Probably like many little girls, I have had a fascination with castles and country estates that has stayed with me for a lifetime. My first stay in such royal surroundings was the wonderful Castle Sababurg about a 45-minute drive from Kassel, Germany, in Brothers Grimm territory. It is widely believed the brothers were inspired by Sababurg, using it as the model for the castle in Sleeping Beauty, and I believe it. Sadly, it has recently closed.
When our daughter was young, we stayed in a delightful luxury family hotel, Woolley Grange near Bath in England. One huge benefit was the on-site nanny to watch over children so parents could enjoy a quiet gourmet dinner. And one of my all-time favorite memories was a stay in the English Lake District at Farlam Hall Country House Hotel, a beautiful Relais & Chateaux manor home with resident cats Gin & Tonic and amazing dinner service.
On a more recent trip to Ireland, we loved our visits to Ashford Castle (pictured at top), Dromoland, and Ard na Sidhe. Read on.
Ashford Castle | Cong, Mayo
I can’t even think of enough adjectives to describe Ashford Castle. Dating from 1228, this property did indeed start out as a castle. In the mid-1800s it was owned by Sir Benjamin Guinness. In 2013, the property was rescued from receivership by the Red Carnation luxury hotel group. They bought it for less than half of its previous sale price and then proceeded to invest somewhere between $50-70 million in renovating the hotel and estate. Read the rest of this entry
Our first day in Ireland was like an episode of Amazing Race. By the time we landed in Shannon, got the rental car sorted out, Fred reacquainted himself with shifting a car while driving in the left lane, and I figured out how to read the road signs, we were racing against time to get to our hotel before dark.
This was not, however, unexpected.
We were staying at the lovely Ard na Sidhe Country House on Caragh Lake on the Ring of Kerry. Ard na Sidhe (translates to “Hill of the Fairies”) was the dream home of Lady Gordon who built it to her specifications in 1913. Restored by its current German owners in 2011, today it’s a luxury 18-bed manor home on 32 acres of gardens and, of course, the beautiful Lake.
We arrived in plenty of time to unwind in the living room (now lounge) and enjoy a gourmet dinner in elegant style on their custom Wedgewood china.
We are finally in Ireland.
Our first full day on the Emerald Isle was going to be a busy one, since we planned to see as much as we could cram into a day. You could easily stay here for a month, there is so much to see and do, but we are working with the time we have, so we got an early start. After reading as much as possible and speaking with the incredibly nice staff at Ar na Sidhe, we refined our plans a bit and headed off for the Dingle Peninsula.
This is the heart of Gaelic Ireland, and let me just say this language is impossible to make any sense of . . . see examples below.
After Checking out Inch Beach and Minard Castle, we made our way to the scenic Slea Head Drive (Slí Cheann Sléibhe in Gaelic Irish). It was absolutely beautiful and put us on the Western most point in Europe. You can see why they call this the Emerald Isle, with so many colors of green, the farm fields look like beautiful patchwork paintings.
The temperature is just like NC, 60s today, and the roads are lined with many of the same wildflowers we all have in our gardens – but in such profusion. Bright red giant Fuchsia everywhere, purple Thistle, orange Montbretia (Crocosmia to us), etc., all growing wild everywhere. You can smell fresh cut grass, feel a fresh breeze and see cows and sheep in pretty much every vista. There were a few brief spritzes of rain, but mostly sun and blue skies.
We had a seafood chowder lunch at Murphy’s Pub in the quaint colorful town of Dingle and then stopped in at another Murphy’s, which is a well-known local ice cream shop. They make all their own, and flavors are distinctly local (for example, their own sea salt and brown bread flavors). But what they call their “chocolate sorbet”, made with fresh Irish rain water, was the most incredible, rich, decadent, best chocolate ice cream I have ever had.
We then headed back to the Ring of Kerry (An Mhór Chuaird in Irish, see what I mean), and to the Skelling Ring, a scenic drive at the westernmost tip of the peninsula, where tours busses are not allowed. The ultimate reward, seeing the impressive Cliffs of Kerry.
Dinner was some more local seafood (garlic crab claws this time) at the Tower Hotel bar in Glenbeigh.
It’s true the roads are narrow and you do have to pull over occasionally to let the on-coming vehicle pass, but Fred got the hang of it pretty quickly. Part of the trick to driving the Ring of Kerry is to travel in the same direction as the tour buses (counter-clockwise), so you don’t encounter them as one of those on-coming vehicles. Part of the reason we are here at this time of year is so the crowds are reduced, school has started, and the summer rush is past.
To our Irish friend, Pauline – we love your country!