Ireland’s emerald green fields and stunning rural landscapes are studded with historical castles converted into charming and lavish hotels. Among them, Ashford Castle Hotel stands out for its long and significant history, warm Irish hospitality and exclusive location by Lake Cong.
I’d come to Ireland to uncover the history behind this legendary castle and take a peek at aristocratic living. Criss-crossing the busy streets of Dublin, Alberto and I were out in the Irish countryside within an hour’s drive. Endless green hills and random cottages flanked both sides of the motorway. Just over 3 hours and we were staring at the ancient Ashford Gate and meandering past the towering Redwoods surrounding the castle.
A Regal Welcome
Only after five minutes of snaking past sparkling greens did the main house of Ashford Castle appear before us. Crossing an ancient stone bridge, the medieval tower at the end of it towered over us, like a solemn greeting. Welcome to the Land of Aristocracy and Knighthood, it seemingly echoed.
We entered the castle’s main building, only to be greeted by an air of warmth and elegance. In the company of good-humored and genuinely friendly staff, I quickly eased into the casual ambiance, something I had least expected from such an exclusive, high-end property.
Most of Ashford’s staff have been around for several decades, T.J. Mulcahy, the hotel’s Deputy General Manager told me. It’s no wonder they behave like a family, and the guests, vistors of their family home. Warm hospitality aside, the staff keeps every single detail in mind, including every guest’s last name.
Historical Role in Ireland’s History
Ashford Castle has a significant role in Ireland’s history: it used to be the Guinness family’s summer residence centuries ago. The castle is thus a living testimony to the milestones and important events that have taken place in Ireland.
Its lavish Connaught Room, located in the far end of the hotel’s lobby, used to be the family’s dining room. Today, it is decorated with invaluable portrait paintings and china porcelain. The Drawing Room too is tastefully embellished with framed artworks from those days, as well as paintings and furniture dating back to the 13th century.
And that’s not just it. The intricately-crafted roof paneling and exquisite wooden furnishing in the hotel lobby are original, dating back to the 1200s. Although the main castle building was extended in the 1700s and later in the 1900s, designs and layout were kept to fit the castle’s overall aesthetics.
Suites Fit for Royalty
Back in my suite, I was astounded to find an inviting view of Lake Cong before me. The living room and sleeping area are separated by a door, and both rooms were equipped with TV and plush furnishing. Decorated with velvet upholstery, floral-patterned wall papers and carpeted flooring, the suite exudes a kind of sophistication only fit for royalty. Our bathroom, the size of my apartment room back at home, is a classic example of indulgence.
In the State Rooms, guests can snuggle in their four-poster bed, blanketed with burgundy beddings and white linen. These rooms, the best in the hotels, all look out into the expansive lake and fountain.
And of course, a hotel fit for royalty has to dish up cuisine of world-class standards. Having recently nabbed the Best Chef Award 2010 (not his first time), resident chef Stephen Matz immaculately prepares modern cuisine with a traditional Irish twist.
I had the chance to sample the special dinner menu at the hotel’s in-house restaurant, George V Dining Room. As a highly-acclaimed restaurant in Ireland, George V is one of the most visited culinary establishments in the area and is reputed for its innovative flavors.
First dish on the menu: crisp local lamb fillet dipped in sun-dried tomatoes. At first glance, the dish looked simple and fairly minimalistic. But one bite and my mouth was assaulted by an explosion of flavors. Not one to exaggerate, I think I almost had a food orgasm right there. The second dish whetted my appetite more, as the chicken consommé warmed my stomach in preparation for the main course. The protagonist emerged to exceed all my expectations: the thick but tender beef medallion was wrapped in a flurry of soft mashed potato and drenched in a savory sauce, a magical concoction for the carnivorous.
At George V Dining Room, the experienced supervisor, Martin Gibbons shared with me his life story. His grandfather had worked for the Guinness family, and now he is continuing his legacy by dedicating his life to the Ashford Castle. Having worked here for 36 years, his passion for the hotel and its cuisine shines through the sparkles in his eyes. Like its staff, Ashford Castle Hotel is deeply rooted to its monumental past and looks on to its bright future.
Disclaimer: My stay was sponsored by the hotel, but all opinions are my own.
- Dublin’s Top Attractions Voted by Twitter Travelers
- Photoblog: Seeing Istanbul Through a Kaleidoscope
- Staying in an Unusual Boutique Cave Hotel
- Cappadocia: A Land of Fairy Chimneys and Cave Cities
- Photoblog: The Colorful Labyrinth of Marrakesh
- Photoblog: Architectural Marvels in Bulgaria