Hotel Rating: Ashford Castle ranks among the best hotels in the world, but is it worth the sky-high prices?
For most of us born before the Celtic Tiger era, we grew up far from luxury hotels. Despite this, Ashford Castle seems to have always been known to everyone.
Dating in part to 1228, it’s a fairytale retreat set in 350 acres of grounds lapped by Lough Corrib and the grande dame of Ireland’s growing consortium of high-end country hotels.
But it also has a patchy history, with falling standards prior to its purchase by South Africa’s Red Carnation Hotels in 2013. A reported €100m has been spent to revitalize the five-star hotel (further improvements are on the way).
After all our recent traumas the hotel is seeing an increase in Irish visitors who have always wondered about the area and are investing in great travel experiences with their families. They spend significant sums to turn those “maybe someday” vacation dreams into reality.
Can this fortress live up to such high expectations?
Arrival & location
Talk about making a good first impression: after a courteous look from a porter, guests drive through the estate’s rolling golf course and woodlands before the silvery waters of Lough Corrib shimmer in sight.
Then the 800-year-old castle appears right behind a small bridge.
It seems to be from another world – reminding you how amazing Ireland’s heritage and beauty is. Many guests stay on-site throughout their vacation, and boating, falconry, tennis, and fishing are just a few of the outdoor activities on offer.
But the hotel is also handy for day trips to Connemara and Kylemore Abbey or up to Achill; It takes approximately 45 minutes to get to Galway city. 10/10
service & style
Long a private home of the Guinness family, Ashford Castle feels as much like a hotel as a national monument.
That’s partly due to the sparse renovation: look out for the Connaught Room’s huge Donegal crystal chandelier and hand-carved fireplace, the bar’s moss-green Connemara marble countertops, and the posh in-house cinema with its cherry trees. Red velvet seats.
I enjoyed listening to wealthy, well-travelled Americans – a huge, crucial market here – disbelieving the age and importance of their surroundings.
The hotel’s historian can delve into all of this heritage in more detail in the property’s museum section, although many visitors are just as curious about the prospect of encountering world leaders and truly great celebrities. Past guests here have ranged from Princess Grace to Fred Astaire, the Reagans, Brad Pitt, and Christina Ricci, and the hotel’s corridors are lined with pictures of many of these personalities.
Many employees have been with the company for well over a decade; the others are also proud guardians. This is an incredibly grand property, but the service feels pleasantly Irish – personable and genuinely hospitable to all, there is not a trace of arrogance. 10/10
As you might expect, Ashford’s interior designers have delved into the building’s history, so don’t come here expecting the castle’s 82 very different rooms and suites to showcase the château’s Scandinavian-style aesthetic rigor.
Instead, they’re bright — maybe candy-stripe pink and burgundy, primrose yellow, or emerald green — and busy, perhaps with expansive four-poster beds, working gas fireplaces, and one-off antique furniture.
The soft touches (plush linens, spotless housekeeping, good Wi-Fi, and ample outlets) are all present, though an important consideration is the view.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to stay here at all, consider securing a room overlooking Lough Corrib. With a flickering fire behind you – it’s mesmerizing to watch the mercury sky change and the light dance on the water. (And if you’ve been there before and want a change of scene, the castle’s ultra-private Hideaway Cottage is a separate lodge loved by honeymooners right on the lake.) 8/10
There is no question that you will eat well and plentifully at the Ashford.
Cullen’s at the Cottage is a self contained thatched traditional seafood restaurant. the Drawing Room offers delicious, no-frills lunches; afternoon tea in the Connaught Room (above) feels like a real treat (alongside jam and cream, the scones are served with a white chocolate-infused lemon curd);
The George V gourmet dining room is the place for special occasions where “a gentleman’s tuxedo is required” and everyone makes an effort.
The hotel’s reputation means guests expect to enjoy some of Ireland’s finest dining experiences here, but there’s still room for improvement against increasingly sophisticated competition.
At the moment the dining room at Park Hotel Kenmare is, in my opinion, the best hotel restaurant in the country. The fine restaurants at Co Kildare’s Carton House and Tipp’s Cashel Palace are other places to check out, although they don’t compare in other respects.
This ranking is subject to change. Ashford’s new chef, Liam Finnegan, has big plans for the place; Prepared with grapefruit and ginger, his doonbeg crab dish at George V is next level and a promising indicator of great things to come. Fingers crossed they also restore an iteration of the amazing breakfast buffet that was on offer before the pandemic, rather than sticking with a model that’s now only a la carte — it was world-class. 8/10
The final result
‘Breathtaking’ is a term heavily overused in travelogues, but this setting is truly magical.
Ashford Castle is among the best hotels you will find anywhere in the world – it’s more romantic than predictable, pretentious Paris; If you’re chatty, the service surpasses Hong Kong’s respectful (and is light years ahead of New York’s disingenuous, overzealous toady).
Ireland’s high-end hotel offering has improved tremendously over the course of this century, and travelers are spoiled for choice with increasingly stiff competition at resorts like Adare Manor and Park Hotel Kenmare, but Ashford Castle really is something special.
One of Red Carnation’s biggest innovations was the opening of a sleek spa with a plunge pool and small gym. Post Covid, these facilities are feeling somewhat constrained given travelers’ increased interest in health and wellness. Currently under construction, a sleek and spacious new gym and full lap pool are due in spring or summer.
You are just minutes from the pretty and unspoilt village of Cong, which is surrounded by water, has a 12th Century Augustinian Abbey, has a cluster of pubs and cafes and has continued to thrive since it became popular in the 1952s The quiet man film — The Quiet Man Museum runs tours from April to September.
B&B at Ashford Castle from €435 in a Corrib double room until March 7th; from €535 afterwards. John O’Ceallaigh was a guest of the hotel. ashfordcastle.com
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/reviews/hotel-reviews/hotel-review-ashford-castle-is-up-there-with-the-best-hotels-globally-but-is-it-worth-the-sky-high-prices-42314426.html Hotel Rating: Ashford Castle ranks among the best hotels in the world, but is it worth the sky-high prices?