Places We’ve Stayed at in Ireland
Dublin, Ireland - July 14 & 15, 2017
21-24 Upper Merrion Street
Belfast, Northern Ireland - July 16, 2017
The Merchant Hotel
16 Skipper Street
Donegal, Ireland – July 17, 2017
The Sandhouse Hotel
Rossnowlagh Beach, Co. Donegal
Cong, Ireland – July 18-21, 2017
The Lodge at Ashford Castle
Lislaughrea, Co. Mayo
Castlemartyr, Ireland – July 22-24, 2017
Castlemartyr, Co. Cork
Dublin, Ireland – July 25, 2017
Maldron Hotel Dublin Airport
The Lodge at Ashford Castle, Cong
The first thing you notice when approaching The Lodge are the vast parklands surrounding the property, which includes the lux Ashford Castle. Both are members of the Red Carnation and Leading hotel and resort groups. We came from the north skimming Lough Mask on our way south, which gave us great views on what was another sunny, pleasant day in Ireland.
Our GPS took us to Ashford Castle Drive and what looked like an original entrance to the property, but the signs kept point us around its edges until we finally came to a small gate and signage pointing us up a slight hill from Lough Corrib to The Lodge. We learned later, that there is normally a gatekeeper at the grand entrance who would let us pass through. I suggest you hang out until someone comes to let you through, the drive to the Lodge or Castle from that route is worth it and most likely how the landscaper intended you first see the fairytale castle once owned by the Guinness family.
As you can see from this Google Maps image, The Lodge is close to Ashford Castle but requires a short walk downhill through a small wood to reach it. At first, we were a bit nervous to take that route as property Range Rovers and guests’ cars regularly careened along the narrow roadway up and back from the Castle and town of Cong. We took our chances, figuring no one would run us down, though we looked over our shoulders often.
Before we get to talking about The Lodge, note a few other landmarks on the map. Of course there is Ashford Castle. The golf course, a summer restaurant – Cullen’s at the Cottage, and publicly accessible gardens surround it. You can reach any point by foot, or by car. Note that if you are not staying on property there is a fee to enter the park. Far left is the School of Falconry and just above this are more woods that hold an equestrian centre (center if you prefer US spelling), archery field and clay pigeon shooting range. In another post, we’ll talk about our archery and shooting lessons. You could walk to any of these, or grab one of the bikes for let. We chose to have the driver take us and pick us up – the weather had turned by then.
The Lodge is a courtyard design with a wide-open terrace facing the lough where cocktails and snacks are served. The centre courtyard has seating and pleasant fountain, which happened to be drained for repair most of our visit. Apparently, children drop the loose pebbles from the landscaping into the fountain clogging it up regularly. Hum. The building itself is noteworthy because of its former resident, one William Wilde, father of, you guessed it Oscar Wilde. Incidentally, the Wilde restaurant is named after Oscar and his family, holding some memorabilia of the family’s time there.
Check-in went smoothly. We were oriented to the Lodge and property amenities and rules, including mention that we couldn’t just walk over the turreted bridge to the Castle without showing our room key or being escorted. Off the main entrance hall, a modest space with a broad central staircase, to the right is the Quay Bar and Brasserie. This became our resting place and got to know some of the wait staff during our stay. Through the main hall, we entered a transom hall with grand piano and plenty of overstuffed chairs and couches, suitable for lounging, cocktailing, taking a tea and biscuit…you get the picture. Passing through to the courtyard, our room was located about in the middle of the north wing.
The Room We took a Duplex Suite for our stay. As you can guess, the first floor is for lounging and the second is where the king-sized bed and master bathroom are. We were on the ground floor and had double-doors leading to a small private patio with two lounge chairs waiting. We had free internet access, an LCD TV, pillow topped mattress, down duvet, a rainforest shower, wonderful robes, and breakfast included. The bathroom was certainly nicely appointed, but very long and very narrow with the large shower at the far end. The room, once again, was decorated in a mild art déco scheme. I’m not sure what the trend with all the art deco is about, but it was very common in the places we stayed. All in all, a very nice place to spend a few days relaxing and to which to return after a day of exploring.
The Food The Quay Bar and Brasserie had just undergone a face lift and menu renovation is where we spent our first evening sipping cocktails and having some snacks. The Quay’s new menu showed an experimental side of what you might otherwise expect of typical Irish pub food. The tone is definitely brasserie out on the terrace outside the bar. All the dishes were crafted to highlight some local or noted Irish product. The charcuterie for instance, came with selected cured Irish meats, one type hanging off a wire surrounded by small pots of pickeled onions with carrots another with stone ground mustard. We stifled a giggle at this presentation style, but thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We’d return many times over our stay to sample the new menu. It was all delicious.
Breakfasts were served in The Wilde’s at the Lodge restaurant. Breakfasts are hearty and include made-to-order hot items if you wished. The spread on the buffet held many common items, including bangers, fresh breads, sweets, carved meats, prepared fish that changed daily, porridge, juices, and of course tea and coffee. We typically ordered a hot meal from the menu, enough food to set you up properly for the day’s outings.
We decided to take one dinner at The Castle’s George V Dining Room, which will be written about separately, and one evening at The Wilde’s. At Wilde’s we were seated at a corner table, the one pictured on the restaurants website. Like many chef’s in Ireland today, Chef Jonathan Keane takes his lead from local livestock, game, fish, and produce – creating dishes with few ingredients, expertly presented, and with full flavors. As you would expect, the menus are seasonal and depend upon what can be sourced for that evenings meal. I chose the Menu of Discovery that highlighted the best of what the day had had to offer; scallop, foie gras, duck, lamb, turnip and peas. Oh, and not to forget the evening potato served in its own copper pot.
The whole meal, including a very accommodating dining room manager who packed up our remaining meal and promptly delivered it to our room when Steven’s cold got the best of him that evening, was quite memorable. They even brought a surprise desert later. I don’t recall which wines we sampled, but the food was clearly the highlight. You don’t have to be staying at The Lodge to enjoy this food. If you’re near, I highly recommend making a reservation. And at 60 Euros for the tasting menu, not bad pricing either.
Here are some of the dishes starting with freshed baked breads. We didn't keep a copy of the menu, so not sure exactly what each is. Sorry, we didn't get shots of everything.
Castlemartyr Resort, Castlemartyr
Once again, Steven located a great place to stay for a few days near the end of our trip. As I mentioned above, Steven wasn’t feeling all that well, so rather than push it to make it to the Dingle for our dinner reservations there, we cancelled and were luckily able to add a night onto our original booking. Once we got there, we realized just how lucky we were to get that extra night – the hotel was nearly fully booked with a wedding party. In fact, we walked into the main entrance hall to be engulfed in the formal champagne reception prior to the ceremony and feast. The happy couple, clearly what we refer to as the A-Gay crowd, had their own website, with friends posting pictures as the evening progressed. No, we don’t stalk our own. They were just hard to miss with the URL being posted on signs around the hall.
The hotel itself is an 17th century manor house reborn into a sprawling complex of rooms, golf course, equestrian centre, a beautifully modern spa and pool area with upstairs gym, formal gardens, and an 13th century Knights Templar castle ruin. The décor of the hotel is warm and comforting throughout, even into the more recently added sections where we were lodged. Exploring the ground floor after the wedding party cleared out, we found a bar, The Knights Bar, where we had a pretty good cocktail overlooking the formal gardens. The poor staff were clearly trying to recover from the wedding reception, so even though they were a bit slow, we’ll give them a pass. Further down the center hall we passed The Bell Tower, where we’d have breakfasts, and into the original house that held meeting rooms and some of the posher accommodations on the second floor. Heading in the opposite direction toward our room, we passed what looked like a very nice traditional living room, or lounge. Settings of couches and stuffed chairs provided plenty of space to have a more secluded meal with the kids or just to have tea.
The grounds are splendid. As you drive onto the property from its newly relocated entrance (the original manor house gate is now for pedestrian use only), you come upon out buildings, ruins, a glade with a slowly moving creek, fowl, and paths. After we settle into the room, we explored more of the property, taking walks and many pictures of the horses galloping in a wide-open pasture across from the main house. We almost managed to get ourselves lost on a longer walk circumnavigating the entire property. Luckily, we met an Irish couple on holiday who gave us directions out of the seemingly endless woodland paths, past a ruined abbey and nunnery I swear was still inhabited, if you get my meaning. We emerged, marked by cuts from mistakenly climbing a over fence and onto a fairway with golfers playing through, not on our own exactly, but by following the nice couple at a discrete distance.
I can see why this is a destination for the Irish and foreigners alike. If you don’t ride or play golf, there is plenty to do, or not, as you please.
The Room We booked a double deluxe room, Castlemartyr’s most basic room category. The long haul to the room might have first disappointed us, but entering the room we breathed a sigh of thankfulness and relief. Remember, Steven still wasn’t well, the simple but beautifully appointed room was a welcome sight for the both of us. Because of our last minute add-on of an early arrival, we had to take a double room for the first night. The next night we moved to a king room. The "king bed" was simply configured from two twins pushed together, and made up without there being a crevasse between the joined beds!
Our room overlooked the golf course and small clubhouse restaurant, The Pod. It had everything you’d need for a long stay. It was large, even by US traveler standards, held a desk, a lounging chair with ottoman, a spacious bathroom, and plenty of closet space to store your things. The room came with no tea/coffee maker, something I really would appreciate as the first one up every morning, but that wasn’t too much to suffer given the splendid room and resort.
The Food Since we stayed at Castlemartyr several days, we ate at all the dining options. As I mentioned, The Knight’s Bar is for a drink and perhaps a quick meal. Be aware that the menu cuts off at 6:30pm, but cocktails flow well into the night. The second night we ate at the Italian restaurant, Franchini’s. We were lead to believe you couldn’t get a reservation, but we had no problem. The service was very good. We found out that our server was actually the son of the owner, who had brought the family over from Italy a generation ago. The son certainly knew his menu. We felt confident we’d not go wrong with anything we’d order. And we were right. In any case, we ordered a…guess what, charcuterie plate and some soup. We both had a pasta course, Kevin had the Pork and Beef Meatballs with Spaghetti, Steven having the Porcini Ravioli, for our main that evening, not something we typically do. The pasta for the ravioli was certainly fresh but fairly certain the spaghetti were dried. Both were quite good, well-seasoned, not overly sauced, and a reasonable portion…by which I mean just over a good handful.
Our breakfasts were taken in The Bell Tower on the main floor. They also offered hot items ordered from a daily changing menu as well as a completely serviceable buffet with all the expected items. We tended to order from the menu AND get some selections (mostly charcuterie) from the buffet. Personally, I love fish, so I indulged in any offering of kippered, poached, or raw goodness from the sea. The setting is lovely, especially if you snag a table at the windows, which we did on our final morning. A good way to start the day in every way. One thing that should be mentioned. At check out, we discovered that our room rate did not include breakfast. Gulp. Check your room type. The breakfasts aren’t cheap.
Finally, after surviving (just kidding) our walk around the property we were quite hungry and decided on stopping at The Pod, just at the 18th hole. Steven had a very well-prepared burger and I the daily fish. Except for the pesky bees buzzing around, the food was more than serviceable and the beers cold. Plus, what’s not to like about a lazy afternoon people watching?
The Maldron Hotel, Dublin Airport
We were bound to hit a dud at some point on this trip, and this was it. Frankly, I doubt much could have matched the experiences we’d had thus far, so I’ll be kind. Maldron is a chain of modestly priced hotels, in this case catering to the business traveler rather than families as some of their other hotels do. The hotel website boasts having ‘an airport perfect location’, but it didn’t exactly. You’d definitely need a car or cab to get there. The hotel is basic, clean, and is a fine place to rest your head for a night. Given it’s not near anything of interest, it wouldn’t be a good choice for longer stays. The staff were pleasant enough too, offering us a shuttle which worked out just fine for us. We had already dropped off the rental car the night before and the rental agency shuttle dropped us off near the hotel.
The Room We chose a basic room with single full-sized bed. We had to be careful where we put our luggage so as not to trip over it during the night on the way to the bathroom. The room was fine, spartan, with a thin mattress and blanket. The bathroom, again serviceable. Not much to say about it. In all, worth one night, but not more if you care for your back health.
The Food There are several options for food; The Apron Restaurant, the Red Bean Roastery, and The Sky Bar. We looked at the Apron, decided against it as the menu looked too substantial and we just wanted something small. We settled on The Sky Bar, just behind the coffee/pastry bar in the main lobby. We were pretty tired from a long day traveling from Co. Cork to the Wicklow mountains, and around Dublin, so we ordered small plates. These were just enough, and hit the spot. The food wasn’t memorable, but we weren’t expecting it to be. Not insignificantly, it was the warm smile of our server that I remember most. In the morning we were off to our flight to London, so I ran down to the Bean and grabbed us some muffins, juice, and coffee. Sustenance only and perfectly fine. We’d eat more later.
No pictures of the Moldron because, quite frankly, it wasn't worth the effort.