I didn't think that Ireland offered luxury like this.
The Shelbourne and the Merrion are all very well but Ashford Castle is a different class of hotel. An out of body experience during my deep tissue massage, falconry, incredible food in the George V restaurant, extensive wine list, silk covered walls, afternoon tea, a cinema(!)...I could go on. The husband put it well when he said that you can see and at the same time you can't see the 65 or so million spent on the hotel's recent facelift. Everything is plush, tasteful, expensive but nothing is brash and there's minimal gold and marble.
This is beyond 5 star luxury. They know their market though. The only Prosecco served is at breakfast. The rest of the day it's Champagne or nothing. I like your style Ashford Castle.
A full post to follow... but perhaps the best birthday getaway I've ever had.
Long overdue update...about 7 and a half months (or 31 weeks and 3 days if you're counting) overdue to be exact. And yes, at the risk of a TMI moment, I'm pretty sure that I actually became pregnant on my 30th birthday in Ashford Castle! The annual birthday poke obviously did the trick ; )
But aside from that happiness, which of course I only realised long after I had left behind the luxury of Ashford, the weekend was an experience. The castle has undergone a serious but tasteful facelift and it shows.
Once we checked in, our bags were taken away and we headed out for a cycle around the grounds on the hotel's bicycles. They have different sizes and types for ladies and gentlemen. It was a gorgeous Autumn day so we explored for about an hour. There are landscaped gardens to walk as well as acres of natural countryside alongside the lake and the grounds are big enough that there are numerous routes to try. We had driven from Dublin though, so an hour was enough.
We settled into our room and did our best not to smudge the padded silk wallpaper and matching silk bedspread with our grubby fingers.
A quick change into robes led Richard to produce a bottle of Bollinger (my favourite Champagne) and then we raided the mini bar for chocolates. You may know that Cong and part of the castle's grounds were used for filming The Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. Once Richard heard that I haven't seen this classic, he was determined that we watch it. The film is always available in every bedroom for complimentary viewing so we finished the Bolly watching some good old fashioned sexism unfold. I know it's a classic but it's very much a film of its time.
We made like the locals (all Americans, everyone of them; we were literally the only Irish people there other than staff) and drank vodka martinis in the Prince of Wales bar pre-dinner.
By the time we wobbled into the George V dining room, I was tipsy enough that I thought I was imagining the British man in front of me. He was about my height (maybe 5 ft) and was wearing crocodile skin Prince style heels with a long pointed toe, which curled up horribly at the front, giving the shoes a very cheap look when they were probably not cheap at all. Dinner attire for gentlemen requires a jacket and this man's choice was a snakeskin bomber. His shirt was open past his chest, just enough to show off a huge gothic style diamond (or rhinestone?) crucifix around his neck. He wore bootcut (BOOTCUT!) jeans and his hair was mostly plugs, a blonde dye job over red hair. He was, I'd guess, in his fifties but his face was tauter and smoother than the shiny leather patches on his jeans.
Heads definitely turned.
His dining companion was a long leggy Eastern European peroxide blonde about 25 years his junior and 2 feet taller than him in heels. She may have missed the dress code memo. Her full length black sequinned gown (gown is the only word for it - dress doesn't do it justice) certainly stood out.
Dinner was delicious and extra fun because everyone wanted to know how the couple was and we were all stage whispering about them (which they loved). Oh, he wore his huge mid-noughties sunglasses throughout dinner so we all assumed he must be a minor celebrity. He was also staying for a full week and had a custom orange Bentley (to match his hair I assume) so he's obviously doing well for himself. I'd be lying if I said I didn't google celebrity interior designers or gardeners (he just had that vibe) for a few days afterwards! I still can't figure him out though. Ageing rock star from an eighties band is another possibility.
The next day, I was booked in for a Swedish massage and it was fantastic. I squirmed in glorious discomfort (which is how I like my massages). My therapist was shocked that I wasn't American; seriously, we were the only Irish guests there!
The spa is small but it's been beautifully designed and it's an unobtrusive addition to the castle. No phones are permitted but I cheekily took these pictures on the basis that I was alone in the pool and relaxation area so I wasn't disturbing anyone or invading anyone's privacy.
Dinner on Saturday was in the dungeon restaurant. It's much more casual dining than the George V but it was lovely. I was wrecked after my massage and too many martinis so it was an early night that evening. Plus...you know...babymaking.
Breakfast is usually my favourite part of a hotel stay and Ashford didn't disappoint. It's silver service and the choice of food was incredible. The smoked salmon was some of the best I've ever tasted. It's the attention to detail that amazes me. On the first morning I tried some homemade fruit and seed bread and the next day, one of the waitresses came over to our table to apologise for not having any available and to recommend the next best bread, even though I hadn't asked for any! I either ate so much of that bread that I stood out or it was the Irish thing again.
Finally, as if we hadn't eaten enough, we had afternoon tea on Sunday afternoon before we left. In my long career of afternoon tea tasting, I can honestly say that this was the best. The sandwiches were freshly made, the scones were warm (they had cheese scones too!) and served with jam and lemon curd. The miniature desserts were light, fluffy and again, very fresh. Heaven.
We rolled ourselves out of Ashford considerably fatter and poorer than when we checked in but if you are looking for serious luxury in Ireland, this is it.