Entwined with Ireland's fraught but vibrant history, for hundreds of years Ashford Castle has been one of the Emerald Isle's crown jewels. Built as a house in the 13th century then bought by the Guinness family and renovated as a castle, the building was a testament to Ireland's landowner class and the Great Irish Famine - before it was saved from ruin and converted into a hotel in 1939. But just as Ireland and its people tell a richer story than the country's chequered past, the hotel shows little sign of former woe.
Palatial features evoke a bygone era, as guests are greeted by a mammoth 16th-century suit of armour in the grandiose entrance. Such antiquated extravagance has attracted an extensive list of celebrity clientele including King George V, Ronald Reagan, Mia Farrow and Jack Nicholson, to name a few.
A night in one of the 82 lavish bedrooms does not come cheap (prices start at €595) - and it's not hard to see why. A standard room offers 400-thread-count monogrammed bed linen, fresh flowers, complimentary Voya products and stunning views of Lough Corrib. The staterooms are also a sight to behold, dating back to the 13th and 17th centuries with fireplaces and pedestal claw bathtubs.
What's for breakfast?
A sumptuous spread in the George V dining room has something to satisfy every guest. Go all in with an Irish fry and some soda bread to alleviate any lingering symptoms of last night's overindulgence.
How about lunch and dinner?
Afternoon tea is served in the Connaught room where you can sip champagne and indulge in hand-crafted petit fours under the Donegal crystal chandelier - bring a camera. For dinner, opt for opulence in the George V dining room, where an eight-course tasting menu is full of temptations such as John Dory with Italian truffle on seaweed pasta and leek fondue. Cullen's at the Cottage is a more casual affair on the estate, offering hearty food, a fantastic wine list and a lively buzz.
Is there a bar?
Yes, several. The Prince of Wales bar serves traditional cocktails and rare Irish whiskeys but the best craic is in the cigar room, where you can throw a blanket around you and chat to other guests over a glass of champagne.
The spa is heavenly, offering a broad range of treatments from Elemis and Voya (an Irish seaweed-based organic brand) to leave you bright-eyed and fresh. Make sure you try PureFlow, a machine which pulsates around your legs to increase oxygenation and promote detoxification - which is said to increase the effectiveness of exercise threefold! The Castle also offers an impressive array of activities. Our favourite was the school of falconry with Harris Hawks. If horses are your thing you'll find Connemara ponies, Irish draughts and Irish cobs at the equestrian centre (run by Olympian David O'Loughlin). There's also a nine-hole golf course, shooting, archery, fishing and kayaking. Pets are treated like royalty at Ashford Castle. They have a choice of different sized pet beds, cushions, duvets and floor mats, dog sitting and walking services, toys and a turndown treat.
Things to know
There is a four-star hotel on the estate for people who find the room rates of Ashford Castle a little too eye-watering. All the amenities of the estate are available to use but there is an embargo on walking around the grounds until after 4PM.
Within a short walk I can find…
The castle is situated in Cong, the town where The Quiet Man was filmed. With just a few minutes' walk you can channel your inner Maureen O'Hara (or John Wayne) for the perfect Instagram shots at Pat Cohan's bar.