With its celebrated culture, dramatic landscapes, and gracious residents, Ireland casts a memorable spell any time of year. Although Ireland is known for its many historic properties and quaint bed and breakfasts, it’s the 800-year-old castles and 19th-century manors that beckon. Begin your journey in Dublin, a bustling capital that has emerged as a style-centric hub with its roster of revered chefs, artisans, and designers. In the heart of the city centre, The Merrion is a row of elegant 18th-century Georgian townhomes that houses an astounding private art collection. Delve into the works of Paul Henry, Martin Mooney, and Jack B. Yeats inside The Drawing Rooms during The Merrion’s Art Tea—where delicate pastries, inspired by the artists’ creations adorning the hotel walls, are themselves delectable pieces of art. For a lively evening dining experience, Matt the Thresher is just a few blocks away and serves up local oysters, seafood chowder, and shellfish linguine you’ll long remember.
Whether you rent a car or arrange for a private driver, experiencing the countryside of the Emerald Isle is essential—and you’ll do just that on your way to Ashford Castle. Less than three hours from Dublin, on the shores of Lough Corrib on the southern border of County Mayo, this 26,000-acre estate was originally built in 1226 by the Anglo– Norman de Burgo family, and later owned by the famed Guinness family. Enter through the imposing gates and along a winding driveway to the statuesque property befitting Game of Thrones. A warm Irish welcome is found inside the Oak Hall, where a mighty crystal chandelier, original artwork, and stately antique furniture immediately thrust visitors into a bygone era with all of the comforting indulgences.
Regal fantasy is the theme here, and the sumptuous staterooms are nothing less than gasp-worthy. With towering ceilings, inviting four-poster beds, and intricate fireplaces, this is a study in all-out opulence fit for any royal. And, the activities are just as noble, including a hawk walk at the on-property Ireland’s School of Falconry, the oldest in the country. Stroll the manicured castle grounds and woodlands alongside one of the devoted instructors while flying a Harris hawk off into the trees. It’s a magical moment admiring them soar back with widespread wings, straight onto your gloved hand for a deserving treat. Clay pigeon shooting, archery, horseback riding, golfing, fishing on the Lough Corrib, and luxuriating at the spa are other thrilling pursuits, as is a visit with the resident Irish wolfhounds each morning after their walk. Dining options are aplenty, including a decadent breakfast buffet in The George V Dining Room, complete with such classic Irish delicacies as black and white pudding, and steaks and seafood galore at The Dungeon restaurant. To experience [all] the castle’s nooks and crannies, relish a tasting inside the wine cellars, carved out of one of the property’s 16th-century tunnels.
From Ashford Castle, it’s onto another great estate less than two hours away, Adare Manor, in the storybook village of Adare, County Limerick. Once the ancestral home to the second Earl of Dunraven, this is 19th-century grandeur at its height. Savour the majestic drive along rolling lawns to the hotel’s porte-cochère and feast your eyes on the structure’s striking Gothic Revival architecture, including limestone walls, turrets, and gables, set on 840 lush acres along the roaring River Maigue.
A mesmerizing mashup of old and new, the aristocratic ambiance of the Great Hall—with its vaulted arches, cathedral-height ceilings, and carved wood panelling—instantly envelops you. The warmth of the interior design, with its many intimate corners, coupled with the crackling fireplaces and convivial staff, makes for an entirely seductive visit.
Now boasting 104 guest rooms and suites after a recent renovation, with 42 newly built in the west wing (including a gleaming ballroom), the accommodations are what you’d expect from a resplendent manor such as this: sofas you can sink into, 19th-century paintings, freestanding tubs, and a perfectly luscious swath of floor-to-ceiling drapery. With the La Mer spa, indoor pool, Tom Fazio–designed golf course, movie theatre, gardens, and surrounding woodlands, this extravagant playground enchants without an ounce of pretension.
Of course, haute cuisine and libations abound. Imbibe within the swanky speakeasy-style confines of the underground Tack Room and delight in afternoon tea or cocktails in The Drawing Room, with views of the French gardens. A sweeping breakfast is served in The Gallery, a commanding room of enormous scale with 17thcentury Flemish choir stalls and stained-glass windows. The glory continues in The Oak Room, the manor’s Michelin-star fine dining destination led by head chef Michael Tweedie. Drawing from local purveyors, the seasonal menus are a love letter to Irish ingredients. The Ballyneety beetroot tartare with horseradish ice cream and watercress, as well as the crab and ginger with flowering courgette accompanied by Thai spice broth, are just some of Tweedie’s arresting creations. With its undeniable charm, lush greenery, and rich history, the Emerald Isle is a must for visitors seeking old-world style brimming with a high dose of modern-day indulgences.