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A sense of wonder and disbelief hit me as the winding road revealed Dromoland Castle, my stately home for the next two nights. Its gothic-style gray stone walls and towers were straight out of the pages of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and the long, curving drive alongside a lake, golf course and walled garden only fueled my anticipation of what lied beyond the castle doors.
The five-star castle hotel in County Claire, Ireland, was the ancestral home of the O’Briens, the Barons of Inchiquin and one of the few native Gaelic families of royal blood. Guests can’t help feeling like royalty themselves when strolling through the castle halls, which are complete with stained glass, arched ceilings, the musky scent of incense and handpicked period artwork.
Feelings of grandeur continued in my accommodation, the Bridal Suite, located in a crenellated tower above the main entrance. The door opened to a downstairs sitting room lit by a chandelier and outfitted with bespoke Louis XV furniture in muted pale-blue and cream hues. Up the spiral staircase, I discovered traces of modernity, including a flat-screen television with on-demand movies, a heated towel rack and outlets for American gadgets (although they didn’t seem to be functional during my visit).
The standout feature of my suite was its gigantic Jacuzzi tub surrounded by mosaic tiles and turret windows that provided glimpses of the castle grounds. The edge of the tub was just roomy enough to balance a chilled bottle of bubbly, which I selected from room service’s extensive wine list, which offers everything from Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label to a $1,600 bottle of 1929 Chateau Pape Clement.
Consider pairing champagne with the handmade chocolates that housekeeping leaves during turndown — because at Dromoland, it’s perfectly acceptable to unlock your inner hedonist.
The 650-square-foot Bridal Suite is a recent addition to the castle’s collection of 99 guestrooms and suites, some of which have been completely refurbished. The Presidential Suite — a temporary home to dignitaries and celebrities such as the King and Queen of Spain, Nelson Mandela, Richard Branson and the Clintons — was renovated in 2012 to include a four-poster bed, intelligent lighting and a design scheme that incorporates soft gold, aqua and nickel. The Cottage Suite, located in the Moriarty Wing, offers guests a chance to get away from it all. The self-contained suite includes a private patio, a full kitchen and the services of a personal chef.
Guests who do not venture to the Earl of Thomond for dinner are doing themselves a disservice, however. The fine-dining restaurant is elegant yet cozy, with oil paintings depicting the castle’s previous owners, a fireplace lit with candles and a pair of Waterford Crystal chandeliers that were commissioned to commemorate former President George W. Bush’s visit in 2004.
When presented with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of staying in a castle, one must order the Earl of Thomond’s eight-course tasting menu with wine pairings. The Nostalgic Tasting Menu celebrates Dromoland’s 50th year as a hotel and is inspired by the dishes it served in the mid-1960s.
My favorite courses were the amuse-bouche of gazpacho paired with Prosecco Coldigiano and a course of halibut and mussels on a bed of eggplant caviar. Dinner reached a crescendo upon the arrival of a Grand Marnier chocolate souffle accompanied by a glass of Dow’s Nirvana port.
In many cases, those staying for any length of time will want to switch it up with a casual meal in a lively setting. When the mood hits, ask the front desk to arrange a complimentary ride to The Inn at Dromoland, a 155-room hotel that was acquired by the castle in 2013.
This month, The Inn completed renovations on 60 Superior Rooms and is celebrating the one-year anniversary of its gastropub, Shannigan’s, with a brand-new menu. Shannigan’s offers a wide range of craft beers and cuisines (Italian, American, Mexican, Irish) that can satisfy the pickiest of eaters. It’s also a fun place to watch a rugby or Gaelic football match with locals from neighboring towns.
Castle visitors who really want to feel like royalty can do as I did and visit The Spa at Dromoland for a bit of indulgent pampering before checkout. There’s no easy way to leave the fantasy behind and return to life as a commoner, but a seaweed wrap finished with a hot stone massage is, without question, a decadent way to bid farewell.