(Appeared in Condé Nast Traveller Middle East, November 2016)
King of the Castle
Step back in time at these four historic properties across Ireland
Ashford Castle Hotel & Country Estate, Cong, County Mayo
Down winding roads and across a moat lies this opulent castle set on 350 acres on the shores of Lough Corrib. The Guinness family home until 1939, and the set for the 1951 film classic The Quiet Man, 13th-century Ashford Castle Hotel – which has played host to guests like King George V and American president Reagan – underwent a major refurbishment in 2013 after being acquired by The Red Carnation Hotel Collection. The 82 generous-sized rooms feature high ceilings, unique artworks, silk wall coverings, and some retain the castle’s original fireplaces. The ones to request are the lake- or garden-view rooms. Enjoy a casual lunch in the ornate Drawing Room or sit down to an eye-opening five-course meal by Chef Farineau in the George V Dining Room. There’s plenty to do on site: unwind at the award-winning spa, fly a hawk, watch a movie in the 32-seat cinema, read a book in the Oak Hall or go lake cruising. Little ones can order Lego Room Service from the
Info: Doubles from AED 1,000; 00353-94-954 6003, ashfordcastle.com
Dromoland Castle Hotel & Country Estate, Newmarket on Fergus, County Clare
Frequented by U2 and John Travolta, this grand 16th-century castle hotel is the ancestral home of the O’Briens of Dromoland, who were the Kings of Thomond and direct descendants of Irish King Brian Boru. Waterford crystal chandeliers and tasselled drapes adorn the lobby while Empire and Louis XV furnishings, floral fabrics and marble bathrooms make up the décor in the spacious rooms and suites. Undergoing a renovation to fit air conditioning units throughout by 2019, for now floor fans keep things cool. The cocktail bar has popular live performances every night and it’s worth booking a table in advance. The Gallery is an ideal spot for a casual meal while the formal Earl of Thomond requires men to wear jackets in order to dine on authentic Irish meat and seafood. While away the day boating, clay shooting, playing a round of golf or visiting the walled gardens. When it’s time to leave, it’s a short 20-minute drive to Shannon International Airport.
Info: Doubles from AED 915; 00353-61-36 8144, dromoland.ie
Clontarf Castle Hotel, Clontarf, Dublin 3
The historical Clontarf Castle dates back to the 12th century. A mere 10-minute drive from Dublin city centre, the castle was reimagined as a hotel in 1997, with a Les Clefs d’Or member on the concierge team. Equally popular with locals as it is with visiting families, the property has plenty of attractions at its doorstep – the promenade, parks and Clontarf’s coast to name a few. The 111 rooms and suites have undergone a shiny makeover, and while the Deluxe and Executive rooms are more modern in style, in the Junior and King suites it’s easy to imagine yourself king – or queen – of a castle. Fahrenheit Grill serves innovative fare using local produce; Indigo Lounge is great for an evening glass of grape and Knights Bar offers a new gastro bar menu and a carvery. The warm buttermilk scones served with lemon curd at the Fusion Afternoon Tea are worth every calorie.
Info: Doubles from AED 565; 00353-1-833 0418, clontarfcastle.ie
Gregans Castle Hotel, The Burren near Ballyvaughan Village, County Clare
This much-lauded country house hotel took its name from a small 15th-century tower across the road; today, the hotel stands on the same historic site. The Haden family acquired Gregans Castle in 1976, and Simon Haden and his wife Frederieke now run it. Overlooking Galway Bay, the hotel is surrounded by the ethereal rocky landscape of the Burren and is just a 20-minute drive to the picturesque Cliffs of Moher. The 21 country-chic bedrooms (the sprawling Galway Bay Suite is the most sought after) are accessed with a traditional room key; each is unique in size and furnishings, and is equipped with a book library but no TV to ensure guests truly connect with the peaceful surroundings. The hotel has been attracting foodies from across the globe to its Dining Room thanks to chef David Hurley who has won multiple awards for his creative take on Irish cuisine – think creamed Irish goat’s cheese with strawberry and gingerbread. Mingle over a nightcap at Corkscrew Bar or in the drawing room before heading up to your room.
Info: Doubles from AED 950; 00353-65-707 7005, gregans.ie
You may not be able to check in at these three castles but make them a pit stop
Birr Castle Gardens & Science Centre
Book a tour of the castle in advance and budget an hour to wander the gardens, which feature rare trees, flowers and what was the world’s largest telescope until 1917.
Info: 00353-57-912 0336, birrcastle.com
Malahide Castle & Gardens
Visit the castle and gardens to discover how the Talbot family lived on the estate for nearly 800 years.
Info: 00353-1-816 9538, malahidecastleandgardens.ie
Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
The castle houses 15th- and 16th century artefacts and is next door to a Folk Park where 19th-century Irish life is recreated on a village street.
Info: 00353-61-360 788, shannonheritage.com/bunrattycastleandfolkpark
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