Ashford Castle and Lodge

Written by  Elena Skye

EUROPE IrelandAt Ireland’s School of Falconry on the grounds of The Ashford Castle in County Mayo, Ireland, on the shores of Lough Corrib, the Harris hawk named Inca was placed on the leather glove on my left arm and cocked her head inquisitively at me.
As my guide led me into the woods that surround the castle, he explained that when Lord and Lady Ardilaun of the Guinness family owned the castle they planted the thick forest that gives the place its enchanted feeling. I felt transported back in time.
As I flew my hawk and it gracefully moved through the trees and back to perch on my arm, I experienced the grounds in a way that felt like a portal into the lives of those who had made this their home over the centuries.

Parts of The Ashford Castle date back to 1228. It was first turned into a hotel in 1939, changing hands many times over the years. It has been host to dignitaries and celebrities including George V, Princess Grace of Monaco, John Lennon, Ronald Reagan, Edward Kennedy and Brad Pitt. In 1951 John Wayne and Maureen O’Sullivan stayed there during the making of the classic film The Quiet Man, parts of which were filmed on the castle grounds.

Since becoming a part of the Red Carnation Hotel collection in 2013 it has gone through a two-year $75 million restoration, transforming it into an award-winning luxury hotel while retaining its old time Irish charm.
This has led to a series of awards including “Best Hotel in the World” in 2016 by Virtuoso, “#1 Best Resort Hotel in the U.K. and Ireland” by Travel & Leisure, and the fifth on the list of the “Top Resorts in Europe” in Conde Naste Traveler’s Reader Choice Awards 2016.
At the head of this ambitious endeavor was Bea Tollman, president and founder of The Red Carnation Collection. With her daughter Toni it was Mrs Tollman’s vision that guided the restoration and the acquiring of the art and furnishings that keep the ancient history of the castle evident while modernizing it to the height of luxury.
It seems natural that Mrs Tollman would have been drawn to the acquisition of the castle and inspired to do the restoration to make it a leading luxury hotel. Mrs. Tollman is famous for creating boutique hotels that combine the highest level of service with a homey, family feel, such as Twelve Apostles in Cape Town, South Africa, The Oyster Box in Durban, South Africa, and the flagship Chesterfield Mayfair in London.
Mrs. Tollman was recently awarded the Leading Hotels of The World’s “Leading Legend 2016.”

The luxury and comfort of the furnishings, the highly personalized service and unique castle antiques, paintings and other artwork help make guests feel pampered and at home from the minute they drive across River Cong that surrounds the castle, past the ancient stone guard towers to be welcomed at the front by the formally attired, friendly staff.
The splendorous and luxurious lifestyle of the Guinness family can still be felt in its beautifully appointed rooms, the quiet hush and elegance of the service and the many activities offered. Besides falconry, guests can enjoy clay pigeon shooting, archery, fly fishing (Lough Corrib is famous for its trout and salmon fishing), horseback riding, cycling, golf, kayaking, zip-lining and tennis. Or you can join Cronin and Garvan, the two Irish Wolfhounds that greet guests everyday from 10-11AM in the lobby, for their morning walk. And for those who want to stay connected there is free wifi available throughout the castle.
Despite its formal elegance, Ashford Castle is extremely welcoming to children and pets. The hotel offers a variety of programs and services that any parent or dog owner would appreciate, including games and activities for children as well as babysitting. For pet owners there are dog beds and toys, grooming, dog walking and room service meals for your V.I.P. (very important pet).
The dining options include the formal George V Dining Room, and the more casual Dungeon located in what was once really the castle’s dungeon, renovated into a warm and cozy dining room serving delicious traditional Irish food. There’s also a tearoom where high tea is served, available to guests upon reservation.
Another new and very welcome addition is the award-winning state-of-the-art Spa. It houses five treatment rooms, including a couples room, and offers beauty and health treatments including a wide range of massages, facials, manicures and hair treatments. There’s a lovely steam room and a relaxation pool that features a gorgeous tree of life mosaic.
Guests also have the option of staying at the less formal Lodge. Built in 1865 as home to the castle’s gamekeeper it is a short walk from the castle. Guests at the Lodge have access to all the activities and dining options of the castle but will mostly likely want to dine at least once at the Wilde’s restaurant, where Chef Jonathan Keane and his kitchen brigade was awarded Best Emerging Irish Cuisine in 2016 by The Restaurateurs Association of Ireland, and is now a dining destination for foodies from all over Ireland.
Although The Lodge lacks the ancient and grandiose feel of the castle, it makes up for it with a cozy country home ambiance. Twenty-four luxurious guest bedrooms and 26 unique suites are connected by covered outside hallways that surround a beautiful garden and lead you to the common space where a fire is usually crackling in the fireplace.
For guests looking for a very private, romantic experience there is the Hideaway Cottage. A former boathouse, it has been completely renovated and modernized into a luxurious cottage getaway. The Hideaway Cottage has the feeling of a private home but comes with all the amenities and service of the castle.
For a rich Irish experience enjoyed in the utmost elegance and luxury you can’t do better than a visit to Ashford Castle.


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