It's a splurge, to be sure, but if your Ireland vacation won't be complete without an Ireland castle hotel on the itinerary you can't beat a stay at Ashford Castle.
While I was planning our fall 2014 trip to Ireland, our dates happened to coincide with Halloween. It was only a few days prior that I had received notification that Ashford Castle would, once again, be hosting a very magical Halloween package for families. It took a bit of talking to ‘sell' my husband on the cost of one night in the castle but at the end of our stay we wished we had splurged on two nights.
It was that amazing.
Our Magical Stay at Ashford Castle
We had plans to arrive at Ashford Castle around noon to meet my friend, Galway Bay author Mary Pat Kelly. So, of course, we hit a snag in traffic near Galway- which set my schedule about 30 minutes late.
As we pulled up to Ashford Castle's stunning front gate I was busily arranging the kids for a quick exit from the car. All my tension melted away as we were greeted by the charming gate keeper.
“Will you be checking in?” he inquired.
Not able to hide my excitement at staying in a castle, I smiled broadly at him and gave him our name. “That's wonderful,” he replied. “And you've a visitor waiting at the castle. She arrived about 30 minutes ago.”
The horror at our tardiness must have been apparent on my face as he quickly soothed me, “The castle is a fine place to be waiting on a day like today. Don't you worry.” And then, with a quick nod he ushered us through the gates and we began our entry onto the estate. Rounding a curve the castle came into view.
Nestled at the edge of Lough Corrib, Ashford Castle is like a fairy tale. You can imagine guards standing duty at the towers on the great stone bridge, a smaller gatehouse at the other end, declining entry to the uninvited. Flags snap atop the tallest turrets as the winds blow in from the lake. And as you step from your car you have to glance back- just to be sure it hasn't turned to a pumpkin because you don't want this to disappear.
Leaving Doug and the girls at the car, I quickly entered the castle. My rush was noticeable to the elegantly dressed doorman who led me past check in and directly to the beautiful drawing room where Mary Pat waited. In short order a cup of tea was before me and I was able to enjoy a chat.
The girls, not too impressed with adult topics, explored the main floor a bit. A look at their photos shows poses with statues and suits of armor before settling in to play their own version of chess.
Exploring the Estate at Ashford Castle
Wrapping up my visit with Mary Pat, we approached the ornately carved desks in the lobby to check in. Knowing our time was limited we began with the Hidden Garden Treasure Hunt, part of the Halloween package. Following the written clues we were led through the estate. Beginning in the Terraced Garden we strolled down to the Carpet Garden, into the Walled Garden, past Squire Danagher's House and to The Old School.
With time running short – and knowing that Wizarding activities for the girls would begin soon- we put away our treasure hunt to head back to the castle.
Re-entering the lobby at a much less frantic pace than before, I was able to really take in the grandeur of the castle. From the elegant, yet whimsical fall floral displays at the entry to the highly polished antiques that surrounded us, Ashford Castle provided an instant impression of opulence with just a hint of fairy tale magic.
Dropping the girls off for their Halloween activities, we were introduced to Catherine Kenny, the Rooms Division Manager, who would be keeping watch over about a dozen wizards and witches for the evening. The girls were immediately at ease with Catherine and we had no worries about leaving them to their fun. With a final hug, away they went.
Magical Activities at Ashford Castle
From the time we left the girls with Catherine until we picked them up was 6 hours.
6 hours! I don't get that much one-on-one time with my husband when we're at home!
So, are you curious as to what everyone did? That's a silly question… of course you are!
Wizarding School for the Kids
For the kids Ashford Castle became Hogwarts as soon as we entered our room. School welcome letters, wands, and Gryffindor robes waited on the bed with the Wizarding School schedule.
First on the agenda: House Elves Cookery School. Cupcakes were whipped up and decorated to be enjoyed with hot chocolate in the Walled Garden.
From there it was on to the Chamber of Witchcraft and Wizardry to learn a few spells before dinner in the Ardilaun Suite.
After dinner was a screening of Harry Potter.
Thrilled with the magic of it all, the girls chattered non-stop when we collected them after the movie. Stories of friends they had made, food they had eaten, and spells that had been cast.
A Magical Afternoon for the Adults
It was finally time for Doug and I to enjoy the castle. After a welcome drink in our room, we decided to explore a bit. Peeking into the Prince of Wales Bar we realized we hadn't had lunch! With 4 hours until dinner we decided a light repast was in order and entered.
High-backed leather chairs matched the green of the Connemara marble table tops. Sitting down I relished the time to relax, not even picking up my camera to photograph the beautiful room as we waited for our cheese plate and bottles of Bulmer's.
Refreshed, we did a bit more exploring – up to the book-lined walls of the first floor gallery. I could have stayed here for hours, relaxing on a window seat, enjoying the beautiful view and a good book, but we had a boat ride on Lough Corrib scheduled.
Though it wasn't the most pleasant day for a boat ride, our guide Frank – who also builds traditional wooden boats- took us on a wonderful tour. As the wind blew up waves on the lough and the cold, steady rain worked its way through our jeans and jackets, Frank shared tales from Ashford Castle and the lake it sits beside.
Returning to the castle cold and wet, we had just over an hour before dinner in the very elegant George V dining room. The 5 course meal was included in our lodging package and it was incredible. Low lighting, a table tucked in a romantic corner, and sparking chandeliers definitely made me feel like royalty.
The two hour dinner passed by far too quickly and soon it was time to collect our little witches from the depths of the castle.
Departing Ashford Castle
The next morning dawned far too early. We were all enjoying the castle experience and didn't want to see it end.
Though none of us were terribly hungry, a sumptuous breakfast buffet awaited us in the George V Dining Room. Meats, cheeses, pastries, juices and smoothies on the buffet tables tempted most of us; my youngest was intrigued by the ala carte pancakes with chocolate sauce.
Witches and wizards wandered the room as we ate, stopping by tables to say hi to new friends. As we watched the girls skip off to join a robed group gathered in the corner, Doug and I smiled at each other.
The stay was worth every penny.
My favorite moment during our stay at Ashford Castle
For me to write each amazing sight, every incredible feeling, and all the fantastic moments we had at Ashford Castle would take far too many words. I tried. At 3500 words- and barely into the afternoon- I knew I had to revise. But I do want to share this moment which, to me, enveloped every bit of magic you hope for when staying in a castle.
Dinner in the George V Dining Room requires a jacket and tie for men. Jeans are forbidden. It's elegant. Doug needed to press his shirt, but our room had only an ironing board, no iron. A quick call to request one brought Eileen to our door. Dressed in a crisp black housekeepers uniform, Eileen handed me the iron. Smiling, she laid her hand on my shoulder and said, “Oh, you're just gorgeous!” before kissing me on the cheek and wishing me a good evening.
It is that moment, above all others, that comes to me when I remember our stay at Ashford Castle. In that moment Ashford was my castle, and I was a princess.
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