Ireland’s Ashford Castle wants you to live like royalty

Ireland’s Ashford Castle wants you to live like royalty

I I must admit that it’s good to know the exact coordinates of the fancy lap: 53°32’04″N 9°17’06″W. Or, to put it more precisely, Ashford Castle, the hotel and resort just outside the town of Cong, County Mayo, in the Republic of Ireland.

I recently spent five nights there, and my only complaint is that I didn’t spend six. Unlike most hotels I know, it was not a place I voluntarily left. Similarly, my vocabulary changed. Luxury Y cuddles are words that make my lapse Presbyterian soul writhe with a kind of get away from me Satan shiver. Usually. But then, after my time in the castle, I had to wonder if I’d previously only come across hoteliers who didn’t know the proper methods of managing luxury or pampering (although my mental jury is still split on any kind of pampering, a word is too often found in the same sentence with the word spa, a place whose charms, even at Ashford Castle, largely escape me).

Good service is only part of what you get. And once you add the quality of food at the hotel’s several restaurants, the luxury of the common spaces and individual rooms, the usual high-end resort amenities (golf, spa), and the unique setting. —336 acres of well-landscaped woodland and gardens, all bordering the largest lake in the Republic of Ireland— the deal is starting to make sense.

Still, no hotel earns five-star ratings simply on the basis of attentive service, good food, and an even finer thread count. There has to be something more, and in the case of Ashford Castle, that something more is twofold: history and location. The hotel’s 83 rooms occupy a building that makes you feel at every turn of the stairs and every glance out a floor-to-ceiling window as if you’ve wandered into a downton abbey set (and if you can afford Ashford Castle, you can be one of those people, like Violet Crawley, who cluelessly asks, “What’s a weekend?”). But it is not a set, or not at all. Yes, much of the old art from the 19th century was bought at estate auctions, but the hotel was once the estate of a wealthy family, so the illusion of stepping back in time isn’t entirely wishful thinking. It is that now the order is reversed and it is the servants who dress at night for dinner.

Once you leave the hotel, in almost any direction, there is no illusion, or rather, illusion and reality are one. The fountains, the gardens that stretch to infinity, the landscape that here obeys a regulatory order while there lets nature unleash itself in a romantic riot of color and form, the paths that lead through forests to more gardens , and more gravel paths and more woods, and tennis courts, and more gardens: these molded views that never fail to give way to more views somehow manage to carve out spaces that are both huge and intimate, and work on you like a tonic. Once you start walking, you find yourself tempted at every twist and bend to see what lies beyond. Just a little further. And a little more And Irish weather being what it is, you’re going to take an hour-long walk through this immensity and before you’re done, you’ve enjoyed all four seasons.

Ashford Castle has been a hotel since 1939. But honestly, its name comes from the fact that it was once a castle (the hotel’s slogan: Excellence Since 1228). Construction has been intermittent but unending since the 13th century, with a wing added here and a tower there, until sometime in the 20th century the building took its present form: a labyrinthine gray structure topped with towers and battlements, bordered by a pit . Built on the site of a destroyed monastery, the castle was owned and disputed by the Normans, Irish nobility and English Protestants for most of seven centuries before being acquired, in 1852, by the Guinnesses, the wealthy brewing family, who used a good part of their fortune to buy respectability and a place in high society. Ashford Castle, with its 26,000 acres of hunting and fishing grounds, was his lure to idle royalty, rich and varied, and the bait proved enticing enough to help snare Arthur Guinness like a lord.

In its life as a hotel, Ashford Castle has changed owners and fortunes several times until, more recently, it was acquired by the Red Carnation hotel group for the relatively cheap fee of €20 million, which quickly proceeded to invest around €75 million. Euros on the property to… I’d say restore it to its greatness, but I’m not sure it’s ever been that great before.

A word here about restoring old hotels, which too often means not so much restoring as updating and modernizing, with the result that the original character of the hotel, which made you appreciate it in the first place, is completely erased. The water pressure is good, but the character has disappeared. Let one small detail suffice: I used to be able to gauge how luxurious a hotel was by the quality of the complimentary envelopes and stationery placed on the desk in the room. Now mind you, no one spends much time writing letters these days in hotels or anywhere else, and hoteliers have taken note: the last time I stayed at the upgraded Shelbourne in Dublin, they had stopped leaving any stationery, which broke my heart, because, fuck, that role fit you so well darling write a letter. Ashford Castle, I’m happy to report, still brings out the good stuff.

Niall Rochford, the hotel’s manager, once told a reporter: “Of the two words in our hotel’s name, ‘castle’ is the more important. That makes Ashford unique and authentic. People want to live the dream, to be king or queen for a day.”

Ashford Castle is selling a fantasy, but the constituent parts of the fantasy are real enough: it was a castle, it was a country estate; It would be crazy not to trade it.

From what I could see, the hotel goes to great lengths to fulfill that fantasy for its guests. The service is attentive and knowledgeable without being obsequious. The staff is friendly and helpful even when not needed; for example, a doorman caught me admiring one of the 19th century paintings that line the halls and took the time to explain how the catastrophic stories of famine and land reform were being dramatized in what was so vividly visualized: a homeowner on horseback looking sympathetically at dispossessed tenants by the side of the road. He didn’t know whether to be more impressed by the fact that the castle hung such a painting or that a random member of staff was such a skillful and friendly interpreter.

On cultural grounds, Ashford Castle has an understandable, if not entirely forgivable, fixation with John Ford’s Irish fairy tale. The Quiet Man, which was filmed, in part, on the hotel grounds and can be shown on all the television screens in all the rooms and a couple of times a week in the hotel’s luxurious cinema room. But for the most part, the hotel staff take pains not to distort history (luckily for the hotel’s origin story, the Guinnesses and their predecessors were among the “good” owners in the run-up to national independence in the 20th century). XIX) and it does. a first level work of celebration of the regional culture.

There’s a dizzying list of ways to spend time at the castle, including the usual (golf, fishing, trap shooting) and the more esoteric (archery, ziplining, horseback riding). But you’d be a fool not to make your first stop at the Irish Falconry School, located just a short walk from the hotel. When you first feel a falcon’s talons tighten on your gloved wrist, you’re suddenly glad you’re wearing that glove. The falcon then launches from your wrist, and as it soars, it’s as if a part of you is suddenly airborne as well. We are rarely this close to the wild, and it might sound simple to call it exciting, but that’s what it is.

After falconry, the coolest activity at the castle was, well, not exactly at the castle. The castle’s Meet the Makers program takes you on day trips to meet and learn from the artisans and craftspeople at work in the west of Ireland. Directed by Eoin Warner, a documentarian and authority on Irish folk life, the day trip includes visits to at least three artisans, including fishermen, blacksmiths, weavers, carpenters, storytellers, potters and organic farmers. The trip I joined included visits with basket weaver Joe Hogan, traditional flute player and flute maker Marcus Hernon and his violinist son Breándán Hernon, and chefs Phillipa Duff and Sinéad Foyle, who run Sea Hare, a celebrated restaurant. Connemara Pop-up Celebrating Sourcing And getting there and back meandered through the sun and shadow beauty of Connemara’s ever-changing mountain landscape, capping off an almost perfect day.

Ashford Castle is selling a fantasy, but the constituent parts of the fantasy are real enough: it was a castle, it was a country estate, it would just be crazy. not to trade with it. And the hotel rounds out its end of the deal with top-notch service and amenities, and a staff that embraces their roles so thoroughly, they never let their mask slip. Robert Bowe, the hotel’s restaurant and wine program manager with 35 years of on-site experience, is so adept at everything he does, whether it’s giving a tour of the wine cellar or rattling the silver bell on a plate main newcomer to the table, that I began to mentally describe him using the words Wodehouse deploys to describe the inimitable Jeeves, such as when “Jeeves shone across the room.” So it was no surprise at all that Bowe was the lore keeper about Ivory, the ghost girl who haunts the castle, or that he knew how to tell the story so beautifully that you couldn’t help but laugh and shiver. once. At Ashford Castle, everyone is good at what they do, even ghost stories.

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