Treasures of Ireland:
Piped Inside Ashford Castle
Story and photos by Tom Weber
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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
Cliffs of Moher; Remembering
the Great Famine; Along
the Banks of the River Shannon; The