What is the fairest castle hotel of them all? “Hotel” is something of an understatement when applied to Ashford Castle, an imposing flight of fancy reflected in the waters of Lough Corrib, a 68-square-mile lake that is Ireland’s second largest and its best for brown trout fishing. Think turrets, drawbridge, and battlements, then imagine this austere time capsule brimming with gracious service and appointed with canopied four-poster beds, cavernous armor-lined corridors, and crackling fireplaces in richly paneled drawing rooms. This is Ashford Castle’s timeless magic. Dating from the 13th century, and serving as the private residence of the Guinness brewing family for nearly 100 years, world-famous Ashford Castle sits confidently on the short list of Ireland’s dream hostelries.
Traditional dining takes place in the elegant George V Room and the Connaught Room, both replete with vast windows, Waterford crystal engraved with Ashford’s crest, and custom-made Wedgwood settings. Guests choosing to leave such plush trappings can stroll through some of the 350 wooded acres to reach Cong, a town that offers a cozy, intimate foil to Ashford’s polished, grandiose image. The 1952 silver-screen classic The Quiet Man, directed by John Ford, was filmed in this sleepy hamlet and in the surrounding emerald countryside. Old-timers still talk about John Wayne (who plays an American boxer returning to his roots) and Maureen O’Hara (the local beauty he woos and weds), both guests of Ashford for ten weeks while filming, as if they left but yesterday. Westport, a half hour’s drive away and often cited as everyone’s favorite Irish town, is one of’ countless tempting excursions. It may someday grow up to be a proper city, but for centuries it has stayed small, picturesque, and friendly.