Clontarf Castle: What's it like to stay at Dublin City's only castle hotel?
Keys to the castle
A refurbished Clontarf Castle blends heritage with the here-and-now, says our award-winning Travel Editor.
Set the mood
You don't have to head to the country to stay in a castle.
Just a short bus ride from Dublin City Centre (not to mention its airport), Clontarf Castle has quietly been upping its game, recently unveiling a €3 million revamp of its bedrooms, dining and public areas.
All have been overhauled in a building blending a 12th-century castle, 18th-century manor house and modern additions - including a soaring atrium and swish, glass-encased foyer that combine to create one of the best hotel entrances in Ireland.
Tapestries, throne chairs and suits of armour sit next to extravagant contemporary furniture and playful art, and I love the backlit panel of old keys behind reception. It ties the generations together in a smart, Instagramable way.
As I sign in, my six-year-old son Sam is whisked away for a mini check-in of his own. "Are you sure this isn't a five-star?" he asks.
Fusion Tea is a peachy way to soak up the atrium space (from €36.95pp, above, with a kids' option from €14.95) - nab a table close to the colossal fireplace.
Fahrenheit is the fine-dining option, a two-AA Rosette restaurant serving "classic cuisine with a modern twist". Getting beyond the blurb, for me that meant house-cured wild Irish salmon with fennel, cucumber and Guinness bread crumble to start, and a fillet of halibut with flavours of cauliflower and herb gnocchi as a main.
The salmon was delicious, but the halibut arrived too dry for my taste, and Sam's burger was ginormous (despite us having specifically requested a small size). Service was spot-on, with a particularly sweet rosé recommendation from the sommelier.
Minimalism, be damned.
Clontarf Castle's revamped bedrooms are unashamedly maximalist - awash with decadent fabrics, richly patterned wallpapers, plush chairs and deep-buttoned headboards (at one point, I find myself explaining to Sam what 'velvet' is).
It's all tastefully tied together, however, and never gaudy. We find Butler's chocolates on our pillows, and other thoughtful touches include laptop-sized safes, fluffy new bathrobes and bathroom products from Ireland's Handmade Soap Company.
Clontarf Castle hosts its fair share of weddings and events.
Couples or families might consider a midweek treat - you'll not only find lower rates, but the place will feel a little less like it's multi-tasking.
Don't rush breakfast, either. This was our favourite meal - with surprises ranging from a wild Irish honeycomb to an orchard table, carrot juicer and homemade waffles. Hotel breakfasts that exceed expectations sends guests away smiling.
As coastal DART stops go, Clontarf may not do the daytripper business of Dalkey or Dun Laoghaire, but there is loads to do - from Dollymount Strand (try kite-surfing, with puremagic.ie) to St Anne's Park and restaurants like Moloughney's.
Clontarf was also a young Bram Stoker's haunting ground...
Its driveway is agreeably leafy, but there's no getting away from the housing estates cramming the castle into this corner of Clontarf. The car park was chocablock on our visit, and I wondered how different it would all feel in a bit of green space. There's no pool or spa, either.
Get me there
The majority of Clontarf Castle's guests come from overseas, but I think more Irish should give it a whirl (this is Dublin City's only castle hotel, after all).
B&B rates are available from €159 per room, with a 'Romantic Rendezvous' package including dinner at Fahrenheit and several goodies (think chilled champagne and handmade chocolates) from €325 per room on Friday nights.
You can also upgrade to family rooms from €50, and executive rooms (ask for one with a four-poster bed) from €75. Contact (01) 833-2321 or clontarfcastle.ie.