Friday 30 September 2016

Travel Insider: Autumn brings a touch of Hogwarts to Ashford Castle

October Wizard School

Published 05/10/2015 | 14:01

Ashford Castle, which re-opened after refurbishment this April.
Ashford Castle, which re-opened after refurbishment this April.

Ashford Castle is back to its pre-recession best, high rates and all, says our Travel Journalist of the Year.

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The last time I checked into Ashford Castle, there were wands, wizarding robes and round spectacles laid out on the bed. Our kids were invited to see the hiding place of Dingle the Owl, to a Chamber of Art, to sup hot chocolate in the garden. The October mid-term Wizard School had begun, and the whole family was in Harry Potter-themed heaven.

It was a good sign. Back in the throes of recession, anyone who stayed at the 5-star resort would have feared for its future. The rooms had grown fusty. Drafts sliced through the windows. It was the wrong kind of Hogwarts.

Since the Tollman family spent $75 million acquiring and refurbishing it for their Red Carnation Collection, however, Ashford Castle has gotten the sprinkle of magic it needed. 820 windows have been replaced, all rooms refurbed, and a new spa and pool have just opened.

The results, aided by a stunning year for Irish tourism, are plain to see. Ashford Castle was named Best Hotel in the World by Virtuoso this August, and peak season room rates have rocketed to €495. The estate is awesome, the set-piece areas splendid and, despite the shake-up, long-serving staff like Catherine Kenny and maître d’ Martin Gibbons remain its heart and soul.

Quibbles? I’ve found service hit-and-miss at times (waiting over 20 minutes for a drink order on our last visit, for example), and I think the food in Cullen’s at the Dungeon and the George V needs to inspire more at this price point. But a spell has definitely been cast.

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It’s impossible to stay at Ashford Castle (ashfordcastle.com) on the cheap - even off-season room rates start from €225. You don’t have to stay overnight to soak up the ambiance, however. Booking Lord & Lady Ardilaun’s Afternoon Tea (from €34pp, plus 15pc service) is a neat way to sneak into the castle without spending a fortune.

Meanwhile, Cork’s Shandon Travel (travel247.ie) has CityJet flights to London, three nights at Holiday Inn Express Watford and entry to the brilliant Harry Potter Studios from €349pp.

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Ashford Castle’s Wizard School package is priced at €1,220 based on two adults and two children sharing a deluxe family room. It includes two nights’ B&B, dinner on each night and activities including a hawk walk, treasure hunt, arts and crafts, movie evenings and a cookery class for kids.

If you’re more of a muggle, the resort is also running Yoga Retreats with Ata Baechler from November 19-22. The three-night retreat costs from €1,525 per room, including several yoga sessions and all detox meals.

NB: All prices subject to availability/change.

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