Irish Odyssey

PUBLISHED: 12:54 19 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:52 20 February 2013

Irish Odyssey

Irish Odyssey

Sally Thurston enjoys her first trip to Ireland... and now she'll be going back! An early Friday morning saw us depart from London Heathrow bound for Dublin...

Sally Thurston enjoys her first trip to Ireland and now shell be going back!

An early Friday morning saw us depart from London Heathrow bound for Dublin. After a swift flight we collected our hire car and were on our way from East to West, to sample the Irish countryside and two hotels in a group owned by teacher turned property developer, Gerry Barrett.

The pleasant three-hour drive through lush green countryside was enriched by an unscheduled detour to the town of Ballinasloe when a Dubarry factory outlet sign was spotted on the N6! It was with a full boot that we approached Galway City, home to our first hotel, The G.

We took the lift from the underground car park leaving an ordinary world behind. The doors slid back and we entered 5-Star hotel fantasyland! Philip Treacy milliner to the stars, including 36 hats worn at the recent Royal wedding, designed the distinctive interior of this hotel.

The hotel has 101 guest rooms, so service is personal but unobtrusive. Our room was pleasantly neutral with a well equipped bathroom, gigantic bed and stunning view of Lough Atalia with the city in the distance.

Dinner in the stylish Matz restaurant at The G was unique. We wereserved by Pedro, whose purple shirt matched the huge, velvet, waltzer-style bay we were seated in. He made us feel special from start to finish explaining the excellent menu in detail. We took coffee, Irish of course, in the stunning Grand Salon with its mass of silver globes, oyster tones and comfy sofas.

A highlight at The G is the spa. The thermal suites subdued lighting eradicates any worries about how you look in a swim suit. A warm pool with its bubbles and jets, heated beds, steam room, sauna and rain shower ensure complete relaxation while 200 napkin swans gently sway overhead. Upstairs are treatment rooms as well as a tranquil relaxation room and secret roof top garden.

The road leaving Galway is dotted with sea front guest houses, rendered white with slate roofs. The landscape dramatically changes as we headed inland: low stone walls, crisscrossing their way through green pasture, give way to pine forests, lakes, moorland and mountains. Our destination was Cong, setting to the film The Quiet Man and the breathtaking
Ashford Castle.

Approaching the castle the hairs on the back of my neck prickled. The imposing structure had stood still in time. Its history dates back to 1228 when founded by the Anglo Norman de Burgos family. Subsequent owners include the Guinness family who created a stylish country retreat from a defensive castle. A hotel since 1939, with 83 rooms and suites, Ashford has hosted all, from presidents, princes and prime ministers to movie stars.

In the entrance hall, wellingtons were stacked and an air of unpretentious elegance radiated from the interior. Our room, a small suite, was tasteful and comfortable with striking views across Lake Corrib. Modern luxury is combined flawlessly with times gone by.

Dining at Ashford can be formal or relaxed. Cullens, a delightful thatched cottage across the entrance bridge, offers a warm welcome where the knowledgeable staff give informal, friendly service. The food is well presented and the scallops were amongst the best I have had!

After a wonderful breakfast Captain of the Cruise Peter Luskin, who had 35 years experience, guided us on an enjoyable tour into history on the massive Lake Corrib. The lake covers 44,000 acres and is one of the best brown trout fisheries in the world. Fisherman can catch their supper free, moor on one of the 377 islands in the Lough and cook their feast!

Later we sampled the ancient art of Falconry. Greeted by Damien we were immediately put at ease by his infectious enthusiasm for his job. We took a hawk walk watching our birds dodge through the mature woodlands and swoop back to our gloved hands.

After all that activity it was time to enjoy a massage. The spa area is friendly and welcoming if small. The expert staff performed magic on my aching joints in a comfortable treatment room.

My first visit to Ireland as left me yearning to return further explore this wonderful Isle.

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