Fit for a king: Castle Leslie estate is a place apart
Over the past 17 years it is probably fair to say that there hasn't been a single travel review of Castle Leslie Estate that hasn't mentioned Sir Paul McCartney's wedding.
In June 2002 The Beatles star tied the knot with model Heather Mills at the Co Monaghan hotel and I am glad to say that, unlike that marriage, the resort has gone from strength to strength.
Visiting for the first time I was blown away by the beautiful grounds, the accommodation, the food and the superb service at the sprawling 1,000 acre estate just across the border from Armagh.
The five-star hotel, in the beautiful village of Glaslough, is one of the last great Irish castle estates still in the hands of its founding family - the Leslies - who can trace their ancestry back to Attila the Hun and have lived on the estate since 1665. And the sense of history is everywhere in this unique place.
I was so taken by it that I even signed up for one of the hotel tours by a member of the Leslie family - Antonia Leslie - who revealed interesting and quirky facts about the castle. If the room is free, as it was during my stay, you may get a sneak peak into the honeymoon suite of McCartney and Mills.
The rooms all have different names and different stories. For example Norman's room is named after Norman Leslie who died during the First World War. His ghost has apparently been seen in the building over the years.
During the tour you will learn all about the family portraits adorning the walls, the giant fireplaces (including one picked up for around £50 in today's money which is now apparently worth more than the castle itself) and the christening dress of Sir Winston Churchill (the family is connected by marriage) on display in the drawing room.
You will also hear about the hotel's many other famous guests including Mick Jagger, Jonathan Swift and WB Yeats.
When booking you can request to stay in any of the rooms the famous guests frequented but you really are spoilt for choice accommodation-wise. Be aware, though, that the castle itself with its full four-poster bed experience tends to be off-limits when booked for a wedding as guests quickly snap up all the rooms there.
While the castle is full of old world charm and character The Lodge at the gates of the castle in a restored stone stable courtyard has just undergone a major renovation. This has added 21 bedrooms and a new 40-seater conservatory. The end result is really impressive with the rooms having a chic, country house feel while still stocked with all the mod cons. The blissful king-size beds guarantee a great night's sleep while the bathrooms are also very spacious and ours had a beautiful free-standing bath.
As The Lodge overlooks the stables the rooms are named after horses such as Top Gear, Saphire, Oscar and Napoleon. Ours was Bumper.
You can also stay in the Old Stable Mews and Village Houses which offers self-catering for families and small groups. That may be better suited if you have rowdy children or are travelling with a group of pals.
Staff throughout the complex are extremely helpful and friendly. They are amazing ambassadors for Castle Leslie with many from the local area.
I am a bit of a foodie and Castle Leslie's food offering didn't disappoint. From the crispy, spicy chicken wings I had for lunch on arrival in Conor's Bar to the dinner at Snaffles restaurant that night, all was faultless.
Snaffles, an impressive open-plan restaurant with a striking wall of contemporary glass, can rightly acclaim the much sought after two AA Rosettes for its fine dining experience.
With an emphasis on locally sourced food prepared and presented with imagination and flair, the kitchen team deliver magnificent results on the plate as demonstrated by our five course meals, including a tasty mushroom tortellini and soup between courses.
For starters I had Jerusalem artichoke with black pudding faggot, compressed apple, scallop and sherry vinegar jus while my partner had Fivemiletown goats cheese, baked and pickle beetroot, candied walnuts and truffle. Both were taste sensations but the stars of the show followed with the mains.
I had the most fantastic fillet steak which was perfectly cooked pink and served with salt baked celeriac, shallot, Madeira and boulangere potatoes. This was one of the best pieces of steak I have had for years with every mouthful full of flavour.
My other half opted for the truffle corn-fed chicken breast with roscoff onions, leeks, truffle puree, buttermilk and truffle potato puree. She was also mightily impressed.
Even though we were stuffed we shared a super chocolatey chocolate pave with cherry sorbet, opaline, cherry and chocolate mousse for dessert.
Make sure to check out their extensive and diverse gin menu. With more than 100 gins from all around the world, including our very own Jawbox, there will be a good few you haven't tried but feel you just need too. After overindulging you can easily work off those extra calories through one of the hotel's many walking trails around the area's lakes, the village and surrounding area. You can attend a Sunday service at, or explore, St Salvator's Church in the grounds. The Church of Ireland grounds are the last resting place for most of the Leslie family and the church is where Sir Paul McCartney chose to marry Heather Mills. You also won't miss The Water Tower nearby which was built in the early 1800s over a deep well.
Other activities worth checking out include horse riding at its world-class equestrian centre, pike fishing, boating, archery, hot air balloon rides and falconry.
For less strenuous activities there is a private cinema or check out its spa and Victorian Treatment Rooms where you can chill in the hot tub or avail of one of their many treatments.
And definitely make sure to check out The Coach House Pub a short walk up the street. Owned by the Wright family who are also the local undertakers, it still retains much of its original character from when first built in the 1860s and houses many artefacts from over the years.
As word continuously spreads of how wonderful Castle Leslie is and indeed the village of Glaslough itself, it continues to grow in popularity with plans in the pipeline for tree houses to 'glamp' on the estate.
Little wonder then that over the last decade they've experienced a 300% growth in turnover and received over 50 awards, including the well-deserved Gold Medal People's Choice Award 2018 for Ireland's Favourite Place to Stay.
For more information or to book a stay at Castle Leslie, check out www.castleleslie.com or call 0035347 88100.
Their current offers include:
Overnight Escape - One night's B&B and a five course dinner in Snaffles Restaurant. Get away from it all and indulge with one night's fabulous accommodation, a full hearty Irish breakfast and a mouth-watering five course dinner in the 2 AA Rosette multi award-winning Snaffles Restaurant.
- From €120pps at The Lodge
- From €140pps at The Castle
Country Getaway - Two nights' B&B and a five course dinner in Snaffles Restaurant on one evening of your choice. Immerse yourself in our rural estate for two night's sublime accommodation and delight in a wonderful five course dinner in the 2 AA Rosette Snaffles Restaurant.
- From €195pps at The Lodge
- From €210pps at The Castle