Rural Ireland may be most famous for its uninterrupted “Emerald Isle” greenery, but it’s even more of a pleasure to watch its leaves turn gold and amber. Among other forested spots, this spectrum of late autumn foliage is reflected most beautifully in Lough Corrib, the body of water at the foot of Ashford Castle, arguably Ireland’s best hotel and one of the most storied.
This 800-year-old residence has a pleasing mix of outdoor living and cosy creature comforts that will suit your holiday mood as the season changes. This is a place where you can pull on a cashmere sweater for walks through the 350 acres of grounds, then dress up for dinner before a nightcap by the fireplace in the Prince of Wales Bar.
While the hotel was recently named the fourth best in Europe (in the Conde Nast Traveller Reader’s Choice Awards, in the “Rest of Europe” category), it’s been a magnet for A-listers, leaders and trendsetters for more than a century: Oscar Wilde, King George V, John Lennon and Barbra Streisand have all stayed, whether in the building’s years as a private home or its subsequent life as a luxury hotel. Here’s how to enjoy this landmark hotel in the atmospheric holiday season months.
As well as heart-pumping walks through the lakeside, woodland and hills around the castle, guests visiting in late autumn can take full advantage of the cooler days to get out and about. Ashford is home to the oldest established falconry school in Ireland, where you’ll get to grips with these beautiful, huge-clawed birds of prey. Try the Hawk Walk experience, where you’ll embark on an atmospheric forest stroll with your own avine companion, giving them room to explore before swooping back to your gloved hand.
Clay shooting and archery are both quintessential countryside experiences to acquaint you with your surroundings, while a lakeside cruise or fishing trip will get you out on the smooth, rippling waters of Lough Corrib, where the bronzed treetops frame a tranquil view as you cast your rod from a hand-crafted 19ft traditional wooden clinker.
Equestrian types can enjoy Ireland’s best hotel on horseback. Saddle up with instructors or guides for lessons and trail rides, trotting out to the spectacular paths around the Lough, neighbouring woodland and into the mountains of Connemara to see the rural beauty of the county the way Ashford’s 19th-century guests did.
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Sublime seasonal cuisine
Ornate wood panelling, Waterford crystal chandeliers and period fireplaces characterise the dining and drinking haunts at Ashford Castle. But the chef’s vision for your meals is entirely modern: seasonal, local Irish produce is the priority in the George V dining room, where you can graze your way through tangy St Tola goat’s cheese from County Clare, lobster from Rossaveel, 60km away, and lamb loin from Kinvara, just the other side of Galway. The real highlight for many is the restaurant’s signature 28-day-aged Chateaubriand and braised cheek, which is carved for two from a vintage-style chef’s trolley in front of you.
Autumnal fare in Ashford’s restaurants might include woodland girolle mushrooms, a spiced pumpkin soup or gourmet takes on root vegetables such as parsnip and carrot. Meanwhile, chilly October or November mornings cry out for a Full Irish breakfast before you set off to explore: think sausages from Andarl Farm, 40km north of where you sit, plus sizzling Irish bacon, black and white pudding, mushroom, tomato and eggs to order. What better way to stay the day at Ireland’s best hotel?
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Warming spa sessions
After a day out on the Lough, with the falconry team or simply driving through County Mayo’s autumn foliage, an hour or three at the hotel’s world-class spa beckons. There’s a reason why this pampering palace has been named Ireland’s Best Spa for eight consecutive years at the World Spa Awards: as well as lavish interiors featuring chandeliers, lashings of gold and a striking Tree of Life mural, it has palatial treatment rooms with big-windowed views of the countryside, plus a hammam and relaxation pool.
Keen walkers and jet-lagged long haulers can ease tense muscles with an aromatic massage using Voya seaweed products, where therapists tap into a long Irish tradition of using the coastal flora for healing and soothing purposes. Meanwhile a nourishing Natura Bissé facial will plump out dry skin after encounters with wind and rain, and an Ashford hammam session employs Atlantic salt and seaweed soap for an invigorating, inimitably Irish take on the Arabic spa tradition.
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