Hotel Finds: Ireland
by Marla Norman, Publisher
Ireland is literally filled with castles, some of which accommodate guests. Here are several of the most legendary castle hotels. Be sure to check listings. Even five-star castles are affordable in Ireland these days. Historical properties in Dublin are available for good rates as well.
Cong County Mayo
The stately, majestic Ashford Castle is situated on a meticulously landscaped 300 acre estate that backs up to a lake. Its massive turrets are visible from miles around. The property dates back to the 2nd century, with various families building onto the original structure. In 1852, Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness, of Guinness beer fame, bought the estate and added two large Victorian-style extensions. The castle was expanded again in 1970, and a golf course included as well.
In addition to luxurious accommodations, Ashford provides numerous activities for its guests. Most unique are the falconry lessons. Ashford was Ireland’s first school for Falconry and still teaches this ancient art. Harris hawks are used primarily, as well as eagles, owls, and falcons. The school website has spectacular photos and videos of the birds and Falconers.
An Equestrian Centre is also on site. Riders can use trails through the wooded countryside into the Connemara Mountains. Archery ranges, golfing, fishing, and boating excursions are available as well. And, best of all, a spa — to rejuvenate and soak after all the outdoor activities.
For kids, Ashford is an especially memorable destination. The “Hogwarts Weekend” includes: Forest treasure hunts, Wizardry School, Elves Cookery School, and just-for-kids dinners followed by Harry Potter movies.
Guest rooms have large sitting areas, fireplaces, and antique furniture. Several locations for casual and fine dining are on the property. For nightcaps, the Dungeon Bar features traditional Irish songs each evening.
Ashford Castle is a five-star property. Listed by Conde Nast Traveler as the #1 hotel in Ireland and one of the top 10 resort properties in Europe.
ADARE MANOR HOTEL
This extraordinary Victorian Gothic estate sits on 850 acres of French gardens and includes a Robert Trent Jones golf course. Adare Manor was owned initially by the Earls of Dunraven, who laid out what was known as a Calendar House, with precisely 365 stained glass windows and 52 chimneys. References to the days of the week and 12 months of the year are tucked into cornices and moldings around the house along with mysterious gargoyles.
Other architectural features are a Minstrels Gallery with a 36 foot high ceiling, paneled with heavy oak wainscoting. The Manor contains seemingly endless stone arches and huge fireplaces. The eight staterooms are particularly luxurious, but all the guest rooms are beautifully decorated and have views of the surrounding grounds.
The Manor has two fine-dining restaurants and two casual. Also appealing about this property is the close proximity to the village of Adare, which has the largest number of thatched cottages remaining in Ireland. The village is truly storybook charming and has great dining options as well.
In addition to golfing, activities on premises include archery, horseback riding, superb trout and salmon fishing on the River Maique, and even hot air ballooning. Adare Manor has been voted the Top Parkland Course in Ireland by Golf Digest every year since 2006.
THE MERRION HOTEL
Upper Merrion Street
One of Dublin’s best-loved neighborhoods is Merrion Square. Just east of St. Stephen’s Green, this block is lined with classic Georgian townhouses, famous for their brightly painted front doors capped with half-moon, leaded glass windows. The Merrion Hotel is set in the heart of the Square and consists of four restored townhouses — one of which was the birthplace of the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley. Wellington was best known for defeating Napoleon at Waterloo and also served two terms as prime minister.
Especially noteworthy, is that the Merrion houses one of the most significant collections of private art in Ireland. Tours to view the art can be arranged with guides from the National Art Gallery.
Guest rooms feature meticulously maintained original features: marble bathrooms, fireplaces, and plasterwork ceilings. Irish fabrics and antiques polish off the decor. All the rooms are large and have attractive sitting areas. Bathrooms are exceptionally spacious as well.
The Merrion Hotel can also boast of having one of the best restaurants in the country, if not Europe. Patrick Guilbaud, with two Michelin stars, offers a nightly tasting menu.
Bars include The Cellar Bar set in the original 18th Century wine vaults. During the spring and summer months, guests can relax out on the Garden Terrace while the Drawing Rooms, with their open log fires, are perfect for Afternoon Tea any time of year.
Heads of state often stay at the five-star Merrion, and no wonder. Travel & Leisure listed the hotel as one of the Top 5 Hotels in Europe for Best Service. The Merrion was also one of Conde Nast Traveler’s World’s Best Hotels. Somewhere, the very competitive Duke of Wellington must be smiling!
College Green, Westmoreland Street
Overlooking Trinity College, the Westin Dublin has a perfect location. In addition to Trinity’s library, museums, and impromptu cricket games played on campus lawns, guests are close to Temple Bar and major shopping areas.
The hotel was constructed from two 19th century buildings, The Allied Irish Bank and The Pearl Building. Care was taken to preserve as many of the architectural details as possible: marble pillars, heavy wood molding and trim. The original bank clock has been cleaned and restored. The Exchange Restaurant and Mint Bar are situated in the original bank vaults, where deposit boxes and old bank notes are still on display.
The hotel’s famous Atrium Lounge has a magnificent glass roof and is the scene of a popular afternoon tea. Each evening, the Atrium transforms into the Dom Perignon Lounge, offering rare vintages of the champagne.
The most luxurious accommodations are in 16 split-level suites with a living room and study. A fitness center is also available, although many guests prefer to exercise in one of the many Dublin parks located throughout the city. Trail maps and jogging strollers can be checked out to accommodate runners.
The Westin Dublin is a five-star property and listed by World Travel Award as Ireland’s Best Business Hotel.
Sneem, County Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is one of the most spectacularly scenic drives in Europe. It’s 134 miles of rugged coastline, inlets, and the Skelligs (rocky islands inhabited with rare birds).
One of the most storied hotels in the area is the 500-acre Parknasilla Resort. Built within a marine paradise on an inlet of the great sea-Lough, Kenmare River, Parknasilla is part of the old Derryquin Castle estate. The castle is nothing more than a romantic ruin at this point, but the royalty continue to visit. Guests have included Grace Kelly and Prince Rainer, the Kings and Queens of Sweden and the Netherlands, and various other celebrities.
Guest rooms are thoroughly modern, while retaining old world charm. Suites are exceptionally spacious, and all of the rooms have fantastic views. For families, small villas are also available with several bedrooms, roomy living areas and full kitchens.
The Dolittle Bar, named in honor of Irish writer George Bernard Shaw — one of the hotel’s frequent lodgers — is ideal for cozy fireside evening nightcaps or afternoon teas. The restaurant serves modern Irish and international cuisine, with locally sourced produce, fresh fish, and prime Irish meat.
Outdoor jacuzzis and a lap pool are all situated to take advantage of the stunning views. Other outdoor activities include carriage rides, horseback riding, guided walking & biking tours, and fishing expeditions. Assuming you can tear yourself away from the panoramic scenery, there is also a spa.
George Bernard Shaw, while vacationing at the resort wrote: “It is a place of long sea views and intricate walks between ferns and fuchsias… I tell you this place does not belong to any world that you and I have ever worked or lived in. It is part of our dream world.” What more could possibly said about this exceptional property!