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One of the draws of an Ireland vacation is that it can seem both exotic and familiar. Because we share a language and Ireland and the Irish people play such a significant role in U.S. history and culture, the country sometimes feels like home.
Yet, there are some aspects of Irish history that simply cannot be found in the U.S. One special treat your clients will enjoy on a trip to Ireland is the opportunity to spend a few nights in an actual castle. On a recent visit, I was able to visit two top castle properties.
Five-Star LuxuryThe five-star Dromoland Castle is one of the most famous castle hotels in all of Ireland, and it has seen no shortage of VIP guests, including several U.S. presidents. The castle, which dates back to the 16th century, is located in Newmarket-on-Fergus in County Clare, only about eight miles from Shannon Airport — making it an ideal choice either at the beginning or end of a trip for clients flying into or out of that gateway.
Dromoland is surrounded by more than 400 acres of stunning scenery as well as an 18-hole championship parkland golf course. The resort is known for the range of activities it offers on property. Guests can choose to go cycling, hiking or fishing on Lough Dromoland. The castle also features one of Ireland’s only falconry programs, where guests are able to learn about, and interact with, hunting falcons and hawks under the supervision of a trained professional. There is also a modern, state-of-the-art spa on property with a wide range of treatments.
The castle itself features 99 luxury rooms, including six suites. I found the rooms to be upscale and classic, without being stuffy. Tell clients not to worry: Despite being a castle, all the rooms have modern amenities, including interactive television with movies on demand and Internet access.
The public spaces feel a bit more “castle-like,” with an Old World ambience. There are three restaurants and lounges on property: The Earl of Thomond dining room is the resort’s full-service restaurant, while the Fig Tree Restaurant is a bit more modern and informal. There is also the Bar Tour Movie, which has an Irish pub feel and offers drinks and some food. The hotel serves a formal afternoon tea as well.
Group clients may want to know that Dromoland has meeting and banquet rooms, and families will be happy to learn that the property is kid-friendly.
Castlemartyr is a sister property in East Cork, with 98 guestrooms and a full slate of diverse activities. It is part of the Dromoland Collection as well.
Country CharmWhile Dromoland Castle may feel a bit proper, Ballynahinch Castle, near Connemara in County Galway, charms guests with its welcoming, country ambience. While the castle itself is no less grand than Dromoland, in part because of the 350 wooded acres surrounding the property and the Ballynahinch River that runs right behind the castle, the property feels like it is far removed from the hustle and bustle of modern Ireland. It is an ideal getaway for clients looking to relax.
Ballynahinch Castle has a history dating back to the 13th century when it was part of the O’Flaherty clan. One of its most famous residents was Grace O’Mailey, who would later come to be known as “the Pirate Queen of Connaugh,” and she even commanded respect from Queen Elizabeth I when she met the monarch in 1593.
The guestrooms at Ballynahinch exude a rustic charm but are still five-star. In addition to modern amenities, my room had a canopy bed, warm quilts and a cozy fireplace — making it very tempting to just sleep in. When I did make it out of bed, I often made it only as far as the comfy chair next to my window, which offered an amazing view of the river and the woods outside.
The ideal activities at Ballynahinch include long walks in the countryside, reading by the fire and dining on freshly caught salmon in the castle’s Owenmore Restaurant. Evenings can be spent enjoying a pint in front of the fire in the castle’s own Fisherman’s Pub.
For more energetic clients, however, the property also features great fly-fishing on the wide river just steps from the castle, as well as golf, horseback riding, hiking the Twelve Bens mountain range and ocean fishing just a short drive away. Nearby sightseeing attractions include Connemara National Park, Inishbofin Island and Kylemore Abbey.
Both Dromoland Castle and Ballynahinch Castle provide visitors with the feeling of being treated like royalty — which is perfectly fitting for two of the finest castles in Ireland.
Christmas at Ashford Castle: Celebrate the holidays like royalty with the Christmas Package from Ashford Castle. Check in on Christmas Eve for mulled wine and minced pies, a welcome reception with chamber music, carol singing, jazz entertainment, a visit from Santa and more. On Christmas, enjoy a treasure hunt, a gala dinner and dancing and, on the 26th, take part in a jazz brunch, a cruise on Lough Corrib, a cooking demonstration, entertainment and activities. The package starts at $4,520 per person, based on double occupancy. www.ashford.ie
Lough Eske Castle Hotel & Spa: Nature lovers will enjoy this package from Lough Eske Castle Hotel & Spa, located in Donegal. The special offer includes accommodation for three nights, daily breakfast, a three-course dinner for two, a walking guide, complimentary use of the pool and fitness center, a spa treatment and more. The package is priced from $529 per person, midweek. www.discoverireland.com
Short Dublin Visits: Take a short visit to Dublin with various offers from local hotels. Starting at $96 per person for two adults and two children, clients can choose between three- and four-star hotels for a two-night stay. Packages include breakfast for two adults each morning, free lodging for up to two kids under age 12 and more. www.visitdublin.com
Bed and Breakfast Deals: Find a variety of deals on Dublin’s Bed and Breakfast lodging options on Dublin’s tourism website, such as the award-winning Kilronan Guesthouse, located in the quiet Georgian Quarter. Enjoy a mix of Old World charm and modern conveniences with special room rates starting at $191 for two nights in a double room including breakfast. www.visitdublin.com
Golf Getaway at Castlemartyr: Golfers can take advantage of the Stay & Play package at the Castlemartyr Resort in County Cork. The package includes accommodations for two nights, a full Irish breakfast each morning, one dinner and a round of golf for two each day. The package is valid for two adults and one child under the age of 12. Prices start at $272 for a Deluxe Room. Guests seeking relaxation can enjoy the Spa Break package, featuring two nights and one tailored spa treatment per person, starting at $310 per night. www.castlemartyrresort.ie
Leisurely Ireland Tour: New for 2013 is CIE Tours’ Leisurely Ireland Tour, which features three-night stays in Westport and Killaney. This 10-day tour starts at $1,498 per person and features highlights including Dublin’s Abbey Tavern, Scenic Achill Island, a catamaran cruise, the Blarney Stone and a Clontarf Castle stay in Dublin. The package price includes accommodations for nine nights, a full breakfast daily, six dinners, a tour of Dublin, a day tour of Achill Island, the Dublin open-top tour bus, airport transfers and more. www.cietours.com
Taste of Ireland: The popular five-, six- or seven-day Taste of Ireland tour from CIE Tours starts at $658 per person, with highlights such as the Merry Ploughboy Pub dinner and traditional show; Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet; and visits to Dublin Castle, Blarney Castle, Blarney Woollen Mills, Skellig Experience and the Cliffs of Moher. Also included is a Ring of Kerry Tour, as well as the Blarney Stone and more. www.cietours.com
Southern Supreme Deluxe Tour: Starting at $2,468 per person, this eight-day CIE tour features some of Ireland’s best deluxe and castle hotels, including the Dromoland and Ashford castles. The Southern Supreme Deluxe Tour includes visits to Russborough House, Book of Kells at Trinity College, Irish National Stud & Japanese Gardens, Skellig Experience, the Cliffs of Moher, Cnoc Suain and Kylemore Abbey Visitor Center. In addition, travelers will enjoy a Ring of Kerry tour, a bungalow farmhouse lunch, a dinner at O’Connell’s Restaurant featuring live music in Dublin and more. www.cietours.com
New and Noteworthy
The Gathering 2013: Imagine a year-long party where an entire country is the venue and the whole population is the host. The Gathering is exactly that — for the entire year of 2013, Ireland will host a country-wide party in all cities and towns, featuring festivals and events to which the whole world is invited. www.thegatheringireland.com
Book Early and Save With CIE: Travelers can save 5 percent on the land portion of a 2013 Ireland, Scotland, England and Whales Escorted Tour from CIE Tours when they book before Nov. 30. This represents a savings of up to $400 per couple. The special savings can be accessed with the booking code 113012CIE5. This offer is not valid for group travel. www.cietours.com
11/16-18Dublin Book Festival: Celebrate the best of contemporary Irish publishing and writing from Nov. 16-18 in the warm and welcoming environment of the Dublin Book Festival. The event will showcase Irish writers and publishers in an entertaining and accessible way, reflecting the creativity and personality of the Irish book scene. www.dublinbookfestival.com
12/7-9Fermoy Winter Wonderland: From Dec. 7-9, Fermoy Town Park will be transformed into a snow-covered realm with the return of the popular Winter Wonderland Festival. Experience family-friendly seasonal offerings, including the Golden Carousel, the Everest Slide, bouncy castles, the Polar Express train for a visit to Santa, a range of local food and more. www.avondhublackwater.com
12/31Portmagee’s New Year’s Eve Festival: Ring in the New Year with Portmagee’s annual re-enactment of a traditional “Old Year” custom featuring a street parade of flaming turf torches. Bid the old year goodbye and celebrate the energetic and joyful arrival of the new one on Dec. 31. www.discoverireland.com
2/4-8Waterford New Music Week: Waterford New Music Week, taking place Feb. 4-8, 2013, celebrates music composition and performance with workshops, talks, recitals and concerts. The event is presented by the Department of Creative & Performing Arts WIT and Garter Lane Arts Centre. All daytime events are free. www.waterfordnewmusicweek.com