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Ireland is one of the world's most magical destinations; it makes for an ideal place to ring in the new year. And Ashford Castle is one of the most magnificent places in the country. Just 45 minutes from Galway Airport, it's past fields so green that they almost look fake.
The royal treatment begins the minute I get out of my vehicle: my luggage is whisked away and I’m handed an arrival drink — a top-secret recipe called “Arthur’s Bellini”, named after Arthur Guinness, the famed brewmaster and previous owner of the castle. It’s a combination of Guinness and champagne that’s just a touch sweet and remarkably delicious.
The décor inside the Great Hall is period perfect with Waterford chandeliers and gilt mirrors and fireplaces. I flop into a large upholstered chair — to me, Ashford looks handsomely well-worn like a cozy family estate.
Despite the intimate feel Ashford is quite large. With 350 acres of sprawling land and 83 guest rooms, there are plenty of opportunities to get lost (I make a few wrong turns before finding my room.) Each boudoir at Ashford has unique period décor with carefully hidden modern amenities like heated towel racks. Bathrooms are nearly as large as the bedrooms with double basins and a copious amount of marble. I love the old-fashioned claw foot tubs and oversized beds. I feel like a princess. No wonder Grace Kelly was an Ashford regular. I treat myself to afternoon tea. The scones and clotted cream, cucumber sandwiches with butter and pastel-colored cakes are so generous, I’m ready for an afternoon nap.
Over dinner in the Connaught Room, an Irish guest tells the story of the mischievous ghost on the 4th floor. The restaurant prides itself on featuring local Irish produce, tempting me to try the Chef’s degustation menu; however, traditional fish and chips win me over. For dessert, I indulge in an Irish cheese plate. Gaelic cheese is totally underrated. It is absolutely the creamiest, most delicate cheese I’ve ever tasted.
The next morning I wander the lush grounds, where wild woods border manicured gardens, until finally arriving at The School of Falconry. There aren’t many firsts left in travel, but casting my beautiful hawk “Milly” into the trees and seeing her sweep back and land delicately on my gloved forearm is an unfamiliar thrill. After a morning with the hawks and Dingle, the adorable 22-pound owl, I am happy to stay on property and go to the spa. I also debate a Lough Carrib river cruise, but the concierge convinces me to explore nearby towns of Galway, Clifdon and Cong instead.
A delightful drive through the countryside and I begin to understand what “forty shades of green” really means. I pass rolling hills scattered with blonde cows and hear the sounds of locals enjoying a pint (or two). I join them for a drink and satisfy my need for a medieval adventure.