There is nothing like the image of a turf fire to carry you through the wilds of winter in search of solace. Driving through Connemara last Friday night, the twilight mountains turning to dark, the moon reflecting off the glasslike lakes painting the vistas between Recess and Clifden a wonderful mixture of blue and black, I longed to arrive at my destination and to feel the heat of orange flames on my face, to lay down my weary self, and to give myself over to hosts tasked with reenergising me with fine food, fine wines, and a hearty welcome.
And this is what I got in spades at the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel, just outside Clifden, on the Sky Road. Here, nothing was bother, the open turf fire in the hallway just what the doctor ordered, as if somehow, the place had been reading my mind. The checkin effortless and the invitation to "come down to dinner whenever you're ready." The banter with the staff, the snippets of conversation with owner Paul Hughes, as he went from table to table ensuring everyone was having a fine time.
There can be few hotels anywhere whose proprietors are as ‘hands-on’ as the Hughes. Whether at breakfast or dinner, Paul and Brian move from table to table, greeting guests personally. The staff are no different; each seems to genuinely enjoy the business of hospitality.
It was a nicely busy Friday night in the restaurant, which created a wonderful atmosphere, matched by the sumptuous food, and the conviviality of the ambience created by the owner and his staff. Old friends and strangers greeted as if one and the same.
Theatrical flourish Receiving Egon Ronay, Condé Nast Johansen, and AA Rosette awards, the hotel’s dining room wows both residents and visitors alike, where gourmet dinners are delivered by waiting staff with a theatrical flourish that has made the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel a landmark for quality and style.
With starters including wild Atlantic fish mousse; black pudding roulade; baked brie parcel; celery and apple soup; and chowder. The mains were lobster, vegan Glenowen pulled oats, striploin of beef, crisp duck breast, grilled salmon, wild Atlantic cod, and baked goats cheese parcel.
I opted for the roulade and the beef, and it was delicious — accompanied by several glasses of a 2014 Baron de Ley Rioja. A range of delicious desserts were available from the dessert buffet with the hot dessert being the mouthwatering bread and butter pudding.
Every night in the bar, there is some form of music being played, from ambient to chilled out to traditional to jazz, a tune to have everyones' feet tapping away until the small hours. What was wonderful too was the concept of the staff being all-rounders, experts in every aspect of the world of service, popping up here and there in different roles, as if actors in a period drama.
The champagne reception and the short historical talk in the bar before dinner gives guests a real sense of the story of Abbeyglen; while the free afternoon tea and scones also go down a treat with those in search of an injection of Downton, channelling their inner Lady Mary.
Just a few minutes walk away is Clifden and its wonderfully quirky shops — independent free spirits with creativity to the fore in the way store windows are dressed and stock is laid out within. An hour's stroll around here, dipping into cute cafes and shops, and it's back to the Abbeyglen ready for more.
Variety of things to do the secret of the Abbeyglen is that the owners and staff make you feel like you are in someone's home rather than in a hotel, such is the warmth of the hospitality, the authenticity of the welcome, the desire of the hosts to ensure that you not miss any of the hundreds of things there are to do inside and not far from the hotel. On a weekend break here you can choose to do a hundred things or just do none, and relax. Guests I met had been walking on the hills, boating on Killary, or just in from 'Bofin. Others just chose to stay in, and watch Ireland's quarter-final loss in the World Cup.
The Abbeyglen is nestled in its own grounds on the Sky Road; its stone facade almost camouflaged by the greenery and the rolling hills. At night, it exudes a glow of warmth and cosiness, inside and out, with residents free to enjoy music sessions and sing along with the pianist long into the night.
John D’Arcy, a founder of Clifden town, erected the original building in 1832 as a hunting lodge. It subsequently housed the local parish priest until 1854, before changing sides to accommodate the Irish Church Mission Society’s Protestant orphanage for girls who were ‘rescued’ for training in domestic service. Before it closed in 1955 it had become a mixed orphanage, after which the building fell into disrepair. Local businessman Padraig Joyce bought the property in the 1960s, running a hotel for a few years, before the Hughes family took over the reins in 1969.
Each bedroom has a classic feel and the nine luxury suites are bound to make you feel like a King or Queen of the castle. In the Wellness Centre, they have created a place where you can come to relax, unwind and leave the stress of everyday life behind you.
Indulge yourself with an Indian head massage, pamper yourself with a relaxing facial, or revitalise through massage treatments. Whatever your treatment, the therapeutic benefits will soothe and restore you.
The AbbeyGlen Castle Hotel is less than an hour from Galway city on a Connemara route that is a treat for the eyes. It is a marvellous location for a weekend getaway that will take you away from your stresses and your strains, because simply, your stresses and strains will be no match for the hospitality showered upon you by Paul and Brian Hughes and their staff.
With the soundtracks being the babbling brook outside the window, the early morning chirping of Gilbert, the parrot in the reception, this is an ideal location for a short break away and one to which I cannot wait to return.
For details of the short break offers at Abbeyglen Castle Hotel and Wellness Centre, see www.abbeyglen.ie or telephone 09521201
FIVE REASONS TO VISIT ABBEYGLEN CASTLE HOTEL
Castle experience — For your Downton Abbey fix, be treated like a Lord/Lady in a building which heaves personality.
Quirkiness — How many hotels have a resident parrot in reception? Champagne talks on arrival, and free afternoon tea?
Location —Right on the Sky Road above picturesque Clifden Bay, but within touching distance of all that North Connemara and 'Bofin has to offer.
Atmosphere — Music, song, food, and comfort, cheer-led by enthusiastic purveyors of hospitality.
Chill-zone — Feel your stress levels drop.