travel

Castle Hopping (Part 2)

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On our way back to the hotel, the GPS directs us over the top of a massive hill that overlooks all of Tipperary. It’s nearly dusk, so we decide to ditch the car on the side of the road and enjoy the sunset. There isn’t another soul for miles, just a flock of sheep. This time, they don’t seem to mind that we’re around. “It’s so beautiful!” I say, and turn to look at Erik. He’s crouched on one knee, holding a diamond ring. You see, while searching for my family’s past, I stumbled right into my family’s future.

Description: On the top of the hill above the chapel was an alignment of four massive standing stones

On the top of the hill above the chapel was an alignment of four massive standing stones

Have fun storming these castles

Ashford Castle, County Mayo

History

Description: Ashford Castle

Ashford Castle

Ashford (ashford.ie) was built in 1228 and purchased by the Guinness family in 1852. Famous guests include Ronald Reagan, John Lennon and even Brad Pitt.

What to eat

Start with a glass of bubbly in the sun room, and then head over to the George V dining room for an elaborate five-course meal (with wine pairings!). Chef Stefan Matez uses only locally sourced seasonal ingredients. Try the Irish beef fillet with girolle mushrooms and apple-lemon-scented potatoes, paired expertly with the 2008 Originel Merlot. It’s definitely more decadent then your typical roast.

What to do

Description: Ashford Castle dates back to 1228

Ashford Castle dates back to 1228

Don’t leave Ashford without visiting the School of Falconry for one of its famed “hawk walks”. Earn person is paired with a Harris hawk to take hunting in the forest around the castle. Don’t be alarmed if you find your hawk staring at you – hawks have extraordinary eyesight, and they will learn to recognize your face. Let them fly free among the old-growth trees – don’t worry, they’ll come right back again once they see that you’ve got food.

Castle Leslie, County Monaghan

History

Description: Castle Leslie in County Monaghan

Castle Leslie in County Monaghan

Sold to John Leslie in 1655, Castle Leslie (castlelesie.com) has hosted everyone from Sir Winston Churchill to Pone John Paul II. Paul McCartney even married Heather Mills in lavish ceremony here. Don’t forget to say descendant of the original owners, who still lives at the castle.

What to eat

Start with a pint of Guinness by the fireplace in Conor’s Bar and then go to Snaffles for a modern fine-dining feast. The Irish lobster risotto in a brandy cream sauce is so good it will make you cry. Set on the mezzanine floor, the restaurant features a dramatic hand-carved ceiling and oak trim.

What to do

Explore the estate’s 405 hectares of sparkling lakes and greenery on horseback. The guides are well versed in the castle’s gory past, which makes for an entertaining (if slightly morbid) history lesson.

Kilronan Castle, County Roscommon

History

Description: Kilronan Castle in County Roscommon

Kilronan Castle in County Roscommon

Kilroman (kilronancastle.ie) was built in the 1800s, and, as the ancestral home of the Tennison family, it’s one of the few castles in Ireland that can trace its history back to royalty.

What to eat

Start with afternoon tea in the Drawing Room and enjoy the view of Lough (Lake) Meelagh through enormous bay windows. For a feast fit for a foodie, head to the Douglas Hyde restaurant. Feeling adventurous? Try the wild boar for a real Game of Thrones experience. Finish it off with chocolate fondant and Guinness ice cream.

What to do

Check out the spa, a spectacular underground retreat that features marble floors, clean white columns and mosaic tiles. After a candlelit deep-tissue massage, finish your treatment with a dip in the hydrotherapy pool. A dungeon has never felt this chic.

The most famous castle of the moment…

Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle

Description: Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle

Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle

Okay, we know it’s not in Ireland, but if you’re in Hampshire, England, between May and September, why not sign up for a guided tour of Highclere Castle (highclerecastle.co.uk), where Downton Abbey is filmed? While you won’t find the Crawleys there, you might run into the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, who live on-site – the castle has been in their family since 1679.

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