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.