WHY STAY HERE?
- Beautifully Restored and Family Owned 17th Century Castle.
- Surrounded by 350 acres of mature trees, farm and woodland.
- Gourmet Food in Historic Dining Room.
Driving through the gates of the estate and up the long driveway is a hugely impressive experience. Even before you catch sight of Markree Castle - www.markreecastle.ie - the lush fields, majestic trees and beautiful gardens transport you back in time to another world. Markree Castle is one of Ireland's oldest inhabited castles and has been home for the Cooper family since 1640. The history, a copy of which is included in each of the 30 bedrooms for guests to read, brings you back to when Markree was one of the largest estates in the west of Ireland, taking in some 36,000 acres. The family were politically influential and firmly rooted in the local area. Today the same family are involved in every detail of the running and maintenance of this beautiful property. It is a working farm and the lamb, venison and woodcock served up seasonally in the dining room all come from the estate. It is a hugely romantic place, and understandably is very popular throughout the year for weddings when they have exclusive use of the castle.
ACCOMMODATION AT MARKREE CASTLE
There are 30 unique bedrooms in the castle and twelve cottages converted from farmyard buildings. My room was on the first floor, up the impressive staircase from the reception and past the imposing stain glass window. No 17 is a sizeable room with antique furniture, including the charming chaise-lounge. The red carpet is matched by green upholstery and the high square bay window is draped with contemporary flowing curtains which pick up the green and red in a flowery design on a cream background. I loved those curtains - several cushions covered in the same material - they had a feminine softness to the antique wood and stone. A big comfortable bed gave a great nights' sleep, a spacious bathroom with Jacuzzi bath and separate shower added contemporary luxury. There is also a television and tea and coffee making facilities, plenty of wardrobe and dresser space, and a large square table in the middle of the room which was perfect for doing a little work on the laptop.
Dinner at Markree Castle was a highlight of my stay - the food, service and ambiance made it a really excellent experience. The dining room is beautifully appointed, the crystal chandelier and the gilt edged traditional décor all add to the white-linen fine dining experience. It is no surprise to learn that locals love to dine here, and Sunday Lunch is particularly popular. Of course hotel guests have first preference on securing a table, and I had a lovely one beside one of the tall windows looking out over the manicured gardens, a view from the opposite side of the castle than that from my room.
There is a new menu each night, and Chef uses local and seasonal ingredients, including on occasion some from the estate itself. I opted for the Donegal Crab Salad with vanilla and lime pickled cucumber which was deliciously fresh and fragrant. Staying with fish, I choose the Seabass which was pan fried and served on a bed of Chorizo and Mussel stew, a fabulous dish with two moist and crispy-skinned fillets, and a dish of new season potatoes were the perfect for the fish and chorizo stew. Portion size is very generous and this was carried through to the desserts from where I chose a Warm Chocolate Brownie with Pistachio Ice Cream - I could not finish it all! Other dishes from this well crafted menu included a West Coast Chowder; Confit Pork Belly with seared Scallops; Duck Leg and Striploin Steak among other choices.
From an extensive wine list, I opted for a few glasses of white Bordeaux to accompany my seafood choices. Outside the window a few couples strolled hand in hand, inside the dining room conversation flowed, great food was enjoyed, and the service was perfect.
Breakfast is also served in the Knocknuldowney Restaurant where free-range eggs and home-made brown bread provide a great start to the day. Markree Castle is certainly a big hit with our neighbours across the Atlantic, but Dubliners love it too, especially now with the improved N4 motorway which brings you to the castle gates in less than two and half hours.
Together with great food, modern comforts and friendliness with history and heritage in abundance, this lovingly restored and maintained castle is regarded as one of Ireland's major architecultural masterpieces. It is a real fairy-tale destination. www.markreecastle.ie