Ireland’s grandest castle hotel, with a history going back to the early 13th century, Ashford Castle is set in 350 acres of beautiful parkland.
Grandeur, formality and tranquillity are the essential characteristics, first seen in immaculately maintained grounds and, once inside, in a succession of impressive public rooms that illustrate a long and proud history - panelled walls, oil paintings, suits of armour and magnificent fireplaces.
Beatrice and Stanley Tollman, of the South African hotel group Red Carnation Hotels, bought the hotel in 2013 and immediately began a major programme of repair, restoration and refurbishment to bring the building, interiors and the surrounding gardens and parkland back to their glorious best. Individuality is respected however, and each room in some way reflects the special qualities of the hotel.
Many of the guest rooms, and the luxurious suites at the top of the castle - with magnificent views of Lough Corrib, the River Cong and wooded parkland - have been completely refurbished and are elegantly furnished with period furniture, some with enormous and beautifully appointed bathrooms; others have remarkable architectural features, such as a panelled wooden ceiling discovered behind plasterwork in one of the suites during previous renovations (and now fully restored). Any rooms not completed in the initial refurbishment phase were scheduled for completion shortly afterwards.
The hotel’s exceptional amenities include a neo-classical fitness centre, and the extensive activities outdoor pursuits available on the estate are conveniently detailed. A spa and other leisure facilities are promised very soon.
The castle offers a number of eating options: The George V Dining Room (fine dining); The Connaught Room (dedicated to Afternoon Tea service); the atmospheric Dungeon Bar & Bistro; and Cullen’s Cottage, in the grounds, which offers accessible all-day informal dining.
In addition The Library, Drawing Room and Cocktail Bar menus offer informal meals.
Executive Head Chef, Stefan Matz (who was the Guide’s Chef of the Year in 2007) oversees the cooking for all food operations in the castle, and Cullen’s Cottage. Since joining the team in 2003, this highly skilled and modest chef has worked wonders to introduce some gentle modernisation of menus, bring the varying dining operations together and ensure high standards in each (see below).
Since the Tollman family took ownership of the Castle, wines from their sister property, Bouchard Finlayson Winery, have added a stronger South African dimension to Sommelier Robert Bowe's famous wine list. The wine experience is an important feature of the hotel and there are exciting plans afoot to develop this in a creative way.
Conference/banqueting (110/166); business centre; free broadband wi/fi. Archery, boat trips, clay pigeon shooting, equestrian, walking, garden, fishing (fly & coarse), golf (9), fitness centre, sauna, steam room, massage, beauty salon, hairdressing. Children welcome (under 12s free in parents' room, cot available without charge). No pets. Heli-pad.
Rooms 83 (11 suites, 5 junior suites, 61 executive, 21 ground floor, 6 for disabled, all no smoking). Lift. 24 hour room service. Turn down service. Room rate about €485 (max 2 guests, with breakfast), room only €430; SC 15%. Short/off-season breaks offered - details on application. Open all year.
George V Dining Room:
This very large, opulent dining room offers a combination of fine food and attentive service, under the direction of Maitre d’Hôtel and Sommelier Robert Bowe, whose constant, caring presence adds greatly to an outstanding dining experience.
A five-course dinner menu offers a choice of about nine dishes on the first and main courses, including some tempting vegetarian suggestions; the choice is wide, with a suggested wine (by the glass or by the bottle) with each starter and main course.
You might begin with the Ashford Castle version of Caesar Salad (with Connemara ham), and for the main course there’s a slight leaning towards seafood, but game will be offered in season, and a speciality that may surprise is the daily roast, served from a carving trolley. Irresistible desserts, or a superb cheese trolley, to finish.
Stefan Matz's passion for the food of the area and commitment to supporting artisan producers and independent suppliers is well known and has won many accolades for the hotel.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the George V Dining Room is very child friendly. Staff make a big fuss over children and an extensive Children’s Menu invites younger guests to ‘join Lord Ardilaun and his friends inside for some fun filled activity'; and is packed with games, puzzles and colouring pages as well as healthy and delicious things to eat and drink.
Although unarguably expensive, the dining experience at Ashford Castle gives value for money. In addition to the main wine list (see above) there also are wines of the month, and recommendations by the glass to accompany individual dishes.
*All meals in the castle are by reservation.
Seats 160. D daily 7-9.30, Set 5 course D €67. A la carte D also available; house wines from €28. SC.15%. Open all year.
Cullen's at The Cottage:
On Ashford’s manicured lawns, a stone’s throw from the Corrib and within sight of the castle, Cullen’s at The Cottage is named after the late Peter Cullen, a much-loved former Maitre D’, and offers a completely different experience: mid-priced dining, open to the public, with none of the pomp and ceremony associated with the grandeur of meals served in the castle itself.
The kitchen is operated under Stefan Matz’s direction, but functions independently from the main castle kitchen. Internally the cottage has been transformed, and has an elegant New England feel with white and soft pastel tones; banquette seating creates natural divisions and a ceiling boat feature makes a great talking point.
The menu has recently been revamped and it's now a story of two halves - there is interesting Irish food, of course, but also now a selection of Mrs Tollman's own recipes, which offer a unique taste of a lifetime's love of food.
On a fine summer’s day, dining al fresco here has a continental air - and, there’s a short fairly priced wine list, with suggestions for food pairings. Well-trained staff give good service, while appearing to have all the time in the world to chat.