Disneyland Paris – our first ever visit.

Disneyland – the most magical place in earth; and it really is.

IMG_6228.jpgLike most 90’s kids, I grew up dreaming of a visit to Disneyland, to hug Mickey and Minnie, share a laugh with Donald and get dizzy on all the rides, before indulging in the pinkest of candy floss.

This year, due to circumstances out of our control, my hubby and I found ourselves with a vacation budget to use and our plans to go to Canada for the summer thwarted, so he had the most amazing idea – to go to Disneyland Paris!!! ❤ I was ecstatic!

In a nutshell, it really is the happiest place on earth. Even at 27 years old, it was so easy to suspend disbelief and just get swept up in the magic. The cast members, as they call their staff, are incredibly well trained, especially those playing the characters; it was surprising how swept up we got in everything.

The parks work like clockwork (what else would you expect), they are incredibly clean, fabulously efficient (with excellent systems, if you suss out how to use them) and there is something wonderful to discover, literally hiding around every corner.

IMG_6241My only regret is that I went while pregnant; the original documentation we looked through, made it look like there weren’t that many restrictions for pregnant women, however it turns out that even some of the most basic and slow rides are forbidden due to their use of a “lap bar” instead of a fabric seat belt. And while pregnant ladies were forbidden to enter rides for health and safety reasons, there was nowhere safe for us to enjoy events like the parade or illumination show, without getting jostled and bumped into by a whole bunch of people, even though that struck me as more dangerous than “Aladdin’s Carpet”… alas, I will endeavour to write a separate post about those particular experiences, and my thoughts, at another time. Suffice it to say for now, that if you are pregnant and planning on travelling far (i.e. from outside of France) especially for the trip to Disney, I would just not recommend doing so while pregnant. If you still really want to, be super careful in your research, so you don’t end up disappointed like I was.

Once I got over the shock, we had an all around really enchanting time. We got loads of character photos, and enjoyed almost all of the “walk through” experiences, such as Robinson Crusoe’s Tree House, Adventure Island’s Skull Rock and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, which were all astoundingly detailed and fabulous to explore.

We stayed in a hotel on the complex, and were very surprised with how much we enjoyed the “full board” food package that they offered. Normally buffet style packages can turn out to be quite sad on these types of vacations, but these guys clearly know what they’re doing. The themed restaurants were not only fun to explore and visit, but the food was delicious at all of them.

As far as amenities and the overall experience was concerned, the only disappointing part was the Hotel Cheyenne that we stayed in. The bed was hard as wooden planks, and the room, while immaculately clean, lacked any sort of helpful amenities (no coffee maker or kettle to get going in the morning), and the housekeeping service was lacklustre in comparison to what we’ve experienced in other places, which is weird, because you would expect more from a place that prides itself in making everything magical. *sad face*

I would give the experience a 3.5 out of 5 stars; the parks, rides (that I was allowed on), live shows and surroundings were fabulous. Regrettably the quality of the hotel and the lacklustre welcome and helpfulness toward pregnant visitors, put a significant enough damper on the experience, for me to want to a) never recommend Disneyland to a pregnant lady and b) whenever we do go back, we might have to stay on a hotel outside of the complex.

But all in all, most certainly worth the visit, especially if you’re a fan of letting your inner child run loose, to bathe in nostalgia and soak in glee. (Just make sure to budget before you go. 😉 )

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First Time at a Resort – #TravelTuesday

In February of this year I had the distinct pleasure of being invited on a family holiday with my husband’s family, to their favourite resort in Mexico. 🙂
This encompassed several firsts for me, and so I was quite excited at the prospect. It was my first time:
– flying to central America
– going to Mexico specifically
– being in a Spanish speaking country (after having studied/maintained (my) Spanish for almost 9 years)
– going on a “resort vacation”
Growing up in Germany, with an Irish Mammy, our family vacations were almost exclusively to Ireland, so see our family. Now don’t get me wrong, growing up spending your summers travelling to and being in Ireland was EPIC. I loved the ferry rides, and the long drives being my dad’s “co-pilot” and of course there’s nothing like playing with your cousins whom you only get to see once or twice a year while getting spoiled rotten by your Grandparents. #FondChildhoodMemories
It just meant that we never went on the “traditional” family vacations, such as to resorts, beaches or what ever other people did, so I reached the age of 25 not having any idea what it means to go to a resort (or how to behave in one 😉 ).
IMG_6643I was nervous… it was to be “all inclusive”, but what if I didn’t like the food? What’s the protocol on tipping? Are the drinks really “limitless” or is there an unspoken rule of cut-off? What about clothes? Do I have to go back to the room to change before every meal? And most importantly, how do you entertain yourself when you’re in a new country for 7 days but aren’t planning on “exploring” anything? (All Derek and my joint vacations since we got together have been “adventures”; backpacking around Europe, getting to know the inner workings of London, crazy weekend bursts to Scotland… and now I’m supposed to “relax” for seven whole days? How does one do that exactly?)
Well, let’s just say I learned relatively quickly how to cope. 😀
We had an amazing time! There was so much food, and so many drinks; there was lots of lying in the sun, lots of swimming and loads of laughter (especially after a rather unsuccessful attempt on my part to partake in a sail-boat ride… *>_<* )
On one of the days, Derek and I left the resort to go on a day trip to get to know the area better. We got to swim in an underground Cenote, try some different flavours of Tequila at a Tequila Museum, got our wedding date written out in the Mayan Calendar and then got to explore the amazing sites around Chichen Itza!! ❤
Apart from that awesome day out though, and the amaing quality time that we got to spend with our family one of my favourite parts of the whole experience was the unparalleled service. Everyone at this resort was nothing but helpful, forthcoming, attentive and mindful of your preferences. I felt like they really got to know us, by day three they knew our coffee orders and general drink preferences, from the breakfast buffet to the pool. Everyone smiled and was very happy to accommodate us.

Here’s an excerpt from my Trip Advisor Review of this amazing place:

“Service: The service was easily the best bit. The staff were always smiling, friendly and ready for a joke. Rosa, who took care of us by the pool, was an absolute star! The staff in the buffets, and the themed restaurants were also always fast, wonderful and even offered to take several family photos of us at the tables.”

You can find my full review, of the the Barcelo Maya Palace Deluxe.

That being said, I did emotionally and intellectually struggle with the idea of an all inclusive, fully staffed resort. Now, I am accustomed to staff in restaurants, bars and even on board flights, bringing food and drinks, but lying by the pool side, enjoying the sun while these friendly, hard working people sweat buckets to bring me and other guests, cocktails, beers, peanuts, towels and what ever else was asked for, was just so alien to me. In the beginning I wanted to go to the bar myself, because I felt so guilty, but of course I then realised that if everyone did that, the staff around the pool wouldn’t have a job to begin with, which was again counter intuitive. That was surprisingly tough for me.

I also noticed, that a lot of the other guests in the resort, from all around the world, took this friendliness for granted and seemed to have an attitude of “it’s their job to do this”. I witnessed a lot of people just barking their orders at staff members, not bothering to say please or thank you, never mind engage in the small talk “how are you today” and even just waving them away!!

On top of that, the amount of food that got wasted almost made me sick. Mexico is not a rich country, not by a long stretch of the imagination, and to watch how a ludicrous amount of people from almost every table, stacked their plates mountainously high with food, just to then decide they didn’t actually want it and leave, made me indescribably angry! Especially when the staff, who were working very hard all day long, had to take that food, including luxuries like steak, lobster, fresh fruit and home baked bread, and had to then, of course, throw it away. I got angry at the wastefulness of people, and I can only imagine that that anger or disappointment must have been even worse for the staff members, who probably couldn’t afford  to bring such foods home and now had to throw them away. I genuinely wish that resorts like this one, had a no waste policy, in the sense of “you’re welcome to the buffet as often and for as much food as you would like, however, if you take it please eat it. There will be surcharge for excessive wastage.” which I have seen many local buffets do around the world.

All in all, it was an amazing experience, which I would be very very keen to repeat. The resort was luxurious and adventurous, had many more attractions and activities than I even knew about, so I would love to go back and try them all out and of course, I would love to book another day trip, to get to know even more about beautiful Mexico.

Thanks again to my husband’s wonderful family for the amazing experience. ❤

London Pass Review

Hello and welcome to 2016 everyone! After a well needed mental break, I am back and very excited to start off the new year with a string of reviews from our recents (pre-Christmas) break to London! 🙂

IMG_5297Let’s start off with the London Pass, since most of the places we visited, we ended up going to specifically because they were included in this pass.

Now, we bought the 6 Day London Pass + Oyster Card and we got ours on sale, so for £145.85 pp, rather than the usual £164. (Tip: I thought I had missed the sale at the end of November, but it came right back 3 weeks later, so if you’re not in a rush to buy it right away, wait for a bit and the sale should come back.)

All in all, I give the card a solid 7/10. It’s very convenient and can, if used correctly, save you a heap of money – definitely check it out for your next London Trip, to see if the included sites are what you want to see.

Here is the full breakdown of what we would have paid, if we had bought all our tickets at the gates:

Shakespeare’s Globe Tour £15.00
Tower of London £24.50
Tower Bridge £9.00
City Cruises (Westminster to Greenwich) £18.00
Royal Observatory Greenwich £9.50
HMS Belfast £16.00
Wellington Arch £4.00
Churchill War Rooms £16.35
London Transport Museum £17.00
Cartoon Museum £7.00
Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising £7.50
Total: £144.15

In conclusion, we paid £145.85 for our 6 Day London Pass + Oyster Card, bearing in mind that £40 of that was on the Oyster Card, s0 you can look at it one of two ways:

Either we spent £145.85 and visited £144.15 worth of sites withe the added bonus of a free £40 Oyster Card…

Or we spent £145.85 – £40 (Oyster Card) = £105.85 on our London Pass and got to see £144.15 worth of sites, amounting in £38.3 savings.

Some pointers: 

  • You can have your pass shipped to your house, no matter where you live, or you can collect the pass in London. To get it shipped allow several weeks before your trip, just to be safe. If you choose to collect it in London city centre, the tourist island where they sell/provide them is near Covent Garden Station.
  • Once you’ve bought the London Pass, I recommend that you immediately create yourself an itinerary. We thought that we could just meander through London entering into included sites as we found them, but it turns out, that many of the sites take a lot longer to explore than you would expect, and some of them are a little tricky to reach, so if you really want to get your money’s worth (the guide book recommends 3 sites per day if you have a 6 day pass) then you really need to have a proper itinerary put in place so that you can have the most fun while being most efficient. (We could have probably fit in [and thus saved] a lot more, if we had planned a little better.)

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  • The Oyster Card add on – it’s definitely worth getting but bear in mind that the London Underground pricing system works by zones with a daily maximum. The £40 pre-loaded Oyster Card that you get with the 6 Day London pass, is enough to cover you for 6 days of travel in Zones 1 & 2 ONLY (daily maximum there is £6.50 and after that you ride “free” as long as you keep swiping your valid pass.)  This is one of the things that makes the pass lose points from me, since the London Pass itself covers sites that are well outside of zones 1 & 2, but if you travel there (as we did) you will need to manually top up your Oyster card with more money. (We ended up adding £16 each to our cards, to cover travel to other zones, and back to Heathrow Airport.)

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  • The Dining Guide – for an additional £10 you can buy the London Dining Guide. It promises discounts at 120 of London’s restaurants, such as “20% off the a la carte menu”, “2 for the price of 1” or “complimentary drinks when you order full 3 course meal”. This was the only aspect of the card that I thought was a waste of money. Most of the restaurants had this little clause on their page in the guide book saying that they don’t accept the card in certain months of the year, or on Weekends, or at peak times… which makes me wonder when exactly one is supposed to use it? We only managed to actually find three of the mythical 120 restaurants where we could try to use the card and the attempts went like this: Restaurant 1) Don’t serve meals before 5 pm (not noted in the book). Restaurant 2) Had a better deal for preset menus than the discount using the card – so we didn’t use the card. Restaurant 3) Refused to take the card because it was December (even though that wasn’t noted in the book) and they only honoured the discount, once we had to send a bad dish back to the kitchen, and they thought it would be a good means of apology to honour the discount (that we had paid for by buying the card). So, let’s just say the Dining Card? No good.

 

All in all, the pass is most certainly worth checking out if you are looking to really get into the nitty gritty of sightseeing in London, just make sure that you know what’s included, so that you’re not disappointed.

Thanks for reading, Happy 2016 and I’ll be back very soon with my first individual reviews of the places up in that list, and more! 😀

 

A surprise weekend in Scotland

Just about 2 weeks ago now, my Mum and I were having our daily chat on the phone, when my Dad started spewing some sort of excited none-sense in the background. Wanting to know whether I worked that coming weekend, and whether my husband worked … if we did work, when would we be off work? And whether we had any plans?

He got so excited, that Mum could not continue to talk to me, since he needed to discuss his idea with her (right away) and we hung up. I was incredibly excited – because when my Dad has an idea – it’s usually (the good kind of) crazy and I was really curious to know what he was up to! A few hours later I was still none the wiser, but was asked whether I was up for a crazy adventure. My options of answers? Yes or No.

Not being one to turn down an adventure I said yes and was promptly informed to rearrange my work schedule (we had to leave Belfast by no later than 22:30, so my 23:00 end of shift would simply not do) and that I was to pack a bag.

I was instructed to pack the following:

  • decent outdoor clothes and walking shoes
  • shorts and t-shirts
  • (maybe) swimming things
  • toiletries
  • pyjamas
  • underwear (duh)
  • any electronics and cables I wanted to bring

Also Derek (my husband) had to bring his good camera.

The only other information I was given, was that we should be returned home by approximately 2:00 Monday morning (Sunday night).

And then the most agonizing 36 hours ever commenced… I kept messaging them asking if I could have hints or tips or whether they’d tell me… and then dad occasionally would promise a tip or two which would result in conversations like this:

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And this one’s my favourite: 

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Dad says: Should I at least give you one small tip?

I say: Yeeeeees … ?

Dad says: But just one…

Result:

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It was a fantastic build up and then I was counting down each hour, messaging my parents things like “4 more hours”, “3 more hours”, “2 more hours”, only “1 hour left” and then “omg omg omg it’s now!”.

We went back to my apartment, grabbed our bags (and my darling husband) double checked that all the lights, sockets, etc. were switched off (I am super paranoid about that) and once we had locked up, we got into the car.

Now, what you need to know is that my parents and I have a “travel song” (more on how that came to be, some other time) but suffice it to say it’s “Take it Easy” by the Eagles. So, my dad asks if someone’s got our travel song ready before we leave (to which I had to admit no, I did not, because my phone was almost dead and was out of my reach as it was charging) so dad said he’d get it …

The song that came on the stereo however was not “Take it Easy” it was “Hawks and Eagles” by North Sea Gas, a wonderful Scottish band whom my family have been friends with for many years and that song specifically has been my favourite ever since I could talk! Mum “protested” that this was the wrong song but then Dad clarified that for this journey it was most certainly the right song… and I burst into a flood of tears as I realized we were going to Scotland!

Not only that, but I was then informed that my Dad got tickets to see North Sea Gas (whom I hadn’t seen in YEARS – seriously, I think I was 12 the last time I saw my Uncle Davie) – live in concert at the Edinburgh Fringe. I was beside myself and then cried some more.

I wanted to share this amazing experience and weekend with you, but I had way too many pictures to share in a blog post, so instead, I made a wee video and uploaded it to my YouTube channel. I would be thrilled if you watched it, because we had an amazing adventure!

LINK –> this way –> https://youtu.be/SIulsjp8DMs <– seriously, click that!! <— LINK

IMG_3339It was an amazing adventure, a crazy idea and a whirlwind trip without much sleep, but we had the most fabulous time and I am so incredibly grateful to my parents for taking us. We heard great music, saw amazing places, Derek tried his favourite Scottish craft beer “Inis & Gunn” from the tap and I even tried (and LOVED) breakfast Haggis! *YAY*

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I will share a separate post with my reviews of all the amazing places we visited, once I get a chance. As always thanks for reading (and this time watching) and take care. xoxox

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Easter in Switzerland – travel review

Derek and I are very blessed to have friends all around the world, who generously invite us into their homes when we travel. This Easter we found ourselves invited to the beautiful country of Switzerland, where we stayed with some wonderful friends.

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For the purpose of this blog I will refer to them as the “Schnubsi Family” since that’s how the mom of the house refers to themselves in her own blog. There are Schnubsi, Schnubsi Mama and Schnubsi Papa and you can find her fantastic blog about home sewn clothes, accessories, arts and crafts right here: Schnubi’s Fadenkiste

Forgive me if this blog ends up being a bit long, but we got up to a lot!

First of all, we had to get from Belfast to Switzerland, which we did with the help of the Air Coach bus which very comfortably took us to Dublin and then AirLingus, with whom we always enjoy flying. (I will add a review for this particular set of flights later.)

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But suffice it to say, there was wine and comfort and friendly staff, so we got to Zurich well relaxed and looking forward to adventure.

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In Zurich we were greeted by none other than Schnubsi Mama, who generously came (and had to wait through our plane delay) to collect us. We went to their very beautiful home, about 40 minutes from Zurich, where I joyously discovered that Schnubsi Papa and my hubby Derek were able to muddle through just fine language wise, with just enough functioning English and German on either side of the conversations, that there was nothing a little sign language and beer couldn’t fix. 😉

Now, Schnubsi herself is a delightful blonde little firecracker, with more energy than any of us four adults possibly knew what to do with, and she made the entire trip even more fun and adventurous. Imagine, discovering a country for the first time, but with the added magic of a child’s fascination with everything, from the fairytale castles to the worms in the ground. It was so exciting!

So. what we saw:

On Saturday (and every subsequent day of the long weekend) we awoke to a beautifully set breakfast table, boasting goodies such as warm bread rolls, various toppings, boiled eggs and coffee straight from a high tech looking fountain of coffee glory.

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We then got all strapped in and went to visit the flower island of Mainau, which those of you with a better geographical sense than me will know, is actually located at the Bodensee in southern Germany.

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It’s a magical little, privately owned island, bustling with flowers, unique garden ornaments, princess towers and even a castle. They have some impressive restaurants there, as well as a breathtaking butterfly sanctuary where the butterflies live right along with fishes and turtles! It was a sweltering haven of colour! You can find my TripAdvisor review for the island here: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g3206516-d8088474-r274171281-Gartenanlage_Insel_Mainau-Mainau_Baden_Wurttemberg.html 

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While we were busy taking pictures of all the different captivating flowers, which were gorgeous even in the relentless downpour of rain, it was a delight to watch little Schnubsi as she got the most fun out of finding rainworms, chasing ducks and jumping into puddles. It was so simple and yet so incredibly magical to watch.

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We also got to experience a bank holiday shopping trip very close to the German boarder; people from Switzerland and Austria were all crammed into what should have been a gigantic grocery store, trying to get the best pre-easter bargains before the stores all shut for Sunday and Monday. The way people were stocking up you’d have thought the shops were closing for a week! While I was fighting off a claustrophobic panic attack I was amused to see our hosts taking all of this in easy stride, chatting, giggling and laughing through the cacophony of voices and cash registers beeping, as though it were the most normal thing in the world. I found that very (and oddly) comforting.

Sunday started with an Easter surprise for us, as we found that Switzerland greeted the Easter Bunny with a light dusting of snow. It was beautiful to wake up to.

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Geared up for the day, with our fluffy companions in our backpacks we were ready to head out for an Easter Sunday of adventure, but not before thoroughly searching the back garden!

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Of course the Easter Bunny hadn’t fought his way through snow for nothing and had left some treats for little Schnubsi, all around the yard. A very international bunny he must be, since he even brought treats that I was sure were only available in Ireland. They came a very far way indeed. 😉

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We explored the magnificent Rhinefalls that day; a spectacularly rough waterfall that interrupts the river and has a minuscule island right in the middle of the falls.

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IMG_1700The view was breathtaking and you can find my TripAdvisor review of the site as a whole here: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g188070-d1208681-r263913905-Rheinfall-Neuhausen.html 

Other than that, why not let the pictures do the talking:

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I must admit, I had a bit of a panic attack at the restaurant above the falls when faced with the menu and the bankrupting prices thereon. Clearly we had not done our research properly and it turns out that the price of a regular, middle class, lunch time meal in Switzerland is approximately the same (per person) as what we would pay for an opulent night out for two in Northern Ireland. Ouch.

IMG_1768Now, our hosts were very gracious about this and had offered to pay, but I was just so in shock that we settled for coffee, cake and some friendly chat before heading back to their home to eat. (And even then, the bill for 5 lives of cake, 1 chocolate milk, a coke and 3 coffees came to a startling CHF 64.00… which translates to about £44.50 or $84.64 CAD [US $68]… just for a bit of perspective!)

The dinner ended up being a succulent BBQ of various sausages prepared on the home’s own professional yet viking look grill, and a serving of delicious salad.

Now, what you need to know is that, Schnubsi seems to be very well aware of the fact that her father is a chef, so she always wants to be his sous chef. She held the plate containing the uncooked sausages with pride, before she got so excited that the precariously slippy things fell right onto the ground and getting covered with dirt and grass clippings. “It’s a way of seasoning” Schnubsi Papa said in jest as he continued to happily flip the sausages that did make it onto the grill, while unabashedly enjoying his beer; which he was so generous to share with us by the way.

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Schnubsi Mama was then called to the window as we wanted to ask her to please rinse the sausages… this entire scene then repeated itself another two times!!! By the end of it, everyone was in stitches and Derek and I had taken to calling for Schnubsi Mama kind of like this:

MAAAAAMAAAAAAAAA!!!! hahahaha (needless to say she stopped believing that Schnubsi was dropping the sausages and accused that we were just doing it for attention! LOL)

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It was a very classy easter dinner, we even had Christmas napkins to go with it! 😉

Monday came around and  Schnubsi Papa had to return to work that day, but Schnubsi and her Mama were waiting for us in Kitchen for a lovely sit down breakfast. We had a very relaxed morning around the house and when Schnubsi Papa got home to spend the afternoon with Schnubsi, Mama took us for a local adventure with a drive up a mountain; then we hiked for a while… did I mention that Switzerland has loads of mountains? And that they’re very steep? Well; it fell like it took us a literal age to get to the top of the mountain (my lungs hurt just thinking about it) but it was most certainly worth it. Check out the view!

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IMG_1829And if that wasn’t amazing (and exhausting) enough, we then took up the challenge of climbing the “Wiler Turm”. It’s a 38 m tall observation tower, that stands 747 m above sea level. It has 189 steps to get to the top and thee steps are very unique because they are all full horizontal beams that are laid in a way to make a spiral 2 way staircase… one way up and one way down. It was terrifying (you could feel it moving in the wind), exhilarating (especially the view) and made completely of wood!

Let the pictures tell the tale:

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That evening, we then got dressed up in our best and went out to a lovely local restaurant.  Our hosts had invited us out to dinner and it was for a local specialty – Horse!

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IMG_1851Now, I went for the veal myself, as did Schnubsi Mama, but Schnubsi Papa and Derek each had the horse (and yes I tried a bite of Derek’s). Now, horse meet tasted very similar to game meats that I have tried, was very succulent and very rich. I actually really enjoyed the flavour but there was a part of me that just couldn’t get over that it was horse… so I happily (and yet oddly) stuck to my veal. Isn’t it odd that we carry just strong sentiments with us?

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The next day, we had a lie in worthy of a holiday. Schnubsi Mama and Papa were both at work and Schnubsi went to her day-home. Derek and I slept in rather late (10 am I think) before having a quick breakfast and then heading out to explore the neighbourhood on our own.

Our hosts graciously let us use their bicycles and so we head out, down through the town and along a lovely path along the river.

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Then we eventually returned back into town, where we stopped at a café for some coffee and cake and to do a spot of shopping. That consisted of stocking up on chocolate. hahaha

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Back at the house, Schnubsi Papa came home at around 2 pm, little Schnubsi was ready to go play outside, so we went to the local park and had a blast! We took our stuffy pup Al with us, and Schnubsi loved playing with him!

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Even Derek had to take a turn on the slide and Schnubsi Papa was expected to catch him!

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We had a lovely home cooked dinner that evening and had to say goodbye to Schnubsi Papa, who would leave for work before we got up on our last day.

The next morning we were up, packed and ready to go, but I knew that I had woken up sick as soon as I opened my eyes. It was probably the rainy day at the flower island that did me in, but boy was I in bad shape. (Full blown cold symptoms.) Luckily the Schnubsi family had just been sick the week before, so they couldn’t catch anything from me.

After dropping little Schnubsi off at her day-home, Schnubsi Mama drove to the train station with us and took the train most of the way back to Zürich with us, since she works in that area. We said a bitter sweet farewell on the train and then Derek and I headed in Zürich for our last day.

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Now, this part of the trip was sadly quite disappointing since the city was very bland in comparison to other European cities we’ve seen and yet it happily lives up to the fact of being the most expensive city in the world. CHF 6 (£4.17, €5.81, CAD $7.94) for a cup of mint tea!!! Needless to say, we avoided eating while we were there… there were several other things I would like to say about the experience in the city, but I would rather end this blog on a high note, so I will leave that disappointment for another time… instead, here are some pictures of the lovely things we saw. (And Derek explored a lot!)

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The Trainstaion in Zürich has a full underground shopping centre and I was adamant to find myself a Pandora Charm to take home as a souvenir from my holiday (it’s a tradition that I have that instead of buying silly statuettes and postcards that would gather dust on a shelf, I now get myself a Pandora charm when I go on holiday)… after quite a bit of searching and shopping around, we found the (only) shop and to my surprise my Derek treated me to the cutest charm of a traditional Bernese Mountain Rescue Dog, with the Swiss Flag on its Whiskey Flask.

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From Zürich,we took a train back to the airport early, because I was too unwell to continue sightseeing… Derek was my hero that day. He watchfully sat by my side as I slept, on and off, on an airport bench for almost 3 hours, and even went to get me water and a snack in between. I couldn’t have ever asked for a better husband, friend and travel partner. I love him so so much.

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Our plane was delayed due to an air traffic control strikes in France, but we eventually got onto our plane and said farewell to Switzerland at sunset!

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Back in Dublin, my parents had generously agreed to come pick us up so that we wouldn’t have to take the bus which I really really appreciated.

All in all, we had an amazing trip. Switzerland was beautiful. Our friends were so generous, welcoming and kind, and we were spoiled the entire time we were there.

What an amazing trip it was! If you ever consider going Switzerland, just bear in mind to save ALOT and budget carefully. 😉

Thanks so much for reading… I know this was epically long! Take care! (And don’t forget to check out Schnubsi’s Fadenkiste… even though it’s in German, use google to translate it!!) lol xoxox

Castle Hotels of Ireland – Leinster #2

Moving on in the Castle Hotels (or Accommodations) of Ireland Series, here is entry 3, the province of Leinster #2.

This time we will be covering the following counties, in alphabetical order:

  • Meath (5 Castles) (4 Castles) (3 Castles)*
  • Offaly (1 Castle)
  • Westmeath (2 Castles) (1 Castle) (0 Castles)**
  • Wexford (1 Castle)
  • Wicklow (2 Castles) (1 Castle)***

 

  1. * -> I am seriously tired of looking at “castle hotels” that aren’t actually castles
  2. ** *sigh* I feel like I’m having kind of an off day….
  3. *** this is getting silly….

 

Moving on….

 

Dunboyne 1

Dunboyne Castle Hotel & Spa, County Meath

 

Facilities & Features

“The elegant Dunboyne Castle Hotel & Spa is a romantic venue with a 3-floor spa and a peaceful setting just 12 miles from the center of Dublin. The casual yet luxurious surroundings are home to a choice of bars to suits all moods, and a brasserie restaurant for modern international cuisine. Seoid Spa’s facilities include flotation, Rasul chambers, specialized massage and a hydrotherapy pool. The Georgian mansion is set in 21 acres of woodland and gardens and is approached by a magnificent tree-lined avenue. County Meath is home to excellent golf courses and Dublin Airport is 8 miles away. Hotel Rooms: 145 ” – Booking.com

It is unknown why this particular property is listed as a castle, since it does not resemble a castle in any way, however it is officially listed as such and is one of the biggest in the area, so we might as well start our list with this odd little duck. You can find the full history of this “castle” on their official website. http://www.dunboynecastlehotel.com/history-of-dunboynecastle.html 

Trim 1

Trim Castle, County Meath

So here’s another unique gem; this particular hotel is not set in a castle, but rather next to one. Trim Castle is not only the largest Norman Castle in Ireland, but it was also used as a set in the movie “Braveheart” giving it historic and pop-culture value at the same time.

Facilities & Features

“This hotel overlooks Trim Castle, one of the locations for the movie Braveheart. It offers spacious rooms with free Wi-Fi for all guests. Trim Castle is the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland. Trim Hotel has been designed to blend into this historic setting while offering excellent service and modern amenities. The luxurious rooms at Trim Castle Hotel have large windows and views of the castle and the surrounding area. They include flat-screen TVs and some have balconies. There are communal terraces on each floor. The Jules Restaurant serves traditional cuisine and seafood specials. The Barista Cafe offers homemade soups, paninis and fresh coffee. Baileys Bar has castle views. The hotel is a 5 minute walk from The Trim Aura Leisure Center, where guests have free use of its 27 yard pool and gym. Killeen Castle is a 20 minute drive away. Hotel Rooms: 68” – Booking.com

History

Trim Castle (Irish: Caisleán Bhaile Atha Troim) is a Norman castle on the south bank of the River Boyne in Trim, County Meath, Ireland. With an area of 30,000 m², it is the largest Norman castle in Ireland. Over a period of 30 years, it was built by Hugh de Lacy and his son Walter as the caput of the Lordship of Meath.” – Wikipedia 

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Ross Castle Hotel and B&B, County Meath

 

I am not going to lie, I almost cut this one from the list, because it is not really a Castle hotel; it is basically a turret/tower that remains of what may once have been a castle and now the adjoining farm is being ran as a B&B by its kindly owners. However, due to the existence of an actual castle like structure, I am going to feature it here, however, please follow the link to their official website for detailed information.

http://www.ross-castle.com/en/

 

 

Kinnitty 1

Kinnitty Castle Hotel, County Offaly

Now here’s an interesting property; not only is Kinnitty Castle a luxurious 4 Star castle hotel, but it is also considered incredibly haunted (if you believe in that sort of thing), being featured on Living TV’s “Most Haunted” in their 5th season and being visited by paranormal investigators.

The story of the haunting goes as follows: “The hotel has long had a reputation for being haunted and is home to numerous ghosts and phantoms. The most famous ghost at the castle is referred to as the Phantom Monk of Kinnitty, who is probably one of the most communicative ghosts there is – he has been known to communicate with staff members and visitors from time to time and often appears as a solid form. Some people mistake him as a real, living person, whilst others see him as a shadowy phantom. There are also two haunted bedrooms at the hotel, the Geraldine room and the Elizabeth room. Numerous other nooks and crannies at the hotel are also reported to be home to various eerie presences that are seen and sensed by staff and visitors alike.” – http://www.hauntedrooms.co.uk/kinnitty-castle-hotel-co-offaly-ireland

Facilities & Features

“Dating back to 1209, this impressive Gothic castle is on a stunning 650 acre estate of fields and forests. With individually decorated rooms and a fine dining restaurant, it includes its own tennis court. Rooms at Kinnitty Castle Hotel feature classic decor and unique, original features and furnishing. Private bathrooms feature a bathtub, free toiletries, and a hairdryer. Guests can relax with a TV and free tea and coffee. Sli Dala Restaurant serves gourmet cuisine with Irish and European influences, along with an excellent wine list. The elegant Library Bar boasts an open fire, hot meals, and Guinness on tap. Kinnityy Castle is at the foot of the Sileve Bloom Mountains, with numerous trails and guided walks available. Clay Pigeon shooting is available on the castle grounds, and Birr Castle is a 20-minute drive away. Hotel Rooms: 37” – Booking.com 

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Killiane Castle, County Wexford

Another Castle/B&B combo, but it’s most certainly a castle, so it too – counts.

“Killiane Castle is situated in the south east corner of Wexford, on a narrow leafy country road – a haven of tranquility, “far from the madding crowd”. Enjoy the peaceful seclusion afforded by our luxury 4 star accommodation in the well preserved 17th century house, adjoining the imposing 15th century castle, nestled in the lush Wexford countryside.” – http://www.killianecastle.com

Facilities & Features

“Offering elegant rooms in a grand, 17th-century house next to a 15th-century castle, Killiane Castle is a boutique B&B located in the tranquil Wexford countryside. Guests can enjoy golf on-site, home-made breakfasts, and beautiful views. Individually designed, every room at Killiane Castle enjoys views over the garden and nearby fields with grazing cattle. Every room features an electric blanket, complimentary magazines, and bottled spring water. Freshly cooked each morning, the hearty breakfasts include free-range eggs from the resident hens as well as home-made bread. A buffet table also provides a range of fruit and home-made yoghurt. The castle boasts a tennis court and a croquet lawn within its beautiful gardens for guests to play on. There is also a golf driving range as well as a pitch-and-putt course. Medieval Wexford Town is 3 miles away and Rosslare Europort and beach resort are 8 miles from the castle. Hotel Rooms: 8” – Booking.com

History: http://www.killianecastle.com/castle-history/

Powerscourt 1

Powerscourt Hotel, County Wicklow

 

Now, this one is not a castle anymore (strictly speaking), but it belongs on this list due to a) the fact that it is one of the most luxurious hotels in Ireland and b) because it looks like a palace. I am personally granting this building castle status, just for that.

Facilities & Features

“On Ireland’s beautiful east coast, Powerscourt Hotel is a 5-star hotel tucked away in the woodlands of County Wicklow. The property features stunning spa facilities and the Sika at Powerscourt restaurant. The opulently furnished rooms all have marble baths, separate rainforest showers and featherbeds. Many rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, panoramic views and terraces. All have a sitting area and free Wi-Fi. The stunning spa and relaxation facilities include an exercise room, a state-of-the-art thermal suite and 20 treatment rooms. There are 2 private spa suites and a breathtaking 66 ft pool, lit with Swarovski crystals. The Sugar Loaf offers casual dining in a sophisticated atmosphere and McGills serves authentic Irish fare. There is also a signature, fine dining Powerscourt restaurant called Sika. The Powerscourt Hotel grounds also include two 18-hole championship golf courses. Hotel Rooms: 200, Hotel Chain: Autograph Collection.” – Booking.com 

History

“Powerscourt Estate (Irish: Eastát Chúirt an Phaoraigh), located in Enniskerry, County Wicklow, Ireland, is a large country estate which is noted for its house and landscaped gardens, today occupying 19 hectares (47 acres). The house, originally a 13th-century castle, was extensively altered during the 18th century by German architect Richard Cassels, starting in 1731[1]and finishing in 1741. A fire in 1974 left the house lying as a shell until it was renovated in 1996. Today the estate is owned and run by the Slazenger family. It is a popular tourist attraction, and includes a golf course, an Avoca Handweavers restaurant, and an Autograph Collection hotel.” – Wikipedia

 

 

That concludes this section of Castle Hotels of Ireland… boy I seriously need to double check my research. Haha 😀 Have you ever stayed at any of these spectacular properties? If so, please let me know in the comments.

As always, thanks for reading and take care! xoxo

Castle Hotels of Ireland – Leinster #1

Next up in my series of Irish Castle Hotels is the beautiful ancient province of Leinster. Located on the East Coast of Ireland, it is not only the home of Dublin, where the famous Guinness Brewery is only 256 years into its 9000 year lease, but also some absolutely stunning landscapes such as “the Garden of Ireland” (an alternative name for County Wicklow) and the fascinating Newgrange Passage Tomb, a megalithic site older than both Stonehenge and even the great Pyramids of Egypt.

However, it is also home to 20 Castle Accommodations, so this section is going to be split once more into Leinster #1 and Leinster #2, in alphabetical order.

The Counties of Leinster #1 are:

  • Carlow (1 Castle)
  • Dublin (2 Castles)
  • Kildare (2 Castles)
  • Kilkenny (1 Castle)
  • Laois (1 Castle)
  • Longford (None)
  • Louth (1 Castle)

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The Counties of Leinster #2 will be:

  • Meath (5 Castles)
  • Offaly (1 Castle)
  • Westmeath (2 Castles)
  • Wexford (1 Castle)
  • Wicklow (2)

Huntington 4

Huntington Castle (Bed & Breakfast) – County Carlow

“Still lived in by descendants of the original builders this fascinating Castle is truly one of Ireland’s hidden treasures.” – Official Website 

History

Huntington Castle, also known as Clonegal Castle, is a castle in Clonegal, County Carlow, Ireland. The structure was originally a “plantation castle”,[1] used for defensive purposes during the plantation of the area in the early 17th century. The original tower house, which served as a garrison, was built in the 1400s as a stronghold for the Caviness family, an old Irish clan. Later Baron Esmonde.[2] Due to the strategic importance of the village of Clonegal during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland because of its location on the road between Dublin and Wexford, the castle was captured by Oliver Cromwell as he marched on Kilkenny[2] in 1650. It is now a private house open to the public for guided tours throughout June, July, August and September. It was the setting for Stanley Kubrick’s film Barry Lyndon. Its basement has been the base of a religion, the Fellowship of Isis, since 1976,[3] The castle hosted the Solas Festival in August 2008.[4] co-founded by Olivia Robertson, her brother Lawrence Durdin-Robertson and his wife Pamela.” – Wikipedia 

Fascinatingly, since this first Castle is still inhabited by it’s owners, it is not a hotel as such, but rather offers a selection of historic guest rooms for B&B usage, granting full access to the gardens and estate. 

As described on their website: ” If you are looking for somewhere to stay with a difference, we can offer some fantastic accommodation packages.  Huntington has a small number of historic guest rooms, all with original period features such as four poster beds and oak panelling.  Most rooms are en suite and each room has its own character and story to tell. We can offer a full or part catering service, where food is cooked to the highest standards, using fresh local produce where possible. We are proud to recommend the award winning Sha Roe Bistro, which won Georgina Campbell’s best chef award in Ireland.  Sha Roe is situated at the bottom of the front avenue, beside Osborne’s, a charming traditional Irish pub.  Both are within a few minutes walk of the Castle, so no taxis required! Guests staying with us have full access to the gardens and estate, and we can also arrange activities or itineraries by prior arrangement. ”

A very unique place to stay indeed.

Clontarf 4

Dublin – Clontarf Castle

Clontarf Castle (Irish: Caisleán Chluain Tarbh) is a much-modernised castle, dating to 1837, in Clontarf, Dublin, Ireland, an area famous as a key location of the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. There has been a castle on the site since 1172. In modern times, it has functioned as a bar, cabaret venue, and hotel.” – Wikipedia 

History

The history of this particular property is very long, so I will just leave the Wikipedia link right here, for anyone who is interested. 😀

Facilites and Features:

“Set in an 11th-century castle the Clontarf Hotel combines ancient architecture with 21st-century facilities. Just 10 minutes from central Dublin, this boutique hotel offers an award-winning restaurant and luxurious bedrooms. Rooms at the Clontarf Castle Hotel feature air-conditioning, LCD satellite TVs and free Wi-Fi. There is a 24-hour room service menu and beds have pillow-top mattresses. The Fahrenheit Grill serves fine cuisine and specializes in local beef and fish dishes. The Knights Bar has ornate ceilings, huge open fireplaces and stained glass windows. The Indigo Lounge, with its stylish sofas and red chandeliers, serves morning coffee, afternoon tea and an excellent selection of wines. There is a bus stop outside of the Castle with regular services to the center of the city. Free parking is available at Clontarf Castle. Hotel Rooms: 111” – Booking.com

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Fitzpatrick Castle – County Dublin

“Fitzpatrick Castle, is an 18th Century 4 Star Castle Hotel, offering stylish surroundings, friendly personal service and tranquility within breathtaking surroundings overlooking Dublin Bay.” – Official Website

History

“The original house, Mount Mapas was built in 1740 by Col. John Mapas, although records show that a building or buildings stood here at a much earlier date. By 1755 it was acquired by a Captain Maunsell who was succeeded by a Colonel Loftus in 1770. The Colonel’s stay was a short one; in 1772 he advertised the castle and its 150 acres for sale despite his short tenure. During his time in residence however, Colonel Loftus and his nephew converted the barren stoney soil to meadow and pasture and cut a road around the hill, his successor was Lord Clonmel who in 1790 improved the estate further spending £ 3,000 in the process, a handsome sum of money in the early19th century.” – Official Website 

Facilites and Features:

“The Fitzpatrick Castle Dublin Hotel overlooks Dublin Bay and is a 20-minute drive from Dublin. It offers rooms with free Wi-Fi, a pool and 2 award winning restaurants. The rooms at the Fitzpatrick Castle Dublin Hotel feature private bathrooms and satellite TVs. They also include hairdryers, telephones and tea/coffee making facilities. The AA Rosette PJ’s Restaurant serves fine food. The Dungeon Bar & Grill features fresh local produce and has a Gold Medal Award. The spa center has a whirlpool spa, a Scandinavian wood sauna and a steam room. There is also a fully equipped gym. There is a DART station 10 minutes away which services Dublin. The James Joyce Museum and Dalkey Castle are both within one mile and free parking is available at the Fitzpatrick. Hotel Rooms: 113” – Booking.com

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Kilkea Castle (for Private Hire) – County Kildare

“In our modern world privacy is a priceless commodity, here at Kilkea Castle we guarantee privacy, discretion and style. Throw a party, arrange a corporate team meeting with a difference or host a family gathering. This 12th Century Castle will be exclusively yours including all 35 bedrooms, private bars and a restaurant for you and your guests only. Guests have access to our site leisure facilities including swimming pool, saunas, Jacuzzi, steam room and fully equipped gymnasium. Kilkea Castle can now offer this private castle for your exclusive use, share your special moments, occasions and memories within this magical historical ambience.” – Official Website

Here we have another example of a castle that is not functioning as a hotel as such, but can still be stayed in. If you’re looking to hire and entire castle for your special event or family holiday; then maybe this is the place. 

The castle has a long history which I will link here; however there is not much known about its facilities. For more information prospective customers are asked to use the contact on their website. http://www.kilkeacastle.ie/ 

Barberstown 1

Barberstown Castle & Country House – County Kildare

“Barberstown Castle is a structure originally built in 1288[1] in Straffan, County Kildare, Ireland, 25 km (15 miles) west of Dublin. It has been operating as a hotel since 1971 and is surrounded by 20 acres (81,000 m2) of gardens. Renovations in 1996 revealed a previously undiscovered tunnel that links the castle to the nearby church in Straffan and is thought to have been used during penal times.” – Wikipedia

History

“The castle was built by Nicholas Barby c.1288 on land originally owned by the Fitzgerald family. In 1630 William Sutton of one of the foremost families in the area owned the property. In 1689 it was confiscated from Lord Kingston by the Earl of Tyrconnell after the accession of King James 11 of England. It then became the property of the Commissioners of the Revenue who leased it to Roger Kelly in the late 1600s. At the end of that century it passed through a number of hands, including Bartholomew Vanhomrigh who bought it for £1,033 in 1703, together with 335 acres (135 hectares) of land. Vanhomrigh had been Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1697 and was the father of Vanessa, lover of Dean Swift. He sold it to the Henrys who forced by financial circumstances to sell it on to Hugh Barton of the wine family Barton and Guestier. He built the last wing of the house in the 1830s. (He also built Straffan House, known today at the K Club). In the 1900s it was sold by the Huddlestons to Mrs. Norah Devlin who converted it into a hotel in 1971. Eric Clapton purchased the property in 1979 and in 1987 sold it to the current owner, Ken Healy, who lives in the property. Healy has renovated it from a 10 bedroom guesthouse with three bathrooms to a 59 bedroom Failte Ireland approved 4 Star Hotel.” – Wikipedia

Facilities & Features:

“Built in the 13th century, this elegant 4-star castle boasts individually decorated rooms and 20 acres of beautiful grounds. The restaurant offers award-winning fine dining, and Central Dublin and the Airport are both a 30-minute drive away. With classic decor and free Wi-Fi, each spacious room features elegant touches such as chandeliers and antique furniture. Rooms all include a private bathroom with hairdryer, and guests can relax with a TV in the room. Barberstown Castle’s restaurant serves French-influenced country house dining recommended by the AA and Michelin guides. Weekend live entertainment is also provided. The Edwardian tea rooms provide a place for guests to relax, offering cozy couches, afternoon teas, and freshly baked scones. Free parking is available, and Kildare and its Japanese Gardens are a 30-minute drive away. Nearby buses provide access to Dublin, and Powerscourt House and Estate is 40 minutes away by car. Hotel Rooms: 55” – Booking.com

Ballybur 1

Ballybur Castle (Self Catering) – County Kilkenny

Ballybur 2“Ballybur Castle is now a luxury self-catering holiday home where you can have an unforgettable stay. Available for long or short term lettings, modern comforts have been incorporated without detracting from the charm and simple grandeur of this ancient dewlling. All beds in Ballybur Castle have orthopedia matresses, electric blankets, duvets with covers and feathered cushions, bedrooms also have victorian cast iron radiators installed. The castle comfortably sleeps eight people. The kitchen is fitted with a sink, oven grill, microwave and of course crockery, cutlery, glasses, etc. Full cleaning and catering services can be arranged.” – Original Website

HistoryBallybur 3

The History of this remarkable little castle is very beautifully described on their website, which you can find here: http://www.ballyburcastle.com/ballybur-castle-about.html

Here we are with another unique example of castle accommodation, with a small but elegant self catering castle. Unlike other “for hire” castles, this one only sleeps eight people and is equally affordable. 

Durrow 1

Castle Durrow (Country House) – County Laois

“One of Ireland’s most luxurious Country House Hotels located on the N8 old Dublin – Cork Road (one hour from Dublin), in the midlands of Ireland, adjoining the quaint village of Durrow,Co Laois.” – Official Website

History

“The house was built between 1712-1716 by Colonel William Flower (lfrom 1733 Baron Castle Durrow) as a family home. In 1751 William’s son Henry was created first Viscount Ashbrook, also in the Irish peerage, and the title is still extant, being held by his direct heir, Michael Flower, eleventh Viscount Ashbrook (b. 1935). The Flower family retained ownership of the estate until 1922, when they were forced to sell up and return to England. It was bought by a Mr. Maher of Freshford, Co Kilkenny who was primarily interested in the estate’s timber reserves. Eventually the Land Commission took over the arable portion of the property and the Forestry Department took over the woodland. After standing empty for some years the house itself was transformed in 1929 into a school (St Fintan’s College and Convent) and in 1998 was purchased by Peter and Shelley Stokes and redeveloped as the luxury Castle Hotel.” – Wikipedia

Facilities and Features:

Regrettably there is no Booking.com page for this property, and their website seems a little rusty, not offering any great insight into what they might offer; but there does seem to be an excellent restaurant along with a very luxurious beauty salon. I can’t find the number of rooms. Sorry about that.

Bellingham 1

Bellingham Castle – County Louth (Private Hire and B&B)

Bellingham 2Now here’s one that needs a little explaining; this magnificent property offers both B&B services, allowing private room hire from Sunday to Thursday, but also offers full private hire of the entire castle, especially for special events. 

“Located in the heart of the medieval village of Castlebellingham in Co Louth and approached via a private, tree-flanked driveway, Bellingham Castle is the centrepiece of a 17 acre estate. Set on the banks of the River Glyde, our estate includes a weir and man-made river island with footbridges, mature trees and formal lawns and gardens.” – Official Website

HistoryBellingham 3

As with some of the others, the history here is very long and beautifully detailed on their website: http://www.bellinghamcastlehotel.com/castle-history 

Facilities & Features:

“Available exclusively to you and your guests, Bellingham Castle is also the ideal venue for corporate meetings, team building events, family reunions, private parties. Bellingham Castle is the perfect location for your wedding or civil partnership and is a luxury wedding venue in Co Louth.  A Castle wedding venue will make your special day just perfect and create memories that will last forever. Stunning surroundings, beautiful furniture, luxury bridal suitesand bedrooms, intimate and private, what could be more special ….A truly stunning wedding venue in Ireland. […]

  • Bellingham Castle offers B & B accommodation from Sunday through Thursday, (from March 15th – Nov 1st)
  • Our B&B guests can relax with complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits in The Napper Tandy Rooms or The Library. We also offer a full bar service.
  • Our luxury castle bedrooms are the perfect place to unwind after a busy day at work or seeing the numerous nearby sights of Louth and Meath.
  • Breakfast can be enjoyed in the Dining Room, overlooking our gardens.
  • Bellingham Castle is also the perfect place to overnight between Dublin and Belfast.
  • We can recommend numerous nearby restaurants for our B&B guests for lunch and dinner.
  • For further information on B&B accommodation, including availability and rates, please contact us.” – Official Website 

Bellingham 4

That’s it for Part 1 of the Leinster Castles. Are there any particular ones that you would like to stay in most? I think I have my eye on Clontarf Castle… hmmm

Take care, and as always, thanks for reading! xoxo