It’s a good thing there’s a lot of room at Ashford Castle, particularly for awards.
In this year’s Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards, Ashford Castle was ranked the Number 7 Best Resort in Europe. It was the winner of Sustainability Initiative Of The Year – Communities at The Travel Industry Awards 2022. It was voted top in hotels at the Bar of the Year Awards 2022. Travel + Leisure readers voted the Red Carnation property No. 1 in its Best Hotel Resorts in the UK and Ireland list. It continued to rate five stars in Forbes Travel Guide 2022, and from U.S. News, it is ranked 4th Best Hotel in Europe list. In 2021, it was voted Ireland’s Best Hotel Spa in World Spa Awards 2021.
Forbes Travel Guide writes, “Set on a sprawling, 350-acre estate on the banks of Lough Corrib, Ashford Castle’s grounds are nothing short of epic — think green and wild Irish woodland, serene lakeside views, and the crowning glory, a majestic turreted castle that dates back nearly 800 years. Inside, the service is as warm and welcoming as the luxury hotel’s crackling open fires.”
It’s an accurate description. You’re greeted with a libation to warm you up as you marvel at the grandeur of stepping into history. The 800-year-old castle is the former home of the Guinness family. It has hosted The Prince of Wales (who later became King George V), President Ronald Reagan, Senator Ted Kennedy, as well as countless celebrities and CEOs. It’s estimated Red Carnation has spent over $100 million since buying the resort in 2013.
It’s integral to the local economy, with around 500 employees, and popular with private jet flyers. About 300 arrivals per year.
In terms of service, Forbes says, “Whether it’s kitting you out with a wax jacket and boots for a hawk walk, arranging a wine-tasting experience in the cellar, or giving a bespoke treatment in the spa, no request is too large, no detail is too small, and discretion is always paramount.”
I can say you will feel like Lord and Lady of the Manor, and if you ask a question about where something is, one of the staff will happily take you through the labyrinth of hallways, giving you a bit of history on the way.
There are 83 individually designed rooms and suites, a trademark of the Red Carnation Hotels where matriarch Bea Tollman and daughter Vicki personally oversee every element down to the smallest touches.
There’s an executive golf course, horseback riding, biking, hiking, boating, falconry, clay pigeon shooting, or relaxing.
Ireland West Knock Airport (NOC – 7,546 ft. runway) is the closest airport serving private jets, 40 miles away. Shannon Airport (SNN – 10,495 sq. ft. runway) is 84 miles and offers pre-clearance to over 200 U.S. airports.
Of the 83 keys, 77 are varying size rooms, which in some cases are akin to suites. For example, Deluxe Family Queen Rooms have two queen beds and oversize bathrooms.
Reagan Presidential Suite
Bedroom: 14.9ft x 25.4ft
Sitting area: 12.6ft x 18.5ft
Main bathroom: 5.3ft x 20.4ft
Small bathroom: 4ft x 5.3ft
Named after President Reagan, who stayed at the castle in 1984 as a personal friend of former owner John A. Mulcahy, the Reagan Presidential Suite is located in the oldest wing of the castle. It features the original fireplace, an antique George III-style four-poster bed, original artwork, individually sourced antiques, and spectacular views of Lough Corrib.
The split-level suite offers two bathrooms and can be combined with two adjacent rooms – the Kennedy Suite and a Corrib Lake View Room – to become a private three-bedroom wing of the castle.
Bedroom: 15.4ft x 24.9ft with 15ft high ceilings
Bathroom: 7.5ft x 17ft
Named after U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, who stayed at Ashford in the early 1980s, the Kennedy Suite (one of the Castle’s exceptional Staterooms) is located in the oldest wing of the castle and features an impressive selection of antique furniture, including a 19th-century walnut bed, an early 18th century Spanish Armoire and an early Victorian Rosewood center table.
The Kennedy Suite enjoys spectacular views over Lough Corrib and can be combined with the Reagan Presidential Suite to complete a private three-bedroom wing of the castle.
There are six Staterooms – I stayed in Room 430 – and each features traditional elegance and comfort with modern amenities. I’m not sure if a working gas fireplace is the former or the latter, but either way, it was a perfect scene-seter.
The staterooms all feature high ceilings with views of Lough Corrib or the River Cong.
The Staterooms are all located in the oldest part of the castle, dating back to the 13th and 17th centuries.
Rooms contain feature beds and original fireplaces with beautiful antique furniture. They also have large bathrooms with heated floors.
You can request but not reserve a specific Stateroom.
The Hideaway Cottage
This former boathouse dates to the Guinness era and is situated a stone’s throw from the castle on the shores of Lough Corrib. Surrounded by private gardens with lake views, guests enjoy the soothing sound of lapping lake waters. Access to the cottage is through secure gates.
The Cottage has been lovingly restored; the unique design uses reclaimed materials such as stone and old fireplace lintels from the Estate. The Cottage features include hand-crafted parquet flooring, original artwork, lush fabrics, and a blue Murano glass chandelier. Custom furniture pieces include French Empire marquetry chests of drawers, a 20th-century four-fold European canvas screen, and a late 19th-century pair of walnut armchairs covered in tapestry by Brunschwig & Fils.
Custom furniture pieces include French Empire marquetry chests of drawers; a 20th-century, four-fold European canvas screen; art by Louis Icart, and a late 19th-century pair of walnut armchairs covered in tapestry by Brunschwig & Fils.
There is no shortage of venues to eat, drink, or be merry at Ashford Castle.
George V Dining Room
In honor of the future King’s visit in 1905, the Guinness family built a special dining room that still bears the George V name.
With rich, paneled walls and twinkling Waterford Crystal chandeliers, there is a grand sense of occasion. Recently, George V Dining Room earned Wine Spectator’s 2020 Best of Award of Excellence. For the ultimate experience, go for the Tasting Menu.
As its name would suggest, the restaurant is on the lower ground floor of the castle. The bistro-style menu focuses on traditional Irish cuisine beneath the historic curved stone ceiling.
The menu includes Smoked Skeaghanore Duck Salad; Beef Carpaccio with Aged Parmesan, Parmesan Crisp, Nasturtium, and Charcoal Oil; Fresh Dingle Crab Cakes; Dooncastle Oysters; St Tola Goat’s Cheese Salad; Lamb Neck Irish Stew, and Killary Mussels.
Cullen’s at the Cottage
This traditional thatched cottage – which used to be Cong Cinema, showing films on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the first place to show The Quiet Man even before it was shown in Hollywood – today provides a relaxed dining experience.
International and local dishes inspired are inspired by Red Carnation owner Beatrice Tollman, including her signature dish Chicken Peri Peri. It is slow-cooked in a rotisserie oven in the main dining area. Cullen’s is just a short stroll over the bridge from the castle.
The Drawing Room
As you enter The Drawing Room, you’ll immediately be struck by the views across the manicured lawns across the expansive Lough Corrib. It’s an ideal setting for morning coffee and light lunches from the bar menu.
Think Traditional Fish and Chips; Fillet of Wild Cod in Beer Batter – Pickled Cucumber; Breast of Buttermilk; Ashford Kitchen Beef Burger, and signature Atlantic Fish Cakes.
Stanley’s gives an American, Elvis Presley-inspired diner experience with a twist where a mahogany-and-marble counter bar overlooks an open kitchen.
The Connaught Room
The lough-facing Connaught Room provides a venue to enjoy private dining or a traditional Afternoon Tea – a ritual that extends back to 1868 at Ashford Castle when Lord and Lady Ardilaun would take Afternoon Tea to discuss the events of the morning and the plans for that evening.
The Prince of Wales Bar
Built in the late 1800s, the bar is to this day reminiscent of its fascinating past, with its opulent fabrics, fine wood paneling, traditional furnishings, and original fireplace creating a warm and welcoming ambiance – the perfect place to enjoy your favorite tipple or a pint of Guinness. In 1905 the bar was visited by the Prince of Wales, who subsequently became George V of England.
Billiards Room & Cigar Terrace
At the Billiards Room, partake in a game of billiards, sink into comfy chairs or enjoy Irish tapas. Located on a rooftop corner of the castle, discover the Cigar Terrace with fantastic views overlooking the River Cong and beyond.
With a feature awning, locally made in the village of Cong, and low glass tables with wrought iron chairs, the Cigar Terrace is a beautifully designed space with a flagstone floor in which to relax and enjoy a whiskey, cognac, cigar, or simply to enjoy relaxing in a wonderful setting overlooking the river Cong. It can also be reserved for private parties.
Spa and Wellness
The focus is on restoring beauty and balance through treatments and spa journeys personalized for you. Afterward, unwind and visually indulge in the three exquisite seashell chandeliers and a mesmerizing Tree of Life mural stretching the length of the relaxation pool.
acilities include five treatment rooms, a Hammam, a steam room, and a terrace area with views over the tranquil waters of one of Ireland’s largest lakes.
Both Clark and Waldon say the Ashford Castle Experience is as much about the activities as the equally amazing castle you will be staying in. There’s no shortage of what you can do, and both say you can easily stay for an entire week, particularly if you are a repeat visitor to Ireland.
Situated on the banks of Lough Corrib and the River Cong is one of Ireland’s most famous fisheries. Covering 44,000 acres, Lough Corrib is the largest of the three lakes in the area and is well known for its brown trout, salmon, and pike fishing.
For competent fishermen, try fishing on nearby Lough Mask and Lough Carra or further afield in Connemara. The Cong River at the hotel is an excellent option for very experienced and able-bodied salmon fishermen. Traditional hand-crafted 19ft clinker wooden boats are used, and all fishing gear is supplied.
Discover the ancient form of falconry at the oldest established Falconry School in Ireland. The one-hour private Hawk Walks gives you the opportunity to fly your very own Harris Hawks under the guidance of a private instructor. After you have been introduced to your hawks, you’ll set off into the woodlands to fly your hawks as they follow you from tree to tree through the woods before swooping down to land on your gloved fist.
Clay Shooting & Archery
Enjoy this ancient sport played by kings and lords for centuries. The indoor and outdoor center means this activity is not weather dependent. Set up according to the National British Grand Championship guidelines, it uses rubber 3D targets and arrows that are the only ones of their kind in Ireland.
Cycling and Kayaking
The Ashford Estate itself has some great cycling trails and the countryside, with its relatively quiet roads and spectacular scenery, is a cyclist’s idea of heaven.
Kayak on the River Cong accompanied by your very own experienced guide. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon and is suitable for all ages and levels of fitness.
Woodland paths and spectacular scenery from the saddle will captivate novice and experienced riders alike. From the shores of Lough Corrib, Lough Mask and into the mountains of Connemara to the west, the area couldn’t be more magical for horseback riding.
Situated within easy walking distance of the castle, trail rides and lessons are available for all ages and abilities and are accompanied by an experienced guide. Hard hats and Jodhpur boots are provided. There are also pony rides for your junior equestrians.
Zip-Lining and Tree Climbing
Perhaps one of the most surprising offers is Zip-Lining and Tree Climbing. Your journey will take you through trees such as Beech, Oak, Monterey pines, Scots pine, and European fir trees. There are up to 20 obstacles and seven zip lines split between three courses. It’s suitable for both adults and younger adventurers alike.
Explore and tour Ashford Bay on the majestic Lough Corrib by Stand-up Paddle Board. Take in the views of the Ashford Estate, Lisloughrey Quay, and far-reaching landscapes, and spot aquatic life. Stand-up Paddle Boarding, or SUP, originated in Hawaii as an offshoot of surfing and is ideal in calm light wind conditions. With its sheltered inlets, Ashford Bay and Lough Corrib provide a unique environment to explore and enjoy this magnificent area.
There are two newly resurfaced all-weather courts for complimentary play.
There is a 9-hole, 2,996 yards par-35 parkland course on the property that is perfect for those of you who can’t go a day in Ireland without picking up the clubs. The course was designed by the renowned Irish golf architect Eddie Hackett and integrated a wide variety of natural features and hazards to create challenging par 3s, exciting par 4s, and a formidable par 5.
Ashford Castle is also surrounded by some of the top Links Golf Courses in the world, including Connemara, Carne, Enniscrone, and Sligo. The hotel is ideally located to reach other noteworthy courses such as Ballinrobe, Castlebar, and Westport.