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Ashford Castle
Treasures of Ireland:
Piped Inside Ashford Castle
(Dispatch #16)

Story and photos by Tom Weber

id you know that there are 522 medieval castles that dot the Republic of Ireland's landscape? It's true. Many of them are just brooding ruins atop windswept hills, but a select few have been painstakingly and beautifully restored. And, one such renaissance stands "keep and ramparts" above all others: Ashford Castle, the oldest fortress in the country and a true treasure of the Emerald Isle.

Grouped together like a pack of paparazzi, the intrepid "band of merry media" – 18 travel writers and photographers invited by Insight Vacations (Insight) on a week-long sponsored press junket – jostle for position, under a fine mist, to frame a piper in full regalia, then fall in step behind him as he pipes us across the stone bridge straddling the River Cong in Co. Mayo.

"Céad míle fáilte! (One-hundred-thousand welcomes)," announces Niall Rochford, General Manager of the property, as staff, in proper livery, offers us refreshments.

"Welcome to Ashford Castle," he adds as we walk up the entry stairs, flanked by a pair of Irish wolfhound statues – four-legged guests are always welcome – step onto the bespoke carpeting and enter into a world of regal elegance wrapped in Irish charm.

inside Ashford Castle: regal elegance wrapped in Irish charm

Recognized by Virtuoso, the international luxury travel network, as Hotel of the Year for 2015, Ashford Castle, Ireland's signature, five-star, country estate, is set amid 350 acres of well-manicured greenery, gardens and rustic paths and trails, that overlook the Lough Corrib, Ireland's second largest lake.

Ashford Castle and the Lough Corrib

With a heritage dating all the way back to 1228, Ashford Castle recently turned the page on its history when it was purchased by Red Carnation Hotels and immediately underwent a top-to-bottom, multi-million dollar renovation and refurbishment that was unveiled to much fanfare in April of last year.

door to writer's suite at the Ashford Castle

I'm handed a green leather key card to a lovely, renovated deluxe view-room on the top floor of the castle. As I swipe the card over the security pad and push back the door, my jaw drops in OMG fashion.

inside the writer's suite at the Ashford Castle

My suite, like the other 82 guest rooms, is richly appointed as the meticulous attention to detail is found in the unique works of art, carefully sourced antique furniture with sumptuous fabrics and custom-designed carpet, king-sized bed, feature lighting, exquisite toweling and VOYA seaweed-based organic bath and beauty products.

a glass of wine

On every Insight Vacations' journey a Bon Voyage dinner party breaks out, recognizing guests who have traveled previously with them. I happen to be one of those so honored at Ashford's Cullen's at the Cottage (Cullen's), for documenting Insight's "art of traveling in style" on its Country Roads of Italy, Bohemian Rhapsody, Iberian Adventure and Destination Dalmatian Riviera journeys.

A summer-only bistro restaurant occupying a traditional thatched-roof cottage, Cullen's serves up international and local dishes inspired by Beatrice Tollman, owner of Ashford Castle, in a casual atmosphere accented by friendly Irish hospitality.

restaurant manager Sinead, the staff and dishes of Cullen's at the Cottage

Greeted warmly by Sinéad, the restaurant manager, she and her young and eager wait staff go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure our dining experience at Cullen's is memorable. And, it is.

a glass of cognac on a glass table displaying antique flintlock pistols

A nightcap is in order, both to celebrate our first day here and to help digest dinner, so we retire to The Prince of Wales Cocktail Bar where Tom, the on-duty mixologist, preps a Rémy Martin, neat, for me.

Seated at a glass-covered table showcasing a few antique flintlock pistols, I sip slowly wondering all the while if these weapons were ever used in a duel at 15 paces.

Insight Vacations brochure

For complete information on Insight's 100+ premium and luxury-escorted journeys around Europe, including the Treasures of Ireland itinerary, including a five-star luxury stay at Ashford, just click HERE, or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.


Join me tomorrow when I go in search of The Quiet Man film locales, and also head back to school, FALCONRY school that is, with a gal named Lima. Until then, oíche mhaith (good night).

Related Articles:
Galway Bay; The Burren; The Cliffs of Moher; Remembering the Great Famine; Along the Banks of the River Shannon; The Dingle Peninsula

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Let Tom know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Destination Bosnia: Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope

Spent time in Sarajevo in the fall of 1973…beer was excellent!

--- David

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Hi Tom,

I must say, you're photographs are always amazing. They are top notch. You bring so much class to Traveling Boy. It's photographs like yours that make me want to go out and do my own traveling. Please don't get tired of sending us your amazing adventures. It's such a delight for the soul.

--- Raoul, Whittier, CA

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Hi Tom:

I'm also an American living in Italy. I've read with interest your blog and articles. I'd like to speak with you regarding residency and citizenship for Americans in Italy as you do seem to have a great deal of knowledge on all of these subjects. Would it be possible to give you a call on the phone? If so, please let me know how to reach you. If not, I can ask my questions via email.

Thank you!

--- David

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Hey Tom – Wow! Love those photos – they are so super that they make me A) Want to start eating NOW. B) Go there myself. C) See all that pristine beauty that looks so restful and peaceful. Great story, superb pix!!! Bravo!!

--- John, Los Angeles, CA

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Feedback for Destination Southwestern France: Saint-Émilion

Good job, Tom, and timely info. St. Émilion is in the list of places Jim Hayes and I will visit in September 2014. If we get the chance, we will exploit your experience to enhance the trip!

--- Bobby Harper, Dameron, MD

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Feedback for Vicenza Walks – Monte Berico

I lived in Vicenza for 4 years in the U.S. ARMY from 1963 to 1967. A wonderful place to explore. Palladio’s works are amazing. Have been back twice since and find new places to visit. My favorite is MONTE BERICO where I have some wonderful photos of my family.

--- Dr. Albert Pizzi, Hanover, MA

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I liked the new TB particularly the Vicenza article that took me back as a youth when we lived in Naples and travelled up there for a baseball tourney (U.S. Military Bases dependent schools played each other.)

Took me back to the plaza.

--- Bill

Feedback for A Canterbury Trail (Sutri)

Very interesting note. I have wedroned which route the early pre-Christian and Christian pilgrims travelled to Rome from England. Is it still possible to travel the Francigena trail?

--- Pawel

You can find out more info on walking tours of Via Francigena at this site: Thanks for stopping by and commenting..


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Good article, enjoyed reading it. Saved your recommended sights for future use.

--- Dardenne Prairie, MO

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You're going to be great at this Tom. Congrats.

--- Donna Vissa -Montreal

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