updated March 2023 We budget travellers have so entrenched our thriftiness that we have a hard time considering some unique but expensive experiences. We scrimp and sacrifice in so many ways to afford our travel that it becomes second nature to "not see" things we consider too expensive. This is a powerful budget strategy at home but works against us once we are actually at our destination. I'm a firm believer in making a point to include a "Splurge" into every trip, especially if that experience is something way outside of my daily life. Today I am going to share one of those splurges experienced in Ireland: an overnight stay at Waterford Castle. Yes, a castle... thus fulfilling a childhood dream of being a princess for a day (minus the whole Grand Ball, Fairy Godmother, and Prince Charming stuff).
Ireland is dotted with old castles, many of which have been turned into hotels. Waterford Castle and Golf Resort is on its own private island, "Little Island", in the River Suir (pronounced "sure") just outside of Waterford.
The currentGothic-style building, originally known as Fitzgerald Castle, was rebuilt at the end of the 19th century and incorporates parts of previous builds from the original medieval tower house. It has been a hotel since 1980. The original building includes 19 rooms and suites, which is where we stayed. The Golf Resort offers a completely different experience with family-friendly self-catered cottages in a different area of the island with playgrounds, a small shop, and a clubhouse. The rates were far outside of our goal budget but this was a splurge, so Mady and I found a package for one midweek night that included breakfast and booked ourselves an experience and memory that we truly treasure while the cost has been long-forgotten.
Mady was really excited to tour the House of Waterford Crystal, so we took an interesting tour in the morning. I really enjoyed seeing the process behind the glass cutting. Mady was thoroughly entranced with all the sparklies in the gift shop. After a significant time spent trying to determine which items could be safely carried home in a suitcase, we took a taxi to the ferry landing for the Waterford Castle Hotel Resort.
The resort is only accessible by a short cable ferry crossing that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week ushering guests to & fro every 10 minutes or so. Upon landing on the island, there is a fair distance up the driveway to the main castle. We hadn't realized it was such a trek or we would have made arrangements to be picked up at the dock. We were the only two people who walked up to the castle.
The castle doors and entrance were appropriately immense. We schlepped into the Grand Hall in our jeans, dragging our bags and were immediately delighted, if not a wee bit intimidated. The wood fire burning in the gigantic fireplace provided warmth, coziness, and a delicious scent.
After checking in, we were introduced to Leo who would direct us to our room and arrange for our bags to be delivered. This became an absolutely ridiculous parade of silliness well worthy of an episode of Fawlty Towers. The castle rooms are not numbered, they are only named and, if there was a pattern to the naming and location, this was not known to poor Leo, the new employee. We went upstairs, we went downstairs, we went to this wing and then we went to another until Leo had us sit on an antique sofa while he disappeared to seek help. He quickly returned with another young man who finally led us to our room, the Suir Suite.
Leo earnestly assured us that we were not doomed to roam the ancient halls for the rest of our lives. Mady and I are quite incorrigible. Neither of us could look at the other until the door closed behind him when we immediately fell apart into gales of giggles. We had barely recovered when he returned within moments with a tray of tea and biscuits to enjoy in our private sitting room.
Once we recovered and had a good look around we realized that our suite was absolutely stunning. It included a sitting room, a huge bedroom with two beds, and gigantic bathroom, and a foyer entrance. Very lah-di-dah.
The bathroom is huge. We joked that it was large enough to play a rugby match. Still in a fairly silly mood, we checked for echoes. I took one look at the clawfoot tub and made plans for a luxurious soak. I don't usually take photos of bathroom porcelain but when I do, it's because of the beautiful painted design. It just seemed wrong to use this hand-painted toilet for its intended purpose.
The bedroom is also generous and included two double beds and a non-functional fireplace. While I totally understand the safety reasons for closing off these fireplaces, a extra touch of warmth would have been appreciated. It was March in a drafty stone castle built before central heating was a thing, after all.
We enjoyed our tea and then decided that we really wanted to get out and explore the island. The grounds immediately surrounding the castle include gardens and fields. Most of Little Island's shoreline remains in its natural state. There is a 4km trail that winds along the shore and around the golf course. Since it was late afternoon, we decided to walk around the immediate grounds and save the longer walk for the following day.
Following the tradition of this era of grand homes, there are several themed garden areas, including more formal areas and more recreational areas. It was obvious that many of these areas would be beautiful places to enjoy on a warm day.
We took a short path to the shore and admired the mist and beautiful blue colours looking across the river as the sun set. It all looks very serene but in truth, we were being attacked by mosquitos and annoying little gnat-like bugs (midges) which encouraged us to head back to the castle and think about our evening meal.
Back at the castle, we changed into our poshest clothes, which were most definitely unposh. The resort is renowned for the Munster Room Restaurant (insert more bad jokes about Lily and Herman Munster), an award-winning fine-dining restaurant. This wasn't what we were wanting this particular night. and instead we decided to have a more casual dinner in the Fitzgerald Bar.
Mady and the waiter discovered they were both from the same area of Italy, which resulted in lively conversation and attentive service. We started our meal with our traditional prosecco, and a complimentary treat of grapes drizzled with cointreau. I followed that with a delicious meal of braised beef cheeks.
We ended our day with a wee bit o' Irish warmth back in our sitting room.
The next morning we wanted to explore the island before taking the ferry back to the other side. The island includes a large heron rookery (breeding colony) and a large herd of very shy deer.
We followed pathways that took us along the shore, around the golf course, and past caretaker cottages, crumbling brick buildings and through the woods.
Yes, those are palm trees. In Ireland.
It was soon time for us to pick up our luggage and make our way back to the ferry and back towards Dublin and the next leg of our adventure. It was a worthy Splurge that has provided us with many stories and great memories.
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