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.
All 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. Rooms vary considerably and some of the Corrib rooms are quite compact, but all are sumptuously furnished with period furniture and beautifully appointed bathrooms (some of which are enormous) with lovely Voya organic toiletries from nearby Co Sligo, which are also used in the spa. Some rooms 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).
A unique accommodation option recently completed is a converted boathouse, 'Cottage on the Lake'; luxuriously furnished and with its own terrace, open fire, private butler service, in-room couple spa treatment, private dining and even your own golf buggy for getting around the estate, it offers the ultimate hideaway for couples.
The many extensive activities and outdoor pursuits available on the estate are conveniently detailed for guests, and the hotel’s exceptional amenities include an impressive new Spa and Fitness Centre gloriously housed in a 3-tiered bronze conservatory with uninterrupted views across Lough Corrib.
State-of-the-art facilities include a couple's suite among the five treatment rooms, an invigorating Hammam, and relaxing steam room; also a beautiful terrace area, and a Gym boasting the latest wellness innovation with 'PureFlow' technology, the first of its kind in Ireland, both with with lake views.
The Castle offers a number of dining options: The George V Dining Room (fine dining); The Connaught Room (dedicated to Afternoon Tea service, which must be pre-booked); the atmospheric Dungeon Bar & Bistro; and Cullen’s Cottage, in the grounds, which offers accessible all-day informal dining. In addition The Drawing Room and Cocktail Bar menus offer informal meals.
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 a unique feature of the hotel, where the Wine Cellars and 16th Century tunnels which were discovered during recent renovations now provide an atmospheric venue for private wine tastings and dinners, offering three private spaces with a cosy ambience and soft lighting.
Conference/banqueting (110/166); business centre; free broadband wi/fi. Cinema (32 seats, several screenings daily, changed weekly; available for private hire). Billiards Room with opulent Cigar Terrace. 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 16s free in parents' room, cot available without charge). Small pets welcome. Heli-pad.
Rooms 82 (1 Presidential suite, 5 suites, 21 ground floor, all no smoking). Lift. 24 hour room service. Turn down service. Room rate from €495 (Corrib Room; for 2 guests, with breakfast), 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’Hotel and Sommelier Robert Bowe, whose engaging presence adds greatly to this unique dining experience.
Executive Chef Philippe 'French heart, Irish produce' Farineau's passion for the food of the area and commitment to supporting artisan producers and independent suppliers is well known and he takes pride in offering menus that give a true Taste of Ireland. Having joined the team at Ashford Castle in 2015, M.Farineau is clearly in his element and has introduced an occasionally playful tone that lightens the mood of this sometimes intricate special occasion dining.
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.
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 €74. A la carte D also available; house wines from €33. 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 the direction of Executive Chef Philippe Farineau, 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 house speciality is 'Chicken Peri Peri' and the menu is 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.
Mrs Tea’s Boutique and Bakery, alongside Cullen's, offers speciality food items, gifts and clothing (fashion, outer wear, golf/sportswear).