Mary Gostelow splices old with Ireland now

Girlahead visits Red Carnation Hotel Collection's Irish flagship castle

Ashford Castle Bar

Stay in the world’s oldest hotel – but feel part of tomorrow. Red Carnation’s Ashford Castle Hotel & Country Estate, outside Cong, in Ireland’s inland Co Mayo, has a history dating back to 1228, when the de Burgo family built their little home. Think today and on, and this magnificent pile offers the personal space and wellness that are now.

Ashford’s 142 hectares include woodland and grounds for endless walks, runs and bike rides. Think professional archery and falconry lessons, biking and golf – and boating, on Lough Corrib, the 64-km long lake immediately behind the hotel (April is the annual start of Orvis fishing on the lake but it continues summer long).

Indoors, there’s a pool, an Elemis spa in a Disney-like setting, and a screening room with 32 red seats. Off property, learn bagpipe making and playing, from characterful Eugene Lambe, and dairy tasting with youthful master of cheese, Teresa Roche. As you will gather, experiences tumble over each other at this magnificent estate.

In 2013, the entire estate was bought by Stanley and Bea Tollman, founders of The Travel Corporation (TTC), many of whose 40-plus brands are so dominant in Australia. True to her usual form, ever-creative Bea Tollman has overseen the re-do of what she now considers her Irish retreat – she’s been helped by daughter Toni, and by Ashford’s long-established MD Niall Rochford, a justifiably globally recognised ambassador for genuine Irish hospitality.

Oak Hall, Ashford Castle

At the seven stone steps leading to the front door you’re welcomed by a seasoned doorman, long green coat and the red carnation badge that’s a signifier of Red Carnation. Beyond, soaring public rooms, with woodwork polished as mirrors, have roaring log fires, framed portraits of ancestors, and heritage displays.

All 84 bedrooms are unique. A favourite, #430, looks across lawns to the lough. It’s tall enough to have a mezzanine with a second bed (the master four-poster’s gloriously curtained). The fire is blazing. A welcome note tied in red ribbon accompanies a decanter of something, and home-made shortbreads. Soak in the deepest possible tub, with ethics-meet-science toiletries evolved from Ireland’s seaweed bathing heritage: wrap in the ultimate cuddly robe, warmed on the electric rail.

For comparison, State Room #329, Ashford Castle

Dine on Ireland’s best, say Burren smoked salmon sliced tableside. But don’t be insular. Finish with a Valrhona rhubarb and vanilla chocolate. Drink the Tollman-owned Bouchard Finlayson 2020 Blanc de Mer.

Walk it off, a kilometre to a mediaeval church, still working, and not much further to Cong village. Pass a lifesize sculpture of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara – they shot The Quiet Man here in 1951. Year-round, Cong, and Ashford Castle, are on the bucket list to shout about.

Spa Pool, Ashford Castle

Mary Gostelow publishes the daily and a unique weekly 15-minute industry Mary Gostelow Girlahead Podcast, both part of Almont Global.

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