Ashford Castle in County Mayo, north of Galway, is where I discovered my talent for archery, which was, apparently, so impressive that friends took to calling me Katniss Everdeen. I held and released a hawk in the wild at Ireland’s first School of Falconry, on the Castle’s 350-acre grounds. And I was tempted to ride through the woods on the back of an Irish Sport Horse from the Equestrian Centre, but ran out of time. There were, simply, too many things I wanted to do.
Perfect for a family vacation (and a lovely spot for a romantic getaway or fun with friends), a stay at Ashford Castle offers a flashback to 1228, when the medieval Castle—the oldest in Ireland—was built to feature sturdy stone walls, soaring turrets, a picturesque setting on the shores of Lough Corrib (protection, in those days, from bands of invaders who could be easily spotted before they attacked from the lake). It first became a hotel in 1939, but the rooms, though spacious, grew a bit worn—until now.
In 2013, Ashford was purchased by the Red Carnation Hotel Group, which began a major renovation that is rolling out in April. The public spaces, grand suites and 83 rooms have been newly furnished in a traditional style, with original artwork and antiques. The jewel-like “beauty rooms” will be renovated next, and transformed into a full-service spa, along with a brand-new heated indoor pool.
Meanwhile, a seat at the wood-paneled bar is a great place to nurse a Jameson’s, and listen to live piano music wafting in from the Drawing Room, where you can sit by a picture window overlooking the beautiful lake and enjoy a delicious lunch of local salmon. Or stroll into the tiny village of Cong, where the 1952 John Ford classic The Quiet Man was shot around a stone cottage in the lush rolling landscape nearby. ashfordcastle.com
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