An easy five-hour plane ride overseas and quick 15-minute ride through the countryside can bring travelers from the Eastern coast of the U.S. to another world. It can bring them to the story book setting of Ireland's Dromoland Castle. Dromoland has everything a fairytale castle should, whether the suits of armor standing guard in the entry, or the tower topped by a flapping banner and saw-toothed crenellations. When not sinking onto a pillow-strewn bed, guests can golf, fish, get a massage, sharpen their falconry skills, or take tea in the living room, overlooking the manicured grounds and lake. No wonder Dromoland is so popular with Americans -- it's accessible, and it's a delightful escape that's steeped in history. While the Castle was built in the 1500s, the estate is the ancestral home of the O'Briens, Ireland's original royal family, and dates back 1000 years.
And this year, Dromoland Castle celebrates its 50th anniversary as a hotel.
Keeping current and attracting a new generation of clientele that's younger, hipper, and more impressed with technology than turrets can be a challenge for institutions "saddled" with history where the aesthetic is floral chintz and crystal chandeliers rather than grey concrete white duvets.
But Dromoland continues to finds new ways to keep apace. Some examples:
• The opening of the Inn at Dromoland. Formerly known as the Clare Inn, this 181-room property (the Castle has 99 rooms and suites) adjacent to the main property and formerly a part of it, adds a lower-price point option in the 3-star category, and additional banquet and meeting space. The rooms at the Inn will all be refurbished over a 4-year period.
• The Dromoland Spa is one of the first to offer Voya seaweed treatments. Soaking in a hot bath filled with nutrient-rich seaweed picked up from the coastline has been an age-old home remedy; today guests can enjoy a hot stone massage with seaweed hand-harvested by Voya in Sligo, seaweed that is dried and packed up for guests to take home and use in their own bath, for a very different kind of souvenir.
• A new artisan lager, Dromoland Pale Ale, has been concocted to celebrate the anniversary.
• Perhaps one of the most current features of Dromoland is one of the oldest: a massive, walled kitchen garden that would be the dream of any locavore. Guests can stroll through the garden and get acquainted with the figs and pears, the artichokes and mint that might later turn up on their dinner plate next to their lamb from the Burren or prawns from the waters of nearby Ballycotton.
• And guests can now take a reminder of Dromoland's garden's bounty from the new Gift Shop which features homemade jams and jellies, easy to pack in a suitcase to take back home. Next to the seaweed.