It's a location that appears at the top of every ‘Best Hotels in Ireland' list – the Ashford Estate in Cong, Ireland. Whether it's Ashford Castle topping the ‘Best Castle Hotels in Ireland' list or The Lodge at Ashford Castle making the ‘Top 10 Hotels in Ireland' list, there is no doubt that a stay on the Ashford Estate in County Mayo is a terrific addition to an Ireland itinerary.
My family has experienced both Ashford Castle and The Lodge at Ashford Castle. Both stays were fabulous, and while the hotels have many similarities- amazing customer service and spectacular rooms being just two of them- they also had some differences that are helpful to know about when choosing your best lodging on the Ashford Estate.
Podcast Extra: Listen here for more about Ashford Castle and The Lodge at Ashford Castle from Paula Carroll, Director of Sales & Marketing at the Ashford Estate.
Lodging on the Ashford Estate
When choosing your lodging on the Ashford Estate you are guaranteed a few things: superior customer service, incredible luxury, and a memorable stay.
It's one of the top castle hotels in Ireland for a reason- the minute you enter the estate through the massive stone gatehouse, wind your way through the immaculate golf course, and catch your first site of Ashford Castle, you are magically transported to the Ireland of your imagination: a fairy tale castle at the edge of a sparkling lake, massive stone (draw)bridge protecting the fortress.
The magic doesn't dispel as doors are opened by elegantly dressed doormen and you are welcomed into the castle. A quick check-in at the antique desk, and you are being shown to your room, your bags to follow shortly. You're given an informal tour as you wind through hallways, past dining rooms, and up wide stair cases; each corridor seems to have a story to share.
Your breath catches as you peek into the room for the first time. It is every bit as grand as you imagined. Elegance, yes, but understated, with a few magnificent antique pieces that remind you of your grand palace surroundings. Entering you notice the small, personal touches: a child-sized bathrobe and slippers on the bed, along with a wee trinket, milk and cookies on the sideboard, along with a more adult beverage for an evening nightcap, gold dusted chocolates.
Oh yes, you've definitely arrived.
Video extra: a tour of our Junior Suite at Ashford Castle
Booking Your Stay at Ashford Castle
As both of our stays at Ashford Castle were paid for by us (and nearly gave my husband heart palpitations both times!) let me offer a few bits of advice.
Tip #1: Ireland castle hotels are expensive. To get the best price book your Ashford Castle stay in advance! Our second Ashford Castle stay was booked last minute (day of on a very expensive whim) and cost over €1100. Had I booked further in advance the room still would have been expensive as it was July, but not quite so much.
Tip #2: Check for special offers at Ashford Castle. You'll find more than a few offers available at any time featuring a stay combined with dining, spa services, or estate activities.
Tip #3: Book in for two nights. Yes, it's a huge splurge for most of us. But trust me when I say it is worth it. If you stay only one night you'll wish you had stayed two.
Tip #4: Utilize your concierge. Following your booking through the Ashford Castle website you will receive an email from your concierge. This is your personal contact to the hotel. Your concierge will make sure they know who is staying (a must for those in-room treats!), what type of pillows you prefer, and will help you arrange everything for your stay including dining and activities. They will be able to answer any questions you have about the estate and your stay.
Holidays at Ashford Castle
Experience a holiday at one of the best castles in Ireland! Do watch the special offers section for holiday specials. Easter, Christmas, and, especially, Halloween. You'll find added activities for children and adults at these times.
The Lodge at Ashford Castle
If you want the experience of Ashford Castle- the incredible customer service, the spectacular rooms, and the fabulous estate- but not the huge price tag, then you are going to love The Lodge at Ashford Castle. Finished to the high standards of the Ashford Estate, the Lodge has a more fun and funky vibe, bold in its grandeur, unabashed in its allure.
The one-time estate manager's house has been expanded to create a lovely enclosed courtyard surrounded by private and semi-private sections of rooms. With two or three rooms behind each courtyard door it is possible to create your own private suite of rooms.
The Maye Suite can only be described as bold. From the cherry red headboard on the bed to the more-comfortable-than-you imagine red vinyl couch, the room exudes ‘rock star' qualities. Heavy red draperies hung to the floor at each window, and the carefully chosen accent pieces- including a spectacular mirror-finished sideboard – kept the room from being ‘just too much'.
Directly next door, our daughters' room had plush twin beds that looked like they were topped with clouds- they were that fluffy! Milk & cookies waited on the desk, and ‘Lil' Lodgers' packs on their beds. Their bathroom had the same rainfall shower and lovely toiletries, but no soaking tub.
With two rooms in our section we were able to leave our individual rooms unlocked and lock only the courtyard door, creating a wonderful family suite.
Video extra- a tour of our rooms at the Lodge at Ashford Castle
Booking Your Stay at the Lodge at Ashford Castle
As with booking at the castle, you want to book your stay at The Lodge at Ashford Castle directly through their website. A few recommendations:
Tip #1: Book in advance. The Lodge is building quite a winning reputation so you do want to book early to avoid disappointment.
Tip #2: Check for special offers at The Lodge at Ashford Castle for romance, dining, spa, and other packages.
Tip #3: Book in for at least 2 nights (see above).
Tip #4: Utilize your concierge. Just like at the castle, you will receive an email after booking. Let your concierge help you make the most of your stay on the Ashford Estate.
Activities on the Ashford Estate
The Ashford Estate isn't a place you stay to tour away from; it's a place you stay for the experiences. You'll find plenty of experiences on the castle grounds that you won't even be tempted to leave! Guests of the Castle and the Lodge can avail themselves of all estate activities.
Roam the extensive Ashford Castle Gardens and grounds
Castles in Ireland are known for their gardens, and Ashford Castle is no exception. Paved and stone pathways guide you through carpets of meticulously groomed grass punctuated with statues and fountains. A good wander through the Formal Garden, the Walled Garden, the Terraced Walk and the Broad Walk is one of the first things you should do. As you weave in and out on the paved pathways you'll discover forest trails to explore later. Explore deep enough into the estate and you will discover Guinness Tower. Follow the river pathways far enough and you'll enter the village of Cong. Wind along the lakeside path and you might come upon a ‘hidden' boat launch. With 365 acres to explore it's unlikely you'll tread the same path twice.
Fly a Harris Hawk at Ireland's School of Falconry
There is nothing quite like watching a hawk fly toward you, its eyes laser focused on the treat you hold. Wings spread and talons outstretched, it lands, lighter than you imagine, on your gloved hand, head dipping to gobble the bit of meat you offered. If you hold your arm still enough she may be content to stay as you walk, at least for a few minutes. A slight pressure on your arm and a brushing of feathers on your cheek let you know she is ready to fly, likely to a high branch to scout her prey. But she'll keep an eye on you as the next raise of your arm means an easy treat for her.
Ireland's School of Falconry is the oldest established falconry school in Ireland. Private hawk walks can be booked for 60 and 90 minutes.
Cuddle a Wolfhound
These large dogs can outpace a wolf and were once used in battle to knock armed men from their horses (and do a bit more damage). And though their size may give you pause, the gentleness of the Ashford Wolfhounds, Cronan and Garvan, will lead to instant infatuation. If you've time in the morning join the dogs, and their handler James, for a walk around the grounds.
Take a Boat Ride on Lough Corrib
Whether you head out on the lake in a small, traditional wooden boat with Frank – a knowledgeable local guide who not only handles the boats but builds them- or you board one of the lake cruises, do make time to get out on Ireland's second largest lake.
Other Ashford Estate Activities
Use the Activities Guide to learn more about these additional estate activities. Please note that the castle does have some activities that are exclusive to residents.
Fishing * Spa * Shooting * Zip Line & Tree Climb * Archery * Equestrian
Bike Hire * Kayak & Paddle Board * Golf * Tennis
Dining on the Ashford Estate
You definitely won't go hungry on the Ashford Castle estate. Dining options range from formal, multi-course experiences to a very casual burger.
Ashford Castle Dining
Evening dining in the George V Dining Room is an experience in elegance. (Note: a dinner jacket is required and a tie requested.) Waterford Crystal chandeliers sparkle above the dimly lit Royal blue room, lending an air of romance. Each dish is carefully plated, a feast for the eyes before the palate. Experience the Tasting Menu during your stay- you won't be disappointed!
Each morning the formal dining room hosts breakfast, with both a menu and magnificent buffet available.
The lower ground floor of the castle hosts The Dungeon, a more casual dining experience with a focus on Irish cuisine.
The Children's Menu at Ashford Castle is available in both the George V Dining Room and The Dungeon. It includes shrimp scampi and salmon, as well as freshly prepared chicken goujons and hamburger.
Dining at The Lodge at Ashford Castle
Wilde's at the Lodge, and it's Executive Head Chef Jonathan Keane, are well known in culinary Ireland and have received many awards. Known for utilizing locally-grown produce and unique ingredients, the menu at Wilde's is an exploration of Irish flavor. Choose 3 courses from the Menu of Discovery- because you don't want to miss the desserts!
Wilde's hosts your morning breakfast and features a buffet that must be seen to be believed. A menu is also provided if you wish to order special.
The Quay Bar & Brasserie has the feel of a fun pub, it's lively bar area separate, but not unattached from, the tables near the fireplace and overlooking Lough Corrib. The menu gives a nod to traditional Irish cooking, served with fun, and sometimes surprising, presentation.
The Lodge also features a single Children's Menu, available at both Wilde's and The Quay Bar. Though small, the 3 course menu will satisfy any child.
The Tradition of Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea is a custom unique to the British Isles (and the Commonwealth). Both the Castle and the Lodge serve afternoon tea.
In the Castle it is a very formal affair, tea and Champagne on a China set table, a tall tea tray filled with dainty sandwiches, scones, and cakes, and served in one of the private dining rooms.
At the Lodge you'll find tea served as an afternoon picnic in Wilde's. Sausage rolls, sandwiches, and salads begin the afternoon meal, with tempting desserts like cheesecake and brûlée providing a satisfying end. A nice variety of beverages, hot and cold, alcoholic or non, are available.
Other Dining on the Ashford Estate
The charming thatch cottage just across the bridge from the castle was formerly the Cong Cinema. Now known as Cullen's at the Cottage you'll find relaxed, yet still elegant, dining. Open seasonally, recommendations are recommended.
Mrs. Tea's Boutique and Bakery, just next to Cullen's at the Cottage, is the estate's exclusive boutique shop. It's a perfect place to pop in to for a small treat and a browse.
Podcast extra: Listen here for more about Irish Food with Jonathan Keane, Executive Head Chef at The Lodge at Ashford Castle.
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Visiting Cong, Ireland
As I mentioned above, the Ashford Estate is both a lodging and a destination. While you can day-tour out from here, there is plenty to keep you local. And that includes the charming village of Cong. Known the world over as the place The Quiet Man was filmed, a stroll through Cong is well worth your time. The estate actually nestles right up to the village and it's an easy walk into town.
A few highlights within Cong are the Quiet Man Museum, a replica of the ‘wee cottage', filled with memorabilia, Cong Abbey, and the charming shops, pubs, and restaurants that line the streets. A walk through the village reveals a few key movie locations: the Dying Man House, Reverend Playfair's House, and the (very important) pub, Pat Cohen's Bar.
Looking for a fun photo opp? Stand on the bridge over the River Cong- one foot in Galway, the other in Mayo.