Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Kings of the Castle: Ashford Castle, Ireland

Is there anything more magical than staying in a castle? Other than owning one, of course. Years ago in the midst of my obsession with Downton Abbey I was googling "castle hotels" and came across Ashford Castle. One look at the opening video (seriously, go watch it right now) on their website and I was hooked. And absolutely determined to add a trip to Ireland in our near future.

Built in 1228 and added to over the centuries, it was bought by the Guinness family (yes, of the dark stout with a white foamy head Guinness') in 1852 and then sold and opened as a hotel in 1939. Since then it has hosted royals, aristocrats, rock stars, actors, presidents, politicians, and the incredibly excited C&Gs last July.  

Storm the castle!
Ashford Castle is the most family friendly place we've ever stayed and judging by the amount of awards it has won we're clearly not alone in our opinion. From the crenelated towers to the endless emerald green lawn the entire place just begs to be explored by your little ones. The staff is first class and we felt very well taken care of from the minute we passed under the portcullis at the entrance and drove down the long winding road to meet up with the uniformed doorman.

Endless hallways, overstuffed couches, tables tucked into corners covered with board games, and miles of gardens and forests will keep your crew busy for days. The staff will happily arrange for outdoor adventures around the grounds and we took advantage of every offering.

The little C&Gs loved pretending they were the young Lords of the Manor with archery lessons, horseback rides through the forest, and an unforgettable walk with a pair of falcons from the Ireland School of Falconry. The falconry deserves a post all on it's own so I hope to post that tomorrow. They were also perfectly happy to run wild across the lawn and roll down hills while we watched (cocktail in hand, of course) from the big windows of the drawing room lounge.

Afternoon tea in the Prince of Wales Bar
Dining at the castle was an amazing experience, the food was phenomenal and they were happy to make anything the Little C&Gs requested. Of course there's a full children's menu available in any of the three restaurants. A cozy thatched cottage a short walk down the drive is the most casual option and if the weather is nice the tables on the patio have the most beautiful view of the castle with the lake just beyond.

Tea and light snacks are available in the Prince of Wales Bar (built specifically for the future George V's visit to Ashford in the late 1800s) and the drawing room lounge. But be sure to pack collared shirts (and dinner jackets for your adult companions) for an elegant dinner in the George V dining room. Dine under sparkling Waterford crystal chandeliers on the freshest local ingredients, prepared by the expertly trained chef, with no worries as to what your kiddos will eat. Their chicken nuggets or burgers will be delivered on the finest china.

Dine like a king in the George V Restaurant
We took advantage of one of the many family package specials, which adds in a bunch of the activities and meals along with a family friendly room. Our package was only for two nights, but on the first night Mr. C&G and I looked at each other and decided we needed a third night in this beautiful castle on the lake. I happily settled right in to the royal lifestyle and he knew I wasn't going to be removed easily!

Ashford Castle is on the West Coast of Ireland, less than a two hour drive from Shannon airport or under three hours drive to Dublin. Public transportation isn't the best outside of the big cities so we rented a car when we flew into Shannon from Edinburgh. Cars are small and roads are narrow (and the sheep are plentiful and happy to wander in front of your path) and Mr. C&G is always in charge of driving on the left.

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