A dream that lasts from dawn to dusk.
There are hotels that get the job done. You check in, drop off your bags and then head out into the world. Then there are hotels that are destinations unto themselves. Such is the case with Dromoland Castle Hotel, which casts its spell pretty much as soon as you set your eyes on it.
You almost don’t need to be told that it was built in the 16th-century (the most castle-y of times) not as an enterprise in aristocratic vanity but for the authentic purpose of defense. It’s the ancestral home of the O’Briens who descended from Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland. The castle and the hotel stand at the center of a sprawling estate complete with wooded areas, a lake, a walled garden, and even a world-class golf course. And, what’s more, each of these locations has an activity for which visitors can indulge in order to truly immerse oneself in what it feels like to live the life of an honest-to-goodness castle dweller.
Dromoland is the rare “hotel” where not only could you be forgiven for not venturing out into the world beyond its fortified walls, one might even insist that you dedicate a day to fully experiencing everything your unique accommodations have to offer.
Start your day right with that most classic of Irish breakfast staples—brown bread. Make sure you order it extra crispy, apply a generous amount of butter, and enjoy. Dromoland takes so much pride in its take on the classic Irish staple it even makes a mix available so you can recreate this hearty breakfast when you return home.
Dromoland’s golf course is world famous. The course’s 18-holes are challenging enough—you’ll come up against marshland, a lake, and streams—but far from unfair. Even if you’re not much of a golfer, it’s not every day you can say you casually golfed in full view of a castle (the plywood palace at your local putt-putt doesn’t count).
Even if you’re not a hardcore golfer it’d be a shame to pass up a course with so much renown attached to it. But, alternatively, if you’d prefer to work on your fundamentals you can always hone your game at the Gold Academy, which features driving bays, putting greens, and a bunker.
Recommended Fodor’s Video
Stroll the Grounds
The estate is so extensive that Dromoland has two separate, self-guided walks. There’s the Celtic Noble Tree Walk, which has an interesting starting point in the Temple of Mercury. This small, stone pavilion situated on a hilltop and flanked by four tree-lined pathways was built in the 18th-century in order to serve as the burial site for Sir Edward O’Brien’s favorite racehorse. Over the course of the walk, you’ll see oaks, holly trees, hazel trees, ash trees, yew trees, and wild apple trees (among others). It won’t take long on this arboreal stroll to understand why these trees were regarded as sacred by the ancient Celts.
The second walk is the Garden Walk. Because a castle without a proper walled garden is no castle at all. By that metric, Dromoland is just about as proper as a castle can be.
The arched corridor of greenery that leads to the entrance doesn’t just deliver you to the garden, it leaves you feeling as if you’ve stepped into a storybook. Inside its stone walls, you’ll find yourself standing in a beautiful garden based on designs by André Le Nôtre, who designed the gardens at a little place called the Palace of Versailles. The gardens feature a rose bed, a sundial, a linear water feature complete with picture-perfect lily pads, and even greenhouses that produce basil, tomatoes, and cucumbers for The Fig Tree, the onsite restaurant for the golf and country clubhouse.
Listen. You’re in a castle; you’re fancy now. Which means you can’t pass up Dromoland’s traditional Afternoon Tea. What could be more fitting of a freshly minted lord or lady than sipping freshly made tea that’s been poured from real silver teapots into fine china?
Naturally, you have your choice of a wide variety of teas. Black teas, green teas, oolong teas, infusions. Perhaps you like your tea with a splash of Whiskey? Whatever your preference, rest assured you’ll find it on the menu.
You’ve probably heard of taking joy in the little things in life. Usually, when a person is espousing this classic adage, they’re talking about appreciating the beauty of a daisy or a refreshing glass of water on a hot day. But is there a little thing more joyous than tiny sandwiches? Yes. Tiny deserts. Not that you need to choose a side, as plenty of these adorably miniature sweet and savory treats are served during the tea.
Book a Hotel
Holding your hand aloft to act as the landing pad for an exquisite, evolutionarily-perfect killing machine is 100 percent the coolest thing a person can do. Your friends could be forgiven for mistaking you for some kind of ancient warrior king and/or queen as an epic yet elegant bird of prey swoops between the treetops to land soundlessly on your outstretched, be-gloved hand.
Dromoland’s “Hawk Walk” allows visitors to learn the basics of that most kingly sport, falconry, from expert instructors who have an incredible wealth of knowledge on everything from the sport itself to the specific roles raptors play in the environment around them.
INSIDER TIPMake sure to hold your hand up high! If you start to lower their perch, the bird might be tempted to hop on your head. Which, for a very important reason (talons!), is something you want to avoid.
Just because you’ve been treating yourself doesn’t mean you haven’t earned the ultimate Treat Yo’Self activity. A spa treatment.
After a packed day, you deserve the chance to have your weary muscles relaxed with an old-fashioned massage or seaweed wrap. Seaweed is rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that nourish and revitalize your skin. Although seaweed wraps aren’t only found in Irish spas, seaweed is particularly emblematic of western Ireland as, not only is it abundant along the coast, it’s historically significant to the region as early farmers would fertilize their fields with tracks of seaweed.
Perhaps one of the best ways to learn about the essence of any place is to sample the local cuisine. And what better way to do this than by indulging in the Earl of Thomond Dining Room’s tasting menu. While surrounded by traditionally ornate décor and the refined accompaniment of a live harpist, this eight-course menu will quickly acquaint you with a range of what Irish cuisine has to offer. The menu includes Burren smoked mackerel straight from Ireland’s Atlantic coast, rack of Burren lamb served with local vegetables, Irish soda bread soufflé, and cheese from the highly acclaimed St. Tola Goat Cheese Farm.
After Dinner Drinks
Before you call it a day, stop by the cocktail bar for an after-dinner drink. The intimate room is the perfect place to cozy up next to the fireplace with a Brandy Alexander or a simple whiskey on the rocks. Plus, you might even be lucky enough to catch an impromptu serenade courtesy of the bartender, Frank (no relation to that other famous crooning Frank).