan and Garvan, for their leisurely morning stroll through the woods. It’s offered to guests five days a week and is a quintessential Ashford Castle experience. Afterward, breakfast in the George V. Dining Room is an affair that shouldn’t be missed. A buffet filled with freshly-made pastries, fruit, housemade smoked salmon, and more, is served in accompaniment with an a la carte menu with options like pancakes with cinnamon cream.
In the afternoon, we headed down into the cellar for the wine-tasting experience. The hotel has an award-winning sommelier team and offers over 1,750 specifically curated wines. Hidden within the bottom floor of the castle, the intimate experience taught each of us something new about wine.
Before changing for dinner, we took a kitchen garden tour, where we picked out fresh produce for the evening. Alex, one of the onsite gardeners, highlighted how the property prioritizes sustainability and showed us all the vegetables, fruits, and edible flowers that are used by Chef Liam Finnegan in his dishes throughout the property. That evening, we tasted a carefully curated menu with all the produce that we had collected earlier in the day.
Early the next morning, I left Ireland with fond memories of Ashford Castle and the promise to return. The staff made the property feel like my second home, taking note of all the small details and preferences, and it was truly bittersweet to hop on a flight back to my real home.