From the moment that you pass through the entrance gates of Dromoland Castle Hotel & County Club and travel along the winding approach road, past the fantastic looking 18-hole golf-course to the castle in the distance, you know that you have arrived somewhere that is truly special. I mean, who hasn’t dreamt of living a life of luxury in beautiful surroundings? A stay in Dromoland Castle offers guests the chance to escape everyday pressures and indulge in the finer things in life for a short while and after my recent overnight visit there, it is a place that I would be more than happy to move to permanently! If only…
The main Castle with its gothic façade, is an imposing building set in the beautiful countryside of County Clare. Dating from 1651, the turreted castle was once the ancestral home of the O’Briens of Thomond, descendants of Brian Ború, who was one of the last High Kings of Ireland. These days it is one of Ireland’s premier five-star hotels. Famous guests over the years have included President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela.
Dromoland recently completed the final phase of a major €20 million refurbishment. This has been carried out sensitively so as to preserve the underlying architecture and history of the building whilst also modernising the castle. The Georgian Society were on hand to give advice and the results are genuinely impressive.
Along with infrastructural works such as the installation of new plumbing and air-conditioning units, the renovations focused on updating the bedrooms, lounge areas, spa and indoor pool. A Golf Academy has also been set up for those who want to improve their skills. This was all done whilst managing to retain the essential character of the magnificent castle.
Dromoland’s meandering corridors are filled with antiques, paintings and other curiosities. Vases hold fresh flowers which perfume the air as you pass by and the overall feeling is one of refined gentility which, as I was to find out, follows through to the bedrooms and guest suites which have all been decorated using the best wallpapers, soft furnishings and furniture. Many, including the room that I stayed in for the night, have wonderful views of the lake and estate grounds.
There are so many things to do at Dromoland, so after checking into my room and having a quick shower in the spacious ensuite bathroom, I decided to take a quick stroll outside where I could see some guests enjoying a ride around the spectacular grounds in an old-style pony and trap. I could hear children having fun on the tennis courts and discussing when they would try out the go-karting.
I then wandered indoors in time for some afternoon tea. Named after a kitchen maid who worked at the castle for many years, Mrs. White’s Afternoon Tea is served in both the Gallery Lounge and the Cocktail Bar, where you can sit back and relax to enjoy feasting on a wonderful selection of sweet and savoury treats. Sandwiches are freshly made with interesting fillings and scones are served warm with a choice of homemade preserves and clotted cream. Highlights for me included the precisely-crafted, and totally delicious, pastries and the excellent Tea Brack which was moist and packed full of plump fruit.
Later that afternoon, under the expert guidance of experienced staff members, I also tried my hand at archery and clay pigeon shooting, both of which were tremendous fun. Whilst I was trying my best (and struggling) to hit the targets, my companions were horse-riding and cycling around the vast 450-acre estate. Others were out rowing on the calm lake.
Next followed a falconry demonstration delivered by Damien, the in-house expert on all things birds-of-prey related. Donning a falconry glove, I was delighted when one of the Harris Hawks swooped down on and came to rest on my extended hand. This is not something that you get to experience every day and we were all in awe of the magnificent owls, hawks and falcons at the Bird of Prey Centre at Dromoland.
After a short nap back in my room, our group reconvened downstairs for pre-dinner drinks and canapés. Once home to the O’Brien family’s library, this intimate and quirkily-shaped octagonal room now houses the cocktail bar, where guests can enjoy a casual meal from The Gallery Menu or indulge in something from the impressive selection of Irish gins and whiskeys and the extensive cocktail list.
After some deliberation, I settled on a neon blue coloured number called the Celtic Sea. This was a heady mix of Hendrick’s Gin, Blue Curacao, Cointreau and St. Germain elderflower liqueur – simply fantastic!
Dinner in the hotel’s Earl of Thomond Restaurant was another great experience, taking place in a very grand dining room with Waterford Crystal Chandeliers and silk-covered walls. Executive Head Chef David McCann has worked at Dromoland for over 20 years, producing award-winning food that is elegant and delicious in equal measure. David focuses on using the best Irish ingredients, many of which are produced in Clare and the nearby counties of Cork and Galway.
In addition to the à la carte and set table d’hôte, there is also a vegetarian menu with some very appealing dishes on it. David McCann’s food is rooted in the classics but dishes are given a contemporary twist which makes them accessible whilst also being interesting and innovative. To start, I had a wonderful consommé style soup but one which was based on confit duck and was packed full of clean Asian flavours.
I also enjoyed my main course of perfectly cooked black sole which was accompanied by a flavoursome chive sauce, which was lively on the palate without swamping the delicate flavour of the fish. Finally, a light-as-air praline soufflé was an indulgent way to end a marvellous meal.
In addition to the fine-dining Earl of Thomond Restaurant, Dromoland also offers a more casual dining experience at the Fig Tree Restaurant in the Country Club on the castle grounds. It is the perfect place to relax and recover after a round of golf whilst snacks and sandwiches can also be ordered from The Gallery Menu and enjoyed in the lounge area of the main castle.
We enjoyed some after-dinner drinks in the bar before retiring to bed. After a wonderful night’s sleep, I awoke the next morning and made my way down for breakfast in the same dining room we had enjoyed dinner the night before.
After feasting on bircher muesli, poached eggs and pancakes followed by some fresh fruit, I made my way to the Spa and treated myself to an Elemis Pro-Radiance anti-aging facial which left me feeling like a different woman. My skin felt radiant and plumper and did wonders for my general sense of well-being.
After a light lunch of exquisite poached salmon followed by a meringue roulade, it was time for me to leave Dromoland. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and would recommend it without hesitation to anyone who wants to experience something totally different and briefly live a life of luxury for a few days and escape it all.
It struck me that a visit to Dromoland can be anything that you want it to be. If you want a gourmet break focused on sampling the great food being served in the award-winning restaurant, fancy trying out some new activities or merely want a chance to relax and unwind, you can do it at Dromoland.
However a visit to there is more than these things; what makes it so special are the people you will meet. The staff are welcoming, knowledgeable and determined to make your stay a memorable one. There is nothing sterile or soulless about the experience and around every corner you will discover something new that will make you glad that you came. Everything that you could want from a 5-star hotel can be found at Dromoland and it is a place where modern comforts meet historic grandeur in a seamless way.
Overnight with B&B and dinner starts from €678 per room.
REVIEW BY NIAMH MANNION