Breaks: Family friendly Ashford Castle has everything from a Lego menu to Wolfounds
A five star castle that is truly family-friendly? Sounds too good to be true but Ashford Castle, in the west of Ireland, nails it, writes Barbara Collins
MILLIONS of euro have been spent on the refurbishment of Ashford Castle, an impressive pile and five-star hotel on the shores of Lough Corrib that dates to medieval times, since it was bought by Stanley and Beatrice Tollman in 2013.
Improvements to the building and estate, used as a backdrop in John Ford's 50s film The Quiet Man, include a new pool, spa and a private cinema. The bedrooms have been updated, as have the restaurants, so what has always been a luxurious place to stay is now even more so.
The last time we were there five years ago; it was fairly chintzy and the Quiet Man factor was high. This time around, while you can certainly immerse yourself in all things Sean and Mary-Kate – Cong, the village that was the film's main setting, is nearby – the new additions give the place a wider appeal, especially to families.
We stayed for one night in a Corrib family room overlooking the lake. The décor was green and cream stripes, which may sound a bit full-on but it worked. The children had welcome drinks of pressed apple juice and personalised chocolates with estate lemonade for the adults. They also got personalised storybooks and Ashford Castle slippers.
The bathroom was gorgeous, with extra marks for the toiletries by Orla Kiely. We especially liked the absence of UHT milk and generic tea and coffee sachets – you rang for fresh stuff to be brought up. The turndown service included cookies, chocolates and teddies for the children. The beds were seriously the most comfortable we have EVER slept in. Smart TV too.
Where do you start? This place is foodie heaven. The George V restaurant does fine dining under Head Chef Philippe Farineau. Although children are welcome there, we decided to go for an early dinner in the Dungeon Bar. The food is more bistro style. We had steak frites and plaice on the bone. The children had pasta and meatballs. It was all very good.
Breakfast was the highlight of our stay because it was just so much more than the norm. Turkish comb honey, juices and smoothies in mini milk bottles, fantastic charcuterie, breads, cheeses and pastries as well as the traditional cooked breakfast, fish of the day, eggs Benedict… a great, leisurely start to the day.
This is a new addition the hotel. Five-star touches included herb and fruit-infused water, fresh fruit and herbal teas in the spa reception. I didn't have a treatment as I was pregnant but they looked very tempting. There are specific times for children which is a great idea. It isn't a large pool but plenty big enough to do a few laps if you feel like it and the windows give great views of the gardens. The mosaics are worth a special mention as are the supremely comfortable loungers.
I loved the Activity Award badge scheme for the children. They can join the Wolfhound Pack after getting badges for doing Archery, Falconry, Fishing, Golf, Horse Riding, Tennis, Zip Lining, Tree Climbing, Cart Riding and going on the Cruise Boat on Lake Corrib. Adults can do these things, too as well as Shooting.
Our two wanted to do the Tree Climbing but the west-of Ireland weather wasn't in our favour, so we went to the very comfortable private cinema to watch a children's movie with free popcorn.
We then ordered a fishing boat from the Lego menu – there's a good range to suit anyone from age 1.5 to 14 – which was taken to our room by a butler.
Cronin and Garvin, the estate's Wolfhounds, visit every day between 10 and 11am – huge dogs but very friendly.
The nearby village of Cong is well worth a wander through, especially to have a drink in Cohan's pub. The shopping is good both at the castle and in the village, if a little shamrocky. All in all, this place is a massive treat and super value in low-season.
:: Rates from €625 per room per night B&B in high season and from €295 in November and December, all subject to availability.