This Irish Castle is the Ultimate Holiday Destination

Ashford Castle has been newly remastered and is the ultimate holiday destination.Ashford Castle may trace its history back to the Dark Ages, but there’s nothing dank and dour about it these days (its dungeon-turned-bistro notwithstanding). Indeed, after the Irish estate’s recent two-year, $75 million top-to-bottom restoration, renovation and redecoration, which made its debut in the middle of last year, the stonewalled and crenelated, multi-towered and -turreted castle has an entirely new lease on life.

The grand Christmas tree at Ashford Castle.Now, its 68 individually decorated rooms and 14 suites, as well as its six restaurants, bars and lounges, sport décor that channels elements of the home’s past while also nodding to the present. The castle’s new owner, Beatrice Tollman, together with her daughter, Toni, handled the design, salvaging such original grand details as 11 Irish Waterford crystal chandeliers, 17 carved chimneypieces, acres of oak paneling and precious antiques that date back centuries. These they combined with new textiles, carpets and linens whose palette and patterns recall Ashford’s heyday in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. The hotel now also boasts a 32-seat cinema, a wine cellar in its former coal tunnels and a spa with a greenhouse-like gym and windowed indoor pool.

This newfound vibrancy is especially apparent during the holidays, when Ashford—which sits on 350 woodland and pastoral acres just inland from the country’s wild Atlantic coast, an hour and 45 minutes north of Shannon Airport and just under an hour from Galway—puts its most festive foot forward for a three-day house party.

Everything is festively decorated at Ashford Castle during the holiday season.Across the British Isles, country house hotels celebrate Christmas every year with events like this: all-inclusive festive seasonal happenings that welcome guests, often traveling en famille, from Christmas Eve through St. Stephen’s Day on the 26th. The hotels create chockablock itineraries that are full of food, drink and entertainment for all ages, and they’re a delightful way to live out a yearning for some aristocratic yuletide cheer.

One of the newly redone and redecorated suites.Ashford is particularly well primed for just such a purpose, since it served for more than 100 years as a party pad for the illustrious Guinness family. Members of that fun-loving, beer-brewing clan would be nicely impressed, no doubt, by the castle’s Christmas party events and treats, which include mince pies and mulled wine upon check-in, a visit from Santa, a garden treasure hunt, a black-tie dinner and copious caroling.

It all proves the ideal way to get into the holiday spirit, or—considering how haunted Ashford is said to be, and how easy-drinking the Irish whiskey here is—the holiday spirits.  

A version of this article appeared in the December 2016 issue of CTC&G (Connecticut Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Christmas at the Castle.