Massive, flamboyantly turreted, Ashford is the very picture of a romantic Irish castle. This famed mock-Gothic baronial showpiece, dating from the 13th century, and rebuilt in 1870 for the Guinness family, has been wowing visitors like President Reagan, John Travolta, Brad Pitt, and Pierce Brosnan—who got married here—ever since. Nearly bigger than the entire neighboring village of Cong, it is strong on luxury and service, yet maintains a relaxed atmosphere in which guests of all ages feel totally at ease. It is currently in the final phase of a three-phase upgrade, which will leave it more luxurious than ever. Kids immediately associate the castle with Hogwarts; ask about the multigenerational family packages. Deluxe guest rooms have generous sitting areas, heavily carved antique furniture, open fireplaces, and extra-large bathrooms. Standard bedrooms in the discreetly added wing are smaller, with sumptuous soft furnishings, bespoke beds and carpets, and Victorian-style antiques.
The suites in the original castle building are vast, with double-height windows and Georgian antiques, and are blissfully comfortable. The Prince of Wales Bar (named for the one who visited in the 1890s) is the venue for elegant pre-dinner drinks. Choose between the formal George V dining room and the more relaxed atmosphere of Cullen's at the Cottage or Dungeon. Younger visitors are especially welcome and can try out the Lego Room Service or play with other kids in the children's games room. Clay-pigeon shooting, horse riding, and the 9-hole golf course will be complemented by a sparkling new spa and indoor pool from August 2015. The hotel makes the most of its superb location at the head of Lough Corrib, and the surrounding formal gardens are possibly the most neatly manicured outdoor space in Ireland. The riverbank has been landscaped to facilitate angling, but don't miss the chance to walk with a hawk on your arm at the on-site School of Falconry.