King of Cong: Lap of Luxury in The Lodge at Ashford Castle
Short breaks in Ireland
The Lodge at Ashford Castle has been voted one of the world's Top 10 hotels. Liz Kearney checks in and breathes out.
Set the mood
Driving through the looming gates of Ashford Castle on an overcast Friday afternoon feels like being transported into another universe.
Behind us is the lingering stress of the working week and our boisterous two-year-old (last seen wreaking havoc in our kitchen, his babysitter looking on balefully). But once inside the gates, we're all of a sudden deep into a magical world of ancient forests, glimmering lakes and, of course, that famous castle.
We're here to stay at its 'little sister' property, the Lodge at Ashford Castle, a handsome Georgian building overlooking Lough Corrib. This autumn, readers of Condé Nast Traveler voted it one of the world's Top 10 hotels and, within minutes of arriving, we're stretched out beside a glowing peat fire, newspapers spread on our laps and pints of Guinness glistening on the table.
Toddler? What toddler?
A short hop across the hotel courtyard and I'm in the hotel's Beauty Rooms, a quiet, simply decorated salon run by therapist Debbie Murphy.
My Dermalogica facial is so nice I'd be sound asleep if I wasn't engrossed in conversation with Debbie; she's from up the road in Ballinrobe (so was my grandfather, so it's a whose-cousin-married-who kind of chat).
Post-facial cocktails at the atmospheric bar, and dinner in Wilde's restaurant - where the menu includes Galway oysters and Connemara lamb - round off an indulgent day. Being nosy parkers, we also can't resist nipping into the castle itself to inspect its recent, multimillion-euro renovation and enjoy a drink in the wood-panelled Prince of Wales bar.
The Lodge's real charm is its setting. The view from our balcony across Lisloughrey Quay, where the birds lift and glide across the shimmering water, is captivating. There are numerous walking trails around the estate and on a twilight wander, we have the place to ourselves, save for the odd stray fox loping through the long grass. Outside the gates is Cong, where The Quiet Man (1951), starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, was filmed. Twee thatched cottages abound, but there's no denying the romance of the setting, with its pretty river and extraordinary ruined abbey.
Don't miss Cong Abbey, just outside the castle walls. These atmospheric ruins date back to the 13th century and are architecturally fascinating. Wandering through the ruins along the banks of the river Cong, birds chirruping overhead, transports you to another time.
It's all very well curling up by the fire, but the Great Outdoors beckons - and the on-site facilities are designed to lure you into the fresh air. You can try your hand at flying a hawk or clay pigeon shooting, you can play a round of golf, you can go for a pony trek, or take a leisurely guided cruise on the lake. Or, you could just stay put by the fire. Up to you.
There are plenty of outdoor activities available (at an additional cost) and the hotel prides itself on being family-friendly. But on a wet day, families trying to keep kids well entertained might feel the lack of a pool, for instance.
Get me there
Driving from Dublin, and even allowing for getting slightly lost, we were pleasantly surprised to arrive at the Lodge at Ashford Castle (094 954-5400; thelodgeac.com) in under two hours, taking the M6 to Galway and turning off at Claregalway to head north to Cong. You'll need a car though, as the area is not well served by public transport.
Going to press, a Midweek Madness Package, including two nights' B&B and a meal in the Quay bar and brasserie on an evening of your choice, was available from €275.