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View of Ashford Castle across Lough Corrib

Letter From the Editor: March 2017

By Andrew Harper

The Hideaway Report | March 1, 2017

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The main reason for my recent visit to Ireland was to see precisely what changes an expenditure of $75 million had wrought at Ashford Castle, a historic property in County Mayo that has long been a favorite of Hideaway Report members (and of affluent American travelers in general). I am pleased to report that the refurbishment has been a triumphant success. The fabric of the building, parts of which date to the 13th century, has been completely restored, the interior is now sumptuous, and the treatment rooms of a splendid new spa look out across the serene waters of Lough Corrib. During our stay, we also ate superbly well, thanks to the talents of French chef Philippe Farineau, who combines classical technique with outstanding local ingredients.

The main reason for my recent visit to Ireland was to see precisely what changes an expenditure of $75 million had wrought at Ashford Castle, a historic property in County Mayo that has long been a favorite of Hideaway Report members (and of affluent American travelers in general). I am pleased to report that the refurbishment has been a triumphant success. The fabric of the building, parts of which date to the 13th century, has been completely restored, the interior is now sumptuous, and the treatment rooms of a splendid new spa look out across the serene waters of Lough Corrib. During our stay, we also ate superbly well, thanks to the talents of French chef Philippe Farineau, who combines classical technique with outstanding local ingredients.

Ashford Castle exterior - Photo by Andrew Harper
Spa treatment room - Ashford Castle
Newly renovated State Room - Ashford Castle

Arguably, sophisticated Irish cuisine can be traced back to 1964, when Myrtle Allen began serving a daily menu using the best local ingredients at her hotel, Ballymaloe House, which lies 30 minutes to the east of Cork. On this trip, I passed an extremely agreeable couple of days at Ballymaloe, which may not offer the pinnacle of luxury but is an elegant and inviting hotel with personable staff and a fine restaurant. I also attended the Ballymaloe Cookery School, founded by Darina Allen, Myrtle’s daughter-in-law.

Superior room at Ballymaloe House - Ballymaloe House
Salmon featured at the buffet - Ballymaloe House
Fresh produce from the Ballymaloe Cookery School - Photo by Andrew Harper
Observation car aboard the Grand Hibernian - Richard James Taylor

After a few days in Dublin, I boarded the new Belmond Grand Hibernian luxury train, which in August of last year joined the ranks of the Royal Scotsman and the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. The train has comfortable and stylish cabins for a maximum of 40 passengers, plus two dining cars and an observation car. Belmond offers three itineraries, between April and October, from two to six nights in length. Travel on the Grand Hibernian is much like being aboard a country house hotel on wheels. I recommend the experience with enthusiasm.

Atrium of the Bar Vendôme - Vincent Leroux
Pool and spa at the Ritz Paris - Vincent Leroux

This issue also contains an account of my stay at the newly reopened Ritz Paris, on which an astonishing $450 million has been lavished over the past four years. As well as the world’s first Chanel-branded spa, the hotel now offers a wonderful conservatory dining room, Bar Vendôme, in addition to its glamorous L’Espadon restaurant. Despite new décor by New York-based French celebrity interior architect Thierry W. Despont, the Ritz seems fundamentally unchanged, and it was a great pleasure to catch up with long-serving members of the staff, such as bartender Colin Peter Field, of the storied Bar Hemingway.

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