Ireland, Town and Country

A combo package explores the Emerald Isle

By: Maryann Hammers

No trip to Ireland is complete without visiting the lush countryside, with its lakes and rolling green hills, castle ruins, grazing sheep and quaint villages. But that’s not to say that travelers should miss Dublin, whose charms include fine restaurants, lively nightlife and all the sophisticated accouterments of a major European city.

Now the sister hotels Ashford Castle, on the shores of Lough Corrib, and The Merrion, near St. Stephen’s Green, let travelers experience both the west Ireland countryside and downtown Dublin. The hotels’ joint Town & Country package includes three nights at each property, some meals, transportation between hotels and roundtrip airport transfers.

Built in 1228, Ashford Castle presides over a 350-acre estate. For centuries, it has been the lodging of choice for the rich and famous, from England’s King George V to actor Pierce Brosnan, who married here. Its towers soar into the sky, and knightly suits of armor, big fireplaces, halls lined with period portraits and a maze of narrow winding stairways impart an authentic feel. But never fear drafty old windows. Perhaps the castle’s original residents didn’t have the benefit of heated floors, towel-warmers or Internet access, but today’s guests get the 21st-century royal treatment.

While remnants of traditional European formality exist for example, jackets are required in the George V dining room this is mostly a kickback, family-oriented place. The sing-along bar, The Dungeon, packs in a surprisingly boisterous crowd. Activities are of the country kind, including bicycling along the lake, boat cruises, horseback rides (one of the country’s largest equestrian centers is on the estate), archery or quiet walks through terraced gardens.

For those who feel like strolling through “town,” the village of Cong (population just over 200, enough to boast two or three pubs) is across the River Cong Bridge.

Falconry lessons are a package highlight. Participants learn to stretch out their leather-gloved arms with a bit of meat, and the castle’s resident birds of prey, which have been raised in captivity, gracefully soar from the trees and land on the student’s wrist. Often, they continue to ride along until they feel like flying off. Their eyes are eight times better than humans, so they can spot the speck of raw meat from an astounding distance.

After three nights, however, travelers may be craving more action than crooning Irish ballads or communing with hawks. So the next stop is The Merrion.

Created in 1997 from a row of restored Georgian townhouses, the hotel, which boasts Ireland’s only two-Michelin-starred restaurant, is elegant and stately with Victorian gardens, one of Ireland’s largest private art collections and a formal drawing room where guests congregate for tea, scones or Irish coffee. The package includes passes to the National Gallery and city walking tours. And at the end of their stay, travelers will know like they have experienced the best of both sides of Ireland.


The Town & Country package is available at three levels: Silver (about $2,086 per person), Gold ($2,894) and Platinum ($6,730), with each successive level including bigger and more luxurious accommodations and additional offerings.

Commission: 10 percent

The Merrion

Ashford Castle