ASHFORD CAS­TLE

GQ (Australia) - - TASTE & TRAVEL -

TAny­one need­ing proof of how much the Ir­ish love Guin­ness should visit Ashford Cas­tle. This pala­tial 13th-cen­tury pad in the west of the coun­try was once owned by Sir Ben­jamin Lee Guin­ness (op­er­at­ing as a lux­ury ho­tel since 1939), but a two-year, US$70M re­furb trans­formed it into a world-class re­sort. Like all great ho­tels, the wow fac­tor hits on ar­rival. Af­ter be­ing greeted at the im­pres­sive stone en­trance gate by liv­er­ied foot­men, you drive past one of the coun­try’s best nine-hole golf cour­ses, round a bend, then, boom: a tur­reted, fairy­tale vi­sion in grey lime­stone on the banks of a vast, steely grey lake, Lough Cor­rib. In­side, it’s sim­i­larly im­pres­sive, with 83 in­di­vid­u­ally styled rooms and sump­tu­ous pub­lic spa­ces awash with an­tiques and art. The re­fur­bish­ment added a spa com­plex housed in a sep­a­rate Vic­to­ri­anstyle con­ser­va­tory, a 32-seat pri­vate cin­ema and an el­e­gant bil­liards room with an ad­join­ing cigar ter­race. That’s right, a cigar ter­race. From Deluxe to State­rooms to Suites, each room is lav­ishly ap­pointed with orig­i­nal art­work and cus­tom car­pets, not to men­tion be­spoke king-size beds swathed in mono­grammed, 400-thread­count Egyp­tian cot­ton linen, and spa­cious mar­ble bath­rooms. Eat­ing-wise, there’s hearty Ir­ish fare in the at­mo­spheric ar­mour­filled dun­geon or a Cham­pagne high tea served on Wedg­wood over­look­ing Lough Cor­rib. But the stand­out gourmet ex­pe­ri­ence is the eight-course de­gus­ta­tion din­ner in the Ge­orge V Din­ing Room (we’re talk­ing slow-roasted beef rib, miso-glazed wood pi­geon and the like), served among an op­u­lent mon­tage of sweep­ing drapes, oak pan­elling and Water­ford crystal chan­de­liers. And out­side, all the ap­pro­pri­ate coun­try pur­suits are in the cas­tle’s 1.4km2 grounds – from fish­ing to falconry to archery and ten­nis. Fur­ther afield, fans of the clas­sic 1952 John Wayne movie The Quiet Man – not fa­mil­iar? Get up to speed – should visit the nearby vil­lage of Cong where much of it was filmed. While the re­furb is a tri­umph, we rec­om­mend stay­ing here for the re­laxed, gra­cious air that comes from host­ing ev­ery­one, from princes to pres­i­dents. Plus, it serves a damn fine pint of Guin­ness. Bot­toms up.

FALCONRY, JOHN WAYNE AND THE HEIGHT OF HIS­TOR­I­CAL OPULENCE – GO AND PLAY KING FOR A FEW DAYS.

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