A visit to Ireland’s stately Ashford Castle is like taking a trip back in time, passing woodland, lakes and rolling hills which all add to the grandeur of this mystical place that was formed eight centuries ago. As part of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, it’s one of the world’s most luxurious hotels. The Guinness family previously owned the five-star 350-acre estate which underwent a $75 million refurbishment in 2015. The Connacht Room offers a roaring fire and tasteful oil paintings under Waterford and Donegal crystal and a stunning outlook looking out onto the stunning views and wild weather.



This graceful place seeps into the soul and senses. The 83 rooms blend timeless and modern hallmarks including antique furniture, subtle lamps and custom-designed carpets. The matching grey wallpaper and bedding feature an array of birds, horticulture and wildlife. You feel immediately relaxed and the rooms are perfect places to write or kick back with a film in comfortable Egyptian cotton bed linens. A sold marble bath, locally sourced toiletries and signature bath towels are the ideal way to finish off the day.



We eat at the George V Dining Room, where a dinner jacket is required for the culinary experience. After an appetising starter of cured organic salmon with cucumber and horseradish, we opt for 28-day dry-aged chateaubriand and braised cheek served with vegetables for two sharing, finished off by an apple sorbet. Friendly, helpful staff show me the castle’s secret tunnel which is now a well-stocked wine cellar. Also on the estate, Stanley’s offers an open kitchen dining experience in 1950s style while Cullen’s at the Cottage is a popular attraction for seafood lovers.



One way to enjoy the magnificent grounds is to take the resident Irish wolfhounds for a walk around the woodlands. Another is to absorb the sites on a cruise boarding from the pier just a short walk from the castle’s front door. There are more than 300 islands around the River Corrib, which offer a different perspective of the castle while the Connemara mountains provide some inspiring views. A full bar and toilet facilities are included onboard.



A gallery of famous residents, that have included John Lennon and Ronald Reagan, is featured at the hotel. We are offered a private hawk walk, which proved to be an entrancing experience while sauntering across the castle grounds. My children Ryan,12, and Christina, 10, are enchanted as the Harris hawks, Stoker and Swift, named after Irish writers Johnathan Swift and Bram Stoker, took flight and later returned to perch on their leather-gloved hands. It’s a unique way to enjoy nature and feel a connection to something beyond the everyday. We were also offered a meeting with Dingle, a Eurasian eagle owl whose maximum wingspan was a glorious site to behold.



The village of Cong is a short walk from Ashford Castle and is where The Quiet Man was filmed starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. Both stayed at the hotel when making the classic 1952 movie directed by John Ford. A statue of Wayne and O’Hara from a scene in the film is a popular visitor attraction. Fans of the film walk around the village and pose outside Pat Cohan’s Bar or “Dying Man’s House”, where you can replicate the famous fight scene. Ashford Castle regularly screens the film in its private cinema for guests.