Sleeping in a castle

Before moving to France we had made a lot of vacation trips here, sometimes with two other couples and twice with them we had rented a castle for a week. Upon arrival at these ancient buildings we were all like little kids suddenly set loose in an amusement park running around to discover the towers, dungeons, banqueting halls, and multiple bedrooms. On a tour of western Ireland with this same group we found a 4-bedroom tower castle (photo to the left) in County Clare near Doolin. That was such a fun experience that on this visit to the same area we wanted to see if there was something similar. By chance we had seen a BBC program called “Amazing Hotels—Life Beyond the Lobby” where the two hosts take on different jobs around the hotels to give the viewers a behind-the-scenes look at these beautiful properties. Once we saw the episode that featured Ashford Castle, about an hour north of Galway, we knew where we would be going.

Main entrance

There’s no train station at Ashford Castle so we arranged with the hotel to pick us up in Galway where we had just spent 2 days testing out the best places to find a pint of Guinness beer. After all, since we were going to stay at the former Guinness family residence, we had to be prepared. In less than an hour, we passed through what the map calls the “Front Gate”, a huge crenelated stone portal, yet it took a few minutes more of driving before we crossed under a similar archway at the entrance to the 13th century, 82-bedroom magnificent Ashford Castle.

The original structure was completed in 1228, expanded in 1715, and then purchased as a family home by Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness in 1852 who added two more wings to the house. With the added bedrooms it became suitable as a hotel and was sold in 1939 when it began welcoming paying guests including kings, presidents, authors, musicians, actors, and now two visitors from France.

Entrance hall (viewed from above)

Rich oak paneling greeted us in the lobby as did numerous smiling employees intent on making our stay enjoyable. The walls were covered with historical paintings and the candelabras and flickering fireplaces provided the perfect ambiance. Our room décor matched the public areas that we had already passed through and that carried on in the various dining rooms and places of refreshment. 

Cong abbey ruins

Although this part of our vacation in Ireland was really all about the castle, we were only a 10-minute walk away from the charming village of Cong (separate photo gallery below) featuring ruins of a 12th century abbey with its 16th century stone fishing house. There are many references in the town to the movie “The Quiet Man” that was filmed there in 1952 with Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne who are honored with a statue across from the abbey.


While we were content to simply soak up the atmosphere of the castle itself and to walk beside the river and lake, there were plenty of activities for those wanting more. The hotel brochure lists outdoor pursuits including golf, kayaking, and cycling plus falconry, fishing, and horseback riding while indoors there’s a spa, pool, movie theater, plus experiences revolving around food and wine. Gazing out at the lake from a cozy, overstuffed chair by the fireplace and leaving only for a seat in one of the six restaurants and three bars kept us busy enough.

For more information on that 4-bedroom tower castle mentioned in the first paragraph, here’s a link to the website for Smithstown:

5 thoughts on “Sleeping in a castle

  1. Just as we remember it – although I know parts of it have been refurbished since we were there. Your photos are beautiful. Thanks for sharing your lovely trip – it’s brought back good memories here.

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  2. Having followed your blog since well before we moved to France (Montpellier) last January, I think that you live fairly frugally but spend more on travel. We are much the same, with more than 1/3 of our monthly expenditures going toward travel. I’d love to see a blog post on how you approach travel as part of your budget! And by the way, your Spanish train trip has inspired us to plan that same experience in the next year or so! Thanks for sharing these exciting posts.

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