The Enchanted Forest and Castle of Cong

As soon as I found out I was headed back to Ireland, I immediately knew the places I wanted to revisit around Galway. Obviously I would take my family to some live Irish music in Galway, visit the Cliffs of Moher and bicycle around the Aran Islands (been there done that). But as for other ideas, my sister and I did what any other traveler does in search of things to do… check out Lonely Planet!

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Taylor had read about Cong, a village approximately 45 minutes north of Galway known for the Ashford Castle, a faux castle built by the Guinness family and converted to a luxury hotel. It is also known as a filming location for The Quiet Man with John Wayne, a fact we did not know until we encountered several “Quiet Man” cafes in the village. Classy.

We chose to park in the village for free and walk the nature trail to the castle instead of paying to park at the hotel lot. This was the best choice we could have made because we were able to walk through this beautiful village and the surrounding countryside. First, we walked through the village which was incredibly quaint and bright. We stopped for coffee and sandwiches at The Hungry Monk Cafe, a great choice thanks to TripAdvisor, before walking across the street towards the ruins of the Royal Abbey.

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This Augustinian Abbey is said to be the finest example of medieval architecture in Ireland and I can certainly attest to that. Not only are the structures magnificent, but the grounds themselves are incredible beautiful. Walking through the grounds leads you to the ruins of the monk’s fishing house keeping its hold in the middle of a bubbling stream, like some sort of storybook come to life. Across the stream we discovered the Cong Nature Trail which would take us to Ashford Castle. After a 15 minute stroll, the forest opened up to reveal the vast grounds of the Castle!

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There it is… Ashford Castle in all its glory.

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We didn’t realize it at the time, but the Ashford Castle is a luxury hotel not necessarily all access to the public. Somehow we walked through a back door into a corridor where staff were cleaning rooms. So we acted like we were guests at the hotel and poked around the ornate decor, even sticking our heads into some of the luxury suites straight of Downton Abbey. We perused through hidden libraries and a wall of notable guests while creeping on people having high tea in the parlor. Totally worth it. All you need to do is act like you belong and try not to be too spooked by fancy portraits of dogs.

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We walked out the back of Ashford and discovered the incredible gardens complete with watch towers and leafy walkways like out of the Sound of Music. We even stumbled upon the Hawk Walk at Ireland’s School of Falconry, made obvious when a large flying object blew by our heads, scaring the crap out of us on our pleasant stroll. It was actually an enormous falcon on its way to land on a tourist’s leather gloved hand. Only at Ashford Castle! Instead of paying for the falcon walk, I recommend creeping up on another group for free. Quality travel advice right there.

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We concluded our time at Ashford Castle down at Lake (Lough) Corrib, braving the chilly wind to take in our surroundings before leaving Cong for good. It was hard to leave this enchanted place and we dreaded having to tell our mom about what she missed. It felt like we had stumbled upon a secret place that would disappear as soon as we left or something equally dramatic. Cong was a special discovery thanks to my sister’s excellent travel research (and perfectly composed windswept look). I could learn a few things from her. Thanks sis!
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We walked back on the Nature Trail towards the village parking lot, stopping for some coffee and pastries at The Quiet Man cafe before driving back to Salthill. Thank you Cong, for being the perfect cliche.

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Just catching up? Don’t miss anything…

Ireland Day 1: Back in Ireland… Hurling and History in Galway

Ireland Day 2: Connemara: Bogs, Fjords and Kylemore Abbey

Ireland Day 3: Biking the Aran Islands… Again! 


7 thoughts on “The Enchanted Forest and Castle of Cong

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