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
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
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