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.
Guest rooms, and the luxurious suites at the top of the castle - many with magnificent views of Lough Corrib, the River Cong and wooded parkland - 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).
The hotel’s exceptional amenities include a neo-classical fitness centre, and the extensive activities outdoor pursuits available on the estate and are conveniently detailed.
The castle has three restaurants: The Connaught Room (private hire only); the George V Dining Room, which offers fine dining for larger numbers; the newer Cullen’s Cottage, in the grounds, which offers accessible all-day informal dining.
In addition The Library and Drawing Room menus offer informal meals including Afternoon Tea.
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).
An impressive feature is an extensive Children’s Menu that 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.
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.
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. *A light daytime menu is available in The Gallery.
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, with burgundy coloured banquette seating, plain wood tables, tiled floors, and white walls.
The menu, while leaning towards seafood, offers a varied selection of meat and vegetarian dishes, salads and side orders, also a daytime sandwich, pitta and panini section, and coffees, teas and desserts. Highlights include a platter of McGeough’s cured hams (speciality meats from Connemara), grilled fillet of organic salmon, and char-grilled Irish rib-eye steak
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.