When your world centers around a 750-square-foot hardwood bolt hole in a major city, it's hard to imagine what you would do with an acre of land, let alone a 23-room castle full of priceless artwork and history. That's the quandary I faced when I arrived in Waterford County, Ireland, home of Lismore Castle.
The gothic castle sits on top of a hill, towering over the village that lies along the narrow, windy roads near its footbridge. Cows roam in the grass and drink from the lake that backs up to this 17th-century masterpiece, which is so steeped in history you almost forget what century you're in as soon as you arrive.
After a six-hour flight from Boston to Shannon, followed by a two-hour drive to Lismore, I arrived at the large stone gates and watched them slowly open to reveal the private gardens at Lismore Castle. As I stepped onto the gravel and stone walkway and made my way to the steel doors of the estate, I was immediately transformed from disheveled, jet lagged traveler to modern-day heiress. Even the clothes I had been wearing for almost a day didn't bother me. With the opening of a door, the greeting of a butler and the nod of a head, Lismore Castle has a way of transforming the most weary traveler into royalty within seconds.
It took less time than that for me to be mesmerized by my surroundings.
A walk through Lismore Castle is like stepping into a history book. Originally built in 1185 by King John, Lismore Castle was acquired by the Cavendish family in 1753 when the daughter and heiress of the 4th Earl of Cork married William Cavendish, the 4th Duke of Devonshire and the future Prime Minister of Great Britain and Ireland. The 6th Duke of Devonshire, commonly known as "the Bachelor Duke," was responsible for the castle's present Gothic-inspired appearance, thanks to the help of architect William Atkinson in 1812. In 1850, it is reported the Bachelor Duke hired architect Sir Joseph Paxton, the designer of The Crystal Palace, renovate the castle's exterior and interior. The castle commissioned Augustus Pugin to adorn the banqueting room, complete with the Dukes' crests in stained-glass windows and the famous Pugin chandelier.
Today, Lismore Castle still retains the decor of its past, with a few modern embellishments. A contemporary art gallery was added in 2006 next to the castle's upper gardens (which are open to the public), and hosts a rotating exhibit of internationally-known artists. While I was staying, the Lismore Music Festival was taking place and the grand event, the opera "The Barber of Seville" was set on the back gardens at Lismore Castle, using the old stables and the castle as the background scenes for the show. The castle is still owned by the Dukes of Devonshire and today is rented out on a private basis to families, friends and groups of up to 23 people throughout the year. The gardens, which span more than eight acres, are believed to be the oldest in Ireland.
There is little to want when you're a guest at Lismore Castle. From carefully prepared meals to high-tea and nightly entertainment, there's no request denied. Private cars chauffeur guests wanting to explore what lies behind the castle walls, daily tours of the gardens or history lessons are available and wine was poured nightly into crystal glasses that have the most distinct "clink." It's hard to replicate it back home.
From my view in the castle's Duchess Room, I watched the cows graze in the fields, kids frolic on the footbridge and the sun set each night over the Blackwater Valley. I was a world away from the 750-square-foot space I typically call my castle, but I was equally inspired by the magic that takes place inside these walls.
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