Karen Bowerman visits the restored Ashford Estate in Cong, County Mayo, Ireland, for a fairytale weekend away
STYLE & SUBSTANCE
Once the country retreat of the Guinness family, this stunning 350-acre estate on the shores of Lough Corrib near Cong, has an ancient, turreted castle and a 19th century, eclectic-styled lodge. Recent extensive refurbishment means both are impeccably finished. Ashford Castle has crystal chandeliers and oak panelling; The Lodge is bright, modern and stylish. There are countless activities including falconry, boat cruises, horse riding, golf and salmon fishing.
The Castle’s award-winning spa has a pool, gym, steam room, hammam and five treatment rooms. Products include Elemis, and Voya based on seaweed from Ireland’s Atlantic coast, but if you want a treatment make sure you book well in advance.
The Lodge has 50 chic, contemporary bedrooms with all mod cons. The Castle’s 82 individually-designed rooms/suites have sumptuous furnishings, marble bathrooms and chandeliers. There’s free Wi-Fi throughout.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Ashford grows its own fruit and vegetables and showcases local meat and fish. The Castle’s lavish George V Dining Room offers French-influenced Irish cuisine by Chef Philippe Farineau. There’s a choice of 8/12-course tasting menus with optional wine pairing (8 courses and wine, 140 euros) and dishes such as John Dory with lovage sponge cake, local pork with apple foam and wine from the hotel’s South African vineyard. The Castle’s buffet breakfast includes Connemara smoked salmon, rock scones and soda bread. The Lodge’s award-winning Wilde Restaurant offers an alternative dining option. The menu is contemporary and imaginative, with mains such as pigeon with thyme jus, and venison with chocolate (2 courses, 55 euros).
The estate is pet-friendly and provides fluffy towels, food bowls and welcome treats for dogs and cats. There’s even a pet menu.
ABOUT THE AREA
Cong was the setting of the 1950s film The Quiet Man starring John Wayne. Watch it in the Castle’s cinema, then wander round the village. Waterford, on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic way (www.wildatlanticway.com), has pretty Georgian streets and family-run shops. Enjoy local seafood chowder at the town’s Clew Bay Hotel (www.clewbayhotel.com), a 40-minute drive away.
GETTING THERE: Knock Airport is an hour’s drive from Ashford with flights to Luton and Gatwick.
:: Ashford Castle (www.ashfordcastle.com): double rooms from 315 euros per night including breakfast. The Lodge at Ashford Castle (www.thelodgeac.com): doubles from 150 euros per night including breakfast
:: For more on Ireland, visit www.ireland.com