Having never been to Ireland before, I was forced to rely on hotel websites to quench my curiosity of places we would stay. Gregans Castle in the Burren, along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, captured my attention immediately. Having learned that J.R.R. Tolkien had stayed in this castle hotel and was influenced by the Burren when penning The Lord of the Rings, made my imagination run wild. What was the Burren and what made this location so mysterious? Would I find these answers in a castle near Galway Bay?
Driving from Dromoland Castle to the Burren was a unique experience in itself. We stopped at a perfumery and charming chocolate shop before arriving at Gregans Castle, but it was the Burren itself that delighted me; it’s miles of stone fences, stretched across the limestone covered earth like dominoes waiting to be toppled with the flick of a finger. Our rental car drove down the tree-lined path to the hotel and another stunning view of the Burren. But Gregans Castle was not your typical castle – if there is such a thing as a typical Irish castle? It was smaller than I anticipated with more of a luxury boutique hotel vibe.
We were shown to our stylish room in this 18th century manor house. (The above photo is not the picture of our room, but I loved the pop of color here.) Each room is one-of-a-kind, decorated by co-owner Frederieke McMurry, and has its own name plate reflecting a local character or perhaps a flower. Our room, Mina’s room, was considered a superior room and, indeed, it had a superior view of the Burren with the garden out front. But what that really meant was that it was a little bigger than the classic room and not quite as luxurious as a junior or premier suite. For us, it was an excellent room, as we were not traveling with a dog or children. It should be noted that Gregans Castle is both pet and child-friendly.
All rooms have an assorted selection of reading material, bathrobes, bottled mineral water, a hair dryer and upscale REN bath amenities. It’s as if you were staying in your own home, where every detail was taken care of, including fresh flowers in the room. But, alas, my house does not come with The Corkscrew Bar nor do I have my own personal chef. But that’s what you may expect at Gregans Castle, wonderful food from the casual Corkscrew Bar and a more formal dining experience with multi-courses prepared by in-house Chef David Hurley.
Frankly, I was not anticipating this caliber of a chef in a manor house in The Burren. As I mentioned previously, this was my first time to Ireland. I’d heard a lot of outdated rumors to not have high expectations about the food in Ireland. Well, let me tell you, this chef turns out meals on par with some of the best restaurants in Northern California and you don’t have to fight for a parking space on the streets of San Francisco! My husband and I were impressed. We knew we were in for a special treat when we overheard another couple discussing their dinner plans in the bar. Another couple from Ireland raved about the food and they were spot on. Come for the Burren, stay for the food.
Besides the upscale dining, the highlight of our stay in Ballyvaughn was walking the Cliffs of Moher, starting in nearby Doolin. Gregans Castle served as a wonderful home base for exploring the cliff walk and Poulnabrone Dolmen. By the way, one of Gregans Castle’s neighbors is a sheep farmer and personalized cliff walks may be arranged with him as your guide. So be sure to take advantage of these concierge services while you’re here. You’ll learn about the mysterious Burren and you’ll discover for yourself what makes this place along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way so special. Personally, I can’t wait to return!
Room rates start at €175, including bed and breakfast for one person and €245 for two persons per night. Check the website for current pricing. Gregans Castle is a member of Ireland’s Blue Book.
Review by Nancy D. Brown, Bay Area Travel Writer and nature lover. I was a guest of Gregans Castle will exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. All photos courtesy of Nancy D. Brown.