Picture this: a historic castle located in the woods beside a lake. The front of the castle has a stone bridge, spanning the rushing river below and protected by small towers. Once past the bridge, visitors are greeted by a grand entranceway, guarded on either side by statues of Irish wolfhounds. On the lakeside, there is a sprawling garden with walking paths. More walking trails surround the castle; leading to a nearby village, a horse stable, shooting range, Rapunzel-esque tower, and a beautiful white lodge among other things. It’s a storybook setting; the type of thing you see in a children’s fairy tale or a Disney movie. But, as dreamy as this place may sound, I promise you that it is real. This is Ireland’s Ashford Castle Estate; where all of your fairy tale wishes truly can come to life.
I still remember the first time I saw the Ashford Castle Estate; a quick glimpse out of a bus window as I headed from my Irish home of Galway to Westport for a weekend. I saw the sign on a stone wall a gate. Of course, being a castle lover, I did a quick internet search. My screen was instantly filled with stunning castle images, though I quickly found out that this was not the type of castle that I could pop by to explore. It was an exclusive luxury hotel; the best-known property when it comes to castle hotels in Ireland. I still remember feeling a small pang of disappointment, never imagining that nearly seven years later I would return as a guest.
I was lucky enough to spend about 24 hours on the Ashford Castle Estate. Except for a lucky break at dawn, the weather was grim with high winds and lashing rain, but even that couldn’t take away from the enchanting experience. I was given a private tour of the castle, strolled through some of the paths and attractions on the grounds, and dined and spent the night at the beautiful Ashford Lodge. As the girl who lives for fairy tale destinations and is still (at the age of 28) waiting for her Hogwarts letter, let me tell you: The Ashford Castle Estate is, without a doubt, the ultimate fairy tale experience in Ireland.
Accommodation at the Ashford Castle Estate
Guests to the Ashford Castle Estate have two choices when it comes to accommodation: Ashford Castle itself, and the Lodge at Ashford Castle. Here’s what you need to know about both.
Without a doubt, staying in Ashford Castle is the ultimate fairy tale. The entrance is dark panelled wood with ruby red carpeting and accents. Guests can also enjoy the castle movie theatre which puts on two movies each day; perfect for film enthusiasts or families with children. Those looking for something a little more competitive can play a game in the billiards room which also has a selection of Mr. Tollman’s cigars. Wine enthusiasts can partake in a wine tasting in the castles wine cellars; historic tunnels and rooms that house 7000 bottles of wine. Plus, to complete the true Irish castle experience, Ashford castle has two resident Irish wolfhounds, Garvan and Cronon, who spend an hour in the front hall of the castle to meet and take photos with guests every morning.
There are multiple dining choices including the Connaught room for afternoon tea, the elegant Drawing Room overlooking the gardens which is ideal for lunch, and the gilded George V Dining Room. There is also a Dungeon restaurant as well as a more casual restaurant, Cullen’s at the Cottage, which is just a short walk from the castle.
Each room in Ashford Castle hotel has a different design. The walls are covered in beautiful fabrics, and the rooms all hold ornate, old-world décor that makes visitors feel like they have stepped back in time to a castle fit for a king.
While I only toured the castle, I must say I did feel like a princess. That being said, this royal experience does come with a hefty price tag. The lowest prices I was able to find during off season was about $800CAD/night, with most of the rooms being well into the thousands. If you can afford the splurge, then I absolutely recommend it. If not, don’t worry; you can still have your fairy tale visit at a more affordable rate.
The Lodge at Ashford Castle
The Lodge at Ashford Castle is a much more affordable option for guests looking to have the Irish fairy tale castle experience without the price tag.
While the lodge may not be as fancy as the castle, don’t let its modern design fool you. This building dates back to 1865 and was originally built for the estate manager of the castle. Today, it’s an elegant alternative to staying in the castle, while still providing guests with a luxury experience and access to the stunning grounds.
My room was The Brennan Suite; one of the property’s duplex suites. Upon entering the room, I was greeted with a warm gas fireplace, desk and chair, and large couch with a coffee table. On this floor, there was also a coffee and tea station as well as a safe for any important belongings. Plus, while the weather was (sadly) too miserable to enjoy it, I did notice a small patio with a couple of chairs and a table outside.
The top floor was the bedroom complete with another desk, flat screen tv, big fluffy bed, and a full bathroom with bathtub/shower. Quality toiletries were provided, along with a plush bathrobe and slippers which I was more than happy to take advantage of. Turn down service was also available upon request.
When it came to dining, the Lodge at Ashford Castle had two options. The first is the Quay Bar and Brasserie which serves tapas-style dishes overlooking Lough Corrib. It’s a casual but cozy setting with a delicious menu. The second option is Wilde’s at the Lodge, also overlooking Lough Corrib but is a bit of a more elegant affair. There is a 7-course tasting menu and a 10-course tasting menu. I tried the 7 course and took advantage of all the fresh seafood dishes. While everything was delicious, I absolutely loved the scallops which were cooked to perfection. The chef, Jonathan Keane, was named as the best chef in Connaught 2018 by the Good Eating Guide Restaurant Awards.
Rooms at the Lodge at Ashford Castle start at around $300CAD/night and go up depending on the type of room. It’s a beautiful luxury property that is regularly ranked as one of the top hotels in Ireland. Plus, guests still have access to the ground, which means that they still get to enjoy some of the Ashford Castle Estate experience at a price that is much more affordable for most travellers.
The Grounds at Ashford Castle Estate
Part of what makes Ashford Castle Estate such a special place are the vast grounds that it is located on and all of the activities and sites that guests and visitors can partake in. I spent my time exploring the walking trails that led to the lake and the Guinness Tower (which you can climb- but make sure you have a light!) however, there is plenty more to see and do for those looking for something a little more adventurous. Some favourites include:
- Falconry: Learn how to fly hawks at Ireland’s oldest School of Falconry.
- Horseback Riding: Trail rides, pony rides, and carriage rides are all available.
- Clay Shooting and Archery: The estate has a sporting range and offers both play pigeon shooting lessons as well as archery lessons.
- Golf: The Ashford Castle Estate has a 9-hole golf course designed by Irish golf architect, Eddit Hackett.
- Fishing: Lough Corrib, the lake beside the castle, is one of the best fishing spots in Ireland. Fishing excursions can be arranged for beginner and expert fishermen (and women!) alike.
- …and more!
Please note that these activities all come at an extra cost and are not included in the price of your Ashford Castle stay.
I was enchanted from the moment I was welcomed through the gates at the Ashford Castle estate. But while the scenery is dreamy, both properties are luxurious, and the food was delicious, one of the biggest highlights here was the level of service.
There tends to usually be an association with luxury properties and a sense of entitlement and almost a pompous attitude. However, I was thrilled to discover that this was not at all the case with the staff at both the Ashford Castle and the Lodge at Ashford Castle. Staff were professional but warm and welcoming. They seemed to genuinely care that I was enjoying my time and were happy to provide me with recommendations. The Ashford Castle Estate provided true Irish hospitality, even if it came with coats, hats, and suits rather than normal everyday dress.
Without question, my stay at the Ashford Castle Estate is one of the highlights of my travels to Ireland. I’d love to return one day, hopefully in better weather, and explore some more because if I had one complaint it would be that one day here was not enough!
Things to Know
Convinced that a stay at the Ashford Castle Estate is a must for your next Ireland trip? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
- It’s best to rent a car. Ashford Castle Estate is located about an hour from Galway, in a more secluded area. While it is quite close to the village of Cong, public buses run infrequently and only on certain days.
- Meal reservations are highly recommended: Even if you are staying at either Ashford Castle or the Lodge at Ashford Castle, it is highly recommended to make reservations for your meals, especially afternoon tea and lunch.
- It is possible to visit Ashford Castle Estate without being a guest. You can make a dinner or afternoon tea reservation, or just visit the grounds. There is, however, a fee for those wishing to visit the grounds.
- Ashford Castle and the Lodge at Ashford Castle are family friendly, so if you have a little knight or princess, bring them!
Disclaimer: I was a guest at the Ashford Castle Estate for the purpose of this article. All opinions, however, are my own.