One of the most prestigious hotels in Europe, Ashford Castle offers unrivalled service, warm Irish hospitality and five-star luxury. An amazing stay at any time of year, an Ashford Castle Christmas goes above and beyond. Think Santa, giant trees, sumptuous cuisine and a festive cruise. Read on to see why Ashford Castle is one of the best hotels for Christmas and find out how they celebrate the holiday season.
Ashford Castle – an iconic stay
The Ashford Castle hotel is situated in a spectacular 350-acre estate. Over 800 years old, the castle is a grand, historic structure of great national significance. The former home of the Guinness family, it has hosted countless notables over the years, including The Prince of Wales (who later became King George V) and President Ronald Reagan. Sumptuous rooms and suites combine with divine interiors brimming with antique furniture, fine fabrics and unique features.
A time to make guests feel special
“At Ashford Castle we’re an extended family for our guests and it is viewed as a home,” Catherine, Ashford Castle’s Rooms Division Manager tells us. “It is important that when guests arrive, either on Christmas Eve or before, they feel they are coming home, and that they know someone. Everybody at Ashford understands the importance of our guests coming for Christmas. They all go above and beyond and there is a lovely excitement in the house.”
“We reach out to guests in advance and keep in touch with them in the months leading up to their arrival. This way we build a relationship with them and learn about their preferences, which we try to incorporate into their stay in some discreet way.”
Of course, the most VIP festive guest to visit the castle is Santa. Arriving on Christmas Eve, he presents all of the guests with a gift.
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Christmas trees, grown on the estate
Taking pride of place in the magnificent Oak Hall is a 20-foot-high Christmas tree, which Catherine tells us proudly “is grown and matured on the estate.” A palatial space, the Oak Hall with its storied interior veneered in rich oak paneling and draped in deep scarlets, makes a magnificent setting for the tree.
Ashford Castle’s Head Gardener Martin keeps an eye out through the year for the best tree, so the hunt begins months ahead. The tree provides the perfect backdrop for the Christmas family photograph that all guests receive. Additional trees are also placed in the Staterooms and Suites.
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Festive feasts and a pudding parade
Decadent festive breakfasts, a flow of mulled wine, and quintessential afternoon tea pepper the festivities. On Christmas Eve a black-tie gala dinner provides a sumptuous feast. The centerpiece is, of course, the Christmas Day lunch. Dine on a thoughtfully chosen menu of traditional favorites. Or there are a wide range of alternatives to choose from.
The festive five-course menu includes decadent dishes such as beetroot-cured organic salmon with blinis and horseradish cream, spiced pumpkin and chestnut soup, and mulled wine sorbet. And of course, traditional roast turkey and ham, served with bread stuffing, goose-fat roast potato, turkey sausage roll, and rosemary gravy.
Special wine-tasting sessions are offered over the festive days. Guests can also relax in the lounge and sip a signature Baileys Hot Chocolate, made with Valrhona chocolate.
A festive highlight is the Pudding Parade. “Christmas pudding is made here in the Castle,” Catherine says. “Our team of Chefs in full uniform parade the hot puddings into the restaurant, piped in by Benny the Piper. It’s quite a sight.”
Christmas Day cruise on Lough Corrib
“A highlight for guests on Christmas Day is a leisurely cruise on Lough Corrib, a truly beautiful setting,” shares Catherine. “We serve hot whiskeys and there is traditional music on board. Everyone gets into the festive spirit.”
The second largest freshwater lake in Ireland, the stunning Lough Corrib is around 35 miles in length and contains over 300 islands. It separates the fertile limestone plains of east Galway from the lake-strewn bogs and rugged mountains of Connemara in the west.
Music and merriment
It wouldn’t be an Irish celebration without live music. And Ashford Castle has lined up some of the greats. This includes the legendary Irish singer Keith McDonald who will perform both with his Show Band and solo. One of Ireland’s leading male vocalists, expect a toe-tapping evening and a festive tune or two.
St Stephens Day Celebrations
December 26th is known as St Stephen’s Day in Ireland, also called the Feast of Saint Stephen. On this day Ashford Castle invites guests to join them in the great outdoors. The 350-acre castle estate boasts stunning parkland, woods and gardens. The magical setting on the edge of Lough Corrib with the Castle as the central feature is truly unique. The gardens combine a thoughtful balance of formal and informal areas, with a Walled Garden full of perennial borders, fruit and vegetables. The great woods are home to ancient trees, perfect to wander through at leisure and enjoy the wildlife.
Fly a Harris Hawk
Guests can try the ancient form of falconry, a fascination that has enthralled people for 5,000 years. Ashford Castle is home to the oldest established Falconry School in Ireland and flying hawks is an experience of a lifetime. You can also test your archery skills or even try your hand at sheep herding on the estate.
And to top off St Stephen’s Day, in the evening there is a visit from the Wren Boys offering a feast of traditional music. This celebration gives a nod to the age-old Irish Wren Boys custom that, in the past, saw people dress up and travel from door to door singing, dancing and playing traditional music.