Sure, you can head to a tropical location and drink fizzy things at a swim-up bar—not that there’s anything wrong with that—but if your family is looking for something a little more unique, adventurous and luxurious than a cookie cutter resort stay, we found your happy place. From daring knights to a tale of wizardry to luscious rooms and a brand new spa, read on to find out why a Kilkea Castle vacation is just what the family needs.
Bathe Yourself in Irish History
Established in 1180, Kilkea Castle was a defensive stronghold through the 1800s. The five-foot thick walls and guardsman tower with windows for the archers are just some of the evidence of the castle's history. One of the longest running owners were the Fitzgerald family, who owned many estates throughout Ireland, it remained in that family until the 1960s, when the property became a hotel but fell into ruin. Lovingly restored by the Cashman family, Kilkea is the perfect blend of history, luxury and legend.
Kilkea Castle's logo features a monkey and the story behind the significance of this primate is as charming as the castle itself. Heir to the castle and estate, the Wizard Earl is said to have been rescued from a terrible fire at a neighboring castle by a monkey that belonged to the court magician. Although considered blessed as a child because of this, the family was under threat of the English, and after his father and brother were killed the young Wizard Earl was sent away to Italy (in an attempt to protect him). There, he studied with the famous Medici family and is said to have learned alchemy, astrology and other mystical arts. His reputation includes conjuring up the river, snakes and more. His tower—where he conducted his magic in secret—is off limits to guests but a wander will allow you a good look at it and the tiny door just the right size for a monkey.
Tip: Ask at the desk, and the bar, and the clubhouse or 1180 and see who tells the best version of this marvelous story. We liked Andrew at 1180s lively retelling, especially!
Sleep Like a Royal
We recommend requesting a stay in the castle itself, which has 11 guest rooms, or stay in one of the 30 historic carriage rooms, also connected to the main rooms of the castle. You'll also find on the 180-acre estate more modern cottages, many of which are self-catering with multiple bedrooms, perfect for larger families or multi-generations traveling together.
Tip: You can request in advance a cot (meaning a small crib or Pack n' Play) or a campbed (which is what we think of as a cot bed in the US) for a room after making your reservation. This means you can stay in the more historic rooms with a setup for your kiddo. Most of the castle rooms are more than ample for this, but if you want a separate room from the kids you'll want to go with the cottages.
Revisit Family Meals
Kilkea Castle hired renowned Irish chef David McCain (of Adare Manor) who transformed the castle's menus to featured exquisite but not pretentious food that tastes every bit as good as it looks, owing in part to his attention to detail and zest for freshness. Be sure and check out what he's growing in the kitchen garden on the castle grounds.
The high-end (but still kid-welcoming) fine dining at 1180 is a feast fit for the sophisticated and the finicky alike. That kitchen garden we mentioned? You'll find those ingredients on your plate along with locally sourced meats, vegetables and more.
You'll also delight in daily breakfast service complete with local eggs, made-to-order waffles, an array of cereals and baked goods, fresh juice and delicious Irish cheeses.
You'll find nightly fine dining at 1180, or opt for the Club House Bistro and Hermione's, located a short walk from the main castle, for excellent food in a more casual atmosphere.
Indulge at High Tea
Treat yourselves to a proper tea service, held in the Drawing Room every day. With classic (and magnificent) scones, tea sandwiches, baked treats that rival a French patisserie's best (think miniature lemon meringue tarts) and service that makes you feel like you belong among the velvet couches and sparkling chandeliers.
Get Lost on the Grounds
Remember how we mentioned the estate is 180 acres (and growing)? While much of that is dedicate to a renowned golf course, you'll find plenty to explore on foot. Amble through the hedges, relax on the lawn, take a jog down the tree canopied main road and more. At the time of this writing, the owners had acquired an additional 30 acres of forested land with the intent to create more wandering paths for families.
And Find a Secret Garden
Around every corner you'll find a breathtaking scene, including babbling brooks and weeping willows. Bring your sketchbook. This is the kind of place that leaves lasting impressions and inspiration.
Experience Bliss in the Spa
Sneak away from the main castle and walk into an oasis that will exceed any expectations. Copper-hewn roofs, soundproof treatment rooms and a brand-new, state-of-the-art hydrotherapy room where you can whirl and swirl your cares away. The spa is for grownups only, but they do offer manicures and pedicures for guests under 18 in the Beauty Lounge.
Insiders Tip: They offer special treatments for expectant and nursing moms. Just ask!
Golf, Tennis & Other Pursuits
If you've always wanted to golf in the shadow of a 12th century castle, Kilkea has got you. The 18-hole, Parkland Course is a favorite of locals who join as members, but guests can enjoy a round (or two) themselves. If you didn't pack your clubs, fear not: you can rent clubs starting at just 20 euros. The par 70 course includes hazards like the River Griese and two lakes.
Ask at the front desk for complimentary tennis rackets, and play a game just a short distance from the castle gardens. In addition, archery, falconry and equestrian pursuits can be arranged through the front desk. These are currently off-site, just a short drive (about 20 minutes) away or can be arranged on site for groups.
When to Visit
Ireland has consistent weather year round. Autumn brings beautiful colors in the garden, at Christmas time the Castle is lavishly decorated, and in the spring and summer you'll find an explosion of color against the verdant grounds. There's really no bad time to visit Ireland or Kilkea Castle.
Co. Kildare, Ireland
Editor’s note: portions of this trip were hosted by Kilkea Castle, but all opinions here are expressly the author’s own.