The west coast of Ireland may not be the first place you'd think of for a honeymoon. People certainly don’t go there for the weather (“least of the all the Irish,” a Dubliner told me on a recent visit), but what it lacks in sunshine, this region more than makes up for in rich history, hospitality, and breathtaking landscapes. It’s here that you’ll find Ashford Castle, one of the most luxurious guest castles in all of Ireland, perhaps in all the British Isles, and at just 90 minutes from Shannon Airport, Ashford is both easily accessible yet worlds away. If it’s an out-of-the-ordinary honeymoon you’re after, then here’s why you should consider spending it at Ashford.
There’s history everywhere you look when you're at Ashford, from the paintings on the walls to the long, circuitous hallways. It’s easy for a first-timer to get lost here (or maybe bump into a ghost along the way), but that's all part of the fun. The castle itself was built in stages, with the oldest parts dating back to the the 13th century. After successive expansions in the 16th and 18th centuries, the property really achieved icon status when it was acquired by the Guinness family in the 19th century. History credits the Guinnesses with turning Ashford into a fashionable place to visit, and during their time many celebrities and royals visited the estate. But don’t fret—Ashford is set apart from other historic properties around the world because it's anything but drafty and dusty. After Red Carnation Hotels acquired the property in 2013, it underwent an extraordinary studs-to-ceilings $75 million renovation.
As part of the multimillion dollar renovation, each and every one of the guest rooms got a thorough facelift. Consider booking the Reagan Presidential Suite, for example, named after President Ronald Reagan who stayed at Ashford in 1984; it has an original fireplace, a stunning George III–style four poster bed, individually-sourced antiques, and spectacular views over the lake. And if staying in a remote castle on the west coast of Ireland isn’t private enough for you, Ashford also boasts a “Hideaway Cottage,” an elegant retreat located a short walk down from the castle directly on the shores of Lough Carrib. This one-bedroom suite was formerly a Guinness-era boathouse, and comes with all the services of the castle as well as a personal Hideaway assistant to accommodate every need—like organizing a candlelit dinner for two on your private pier.
One of the great joys of staying at Ashford is the opportunity to meet Cronan and Garvan, the resident Irish wolfhounds. Every morning before breakfast, guests are welcome to slip on a pair of the house Wellie boots and take (or rather, be taken by) the hounds on a bracing off-leash walk through the woods. There are sloppy kisses to be had, big sticks to be thrown, and plenty of romps through the mud—it’s simply a delight. And then around 11 a.m. each morning, the dogs can be found inside the castle ready for fireside cuddles and pictures.
Couples Spa Treatments
Considered to be one of the best spas in Ireland, the Spa at Ashford Castle is the renovation’s crown jewel, and there are plenty of options for couples treatments. For instance, the “B Together” package includes two nights accommodation, dinner in the George V dining room on the night of your choosing, and a 90-minute rose-quartz massage for you and your spouse. Even if you aren’t making Ireland your one and only honeymoon destination, a couple of nights at Ashford’s spa could easily be an add-on before or after a longer trip elsewhere.
For those looking to live out their Downton Abbey fantasies of having a doting staff at their beck and call, Ashford more than delivers, and they are no strangers to creating totally customized experiences for lovebirds. Private dinners in the wine cellar? Done. A boat trip on Lough Corrib with a delicious picnic lunch on one of the lake’s islands? No problem. An intricate treasure hunt across the estate which concludes with a roses-and-candles-filled room complete with marriage proposal at the end? It’s nothing they can’t do at Ashford—and haven’t done already.