In Castledermot, County Kildare, Ireland (one hour away from Dublin), you'll find KILKEA CASTLE. It's a majestic 12th century castle that's been transformed into a luxury hotel.
We celebrated Rache's birthday in this beautiful place--befitting of my queen and love of my life--on our first-ever trip to Ireland. It was really magical and definitely one of the best travel experiences we'll cherish forever.
Here is a photo essay of our stay at Kilkea Castle...
“Once the medieval stronghold of the Fitzgeralds, earls of Kildare, the Castle was built by Hugh de Lacy for one of Strongbow's Norman Noblemen, Walter de Riddlesford. Today it stands proudly ready to extend a five-star welcome to travelers from around the globe.
Set on 180 acres of its own wonderful woodland, gardens and golf course, Kilkea Castle enchants from the moment you drive down the beech-lined avenue overlooking the Killeshin Hills, only minutes from the ancient Mullaghreelan Woods.” (Kilkea Castle Website)
Kilkea, Kilkea Demesne, Castledermot, Co. Kildare
Telephone: +353 59 9145600, (U.S.): +1 (855) 9 KILKEA
Facebook: Kilkea Castle Kildare
The driveway to the castle is lined with trees and has a beautiful view of the golf course on each side.
Kilkea Castle just finished its renovations, and we had the privilege of being among the first guests to experience it.
The look and feel of the castle, including this armored "guard," transported us back to the medieval times.
The beautifully maintained gardens are perfect for leisurely strolls. (I'm sure these would look even more lovely in the springtime.)
We all gathered by the fireplace in the main living room while we waited for the other travel bloggers to join us.
This was one of the best mushroom soups we had during our trip. It kept us warm and in the mood for wonderful conversations.
That was an awesome TBEX Summit held in the castle, with a collaborative discussion among brands, tourism boards, travel bloggers, and TBEX to push the Travel Blogging Industry to the next level.
(Check out TBEX Summit Agenda)
Gary Arndt capped the summit with an interesting model on "How to Monetize Travel Blogs" based on his personal experience.
Although there were elevators, we enjoyed going up the charming stairs. We couldn't help but notice the thickness of the walls as we glanced at the windows that overlooked the courtyard.
Countess of Kildare (Room)
We stayed in the Countess of Kildare room--a simple but royal way to celebrate Rache's birthday. :)
It took us 20 hours to travel all the way from Manila, but it felt just like an overnight trip because we left 7pm Manila time and arrived 7am the next day in Kilkea Castle, Ireland.
We were hungry when we arrived; it was sweet of the staff to serve us some fruits, pastries, and canapes with champagne.
This was the view from our room.
There was a bathtub/shower and a toilet with a wooden seat in the spacious bathroom. The hot and cold water worked well.
Molton Brown bath and body products were provided.
Trivia: Molton Brown was given a Royal Warrant in 2013 as a "Supplier of Toiletries" to none other than Her Majesty the Queen.
We received a Cadbury milk tray as a welcome gift, along with...
...rich and creamy cupcakes, personally written notes, and mini-bottles of Writer's Tears Irish Whiskey that came in innovative packaging.
Trying our hand at archery on the castle grounds was exciting--it was like being on the set of Game of Thrones.
If you ever get to try it, keep these tips in mind: Make sure your arms are straight and steady as you grip the curves of the bow. Position yourself for the proper stance. Pull the arrow while sighting the bullseye and release the arrow on your exhale. You need endurance to hold on to the bow, specially for the ladies.
At Lullymore, we learned a lot about the Irish peatlands in Kildare county and how bogs (a type of peatland) were formed. We were shocked to learn that bogs can naturally preserve bodies and that discoveries of ancient mummies called bog bodies have been made through the years.
It was also interesting to know that peat from bogs can be packed into wood-like form and used as a biofuel.
We even got to meet the bog pony and horses of the peatlands.
For more info, visit http://www.lullymoreheritagepark.com/
Have you ever had a close encounter with a falcon before?
It was awesome interacting with these fascinating creatures--falcons, owls, and hawks--with the historic castle as the backdrop.
We felt like kids again, smitten with the cute owls and their mesmerizing eyes.
We played a little game where the first person to hit the bottle or get the ball closest to the hole would win the champagne. Guess who won?
Tours of the golf course can be availed to fully appreciate the grand landscape and see the different holes...
...the most beautiful of which is their signature 18th hole, with the castle in the background.
Other Castle Activities
You can also go fishing, walk along, or go on a lazy cruise on the River Greese.
Have you ever seen real holly berries before? We've only come across them as plastic replicas on Christmas wreaths over here in Asia.
Listen to the music of the Irish Warpiper around the castle grounds; it is beautiful to hear. People are often curious about one thing though: Does the warpiper wear anything under his kilt?
The dinner conversations were endless, specially during this meal paired with O'Hara Craft Beer. (see Dinner Menu)
The menu specified the number from the list of 14 food ingredients that must be declared as allergens in the EU countries:
1. Cereals containing gluten, namely: wheat (such as spelt and khorasan wheat), rye, barley, oats or their hybridised strains, and products thereof,
2. Crustaceans and products thereof
3. Eggs and products thereof
4. Fish and products thereof
5. Peanuts and products thereof
6. Soybeans and products thereof
7. Milk and products thereof (including lactose)
8. Nuts, namely: almonds, hazelnut, walnuts, cashews, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, macadamia or Queensland nuts, and products thereof,
9. Celery and products thereof
10. Mustard and products thereof
11. Sesame seeds and products thereof
12. Sulphur dioxide and sulphites at concentrations of more than 10 mg/kg or 10 mg/litre in terms of the total SO2
13. Lupin and products thereof
14. Molluscs and products thereof
The seafood in Ireland is topnotch and has a bit of sweetness when fresh, specially the ones sourced from the cold Atlantic Ocean.
Complemented by O'Hara's Irish Pale Ale
The Irish love their beers, specially the craft ones (like O'Hara's) with their own Irish version of the IPA.
Wood Roasted Quail with Herb Butter, Pickled Wild Mushrooms, and Dave Heffernan's foraged Greens (1, 14, 9) complemented by O'Hara's Irish Lager
I loved the roasted taste of the quail served with fresh greens that were locally harvested within a few kilometer radius from the castle.
Pan Seared Wild Seabass Smoked Bacon Red Chicory, Irish Baby Kale, Red Wine Sauce, Potato Puree (8, 14, 4, 9) Complemented by Irish Stout
We enjoyed this seabass served on a bed of charred chicory and baby kale with red wine sauce. The pan-seared crust on one side of the fish proved to be delectable.
Slow Roasted Seamus O'Hagan's Beef Fillet Charred Leeks, Guinness & Oyster Pie (1, 14, 6, 7) complemented by O'Hara's Irish Stout
Irish Beef is underrated, but I find it one of the best we've tasted because it's grass-fed. You can really taste the flavor of the meat when you chew it.
I like the Irish Stout of Ohara's more than Guinness because it has a bolder flavor, with espresso and smoky bacon notes that perfectly pair with the meat.
Caramelized Apple Tart with French Biscuit, Green Apple Jelly, Madagascar Vanilla Ice Cream (1,4,7,14) complemented by O'Hara's Leann Follain
The serving size of the food is quite big and can be shared by two Asians.
Kilkea Castle Breakfast
Breakfast in Kilkea Castle was one of the top meals we had during our entire trip in Ireland because of the ambiance and careful selection of each breakfast item included in the spread.
Our Irish Breakast usually consisted of a buffet of breads, pastries, fruits, cheeses, and yogurt before the main breakfast dish.
The jams and spreads were served in a special dispenser. We usually started our breakfast with fresh strawberries dipped in hazelnut spread.
Every time we took a slice of the honeycomb, we would get distracted by the view of the sprawling gardens.
We couldn't get enough of the Irish cheeses--we ate as many as we could to start the day on a happy note.
Fresh mixed berries and yogurt made a wonderful pairing for breakfast!
We liked starting breakfast early so we could linger longer and enjoy a relaxed meal with a view of the 18th hole.
Our first taste of Irish Full Breakfast at Kilkea Castle was quite memorable, especially the sausages and cherry tomatoes. It was the best breakfast plate we had in our two-week trip in Ireland!
My favorite was the Salmon Eggs Benedict with the poached egg and light and creamy hollandaise sauce.
Athy, County Kildare
A 15-minute road trip to Athy was just lovely! We took the one-hour Athy Boat tour along the River Barrow. We passed by houses where the skipper was greeted by the owners. Such a small and friendly neighborhood!
Note: If you have more time, a three-hour ride is also available.
While on the boat tour, we were served delectable scones with fruit jams, along with some biscuits and coffee. We weren't able to take any photos of them because we were busy appreciating the scenery.
Locks (like this one in the photo) are used to make the river more easily navigable. The boat crew manually work on opening the lock the same way it was done centuries ago. One-two-three push!
For more info, visit http://www.athyboattours.ie/
Outside the Athy Heritage Centre-Museum is the statue of Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, a man known for his leadership, bravery and courage. He was an explorer who joined Antarctic expeditions. It was with the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition that he achieved more recognition and inspired many on how he was able to survive and bring back his team against all odds.
Shackleton was born in Kilkea House, County Kildare.
Visit the Athy Heritage Centre-Museum to see the Ernest Shackleton exhibition (including this replica of Shackleton's 15-foot ship, the Endurance) and learn more about Athy, a "designated heritage town of Ireland."
For more info, visit http://www.athyheritagecentre-museum.ie/
We love the fact that Ireland is predominantly Catholic and has beautiful churches where masses are held regularly. Thankfully, we were able to attend the 7pm mass.
The masses are shorter (around 45 minutes) because there's no singing. Usually, it's the older generation that attends.
I miss the full-house Sunday masses in Manila with a full choir singing, complete with readers and commentators.
Back in Kilkea, we loved hanging out in the castle bar before dinner. With a glass of Guinness, their signature cocktail, or their Writer's Tear's Whiskey in hand, we mingled with the crowd.
Fine Dining at Kilkea Castle
We had a memorable fine dining dinner hosted by the owner of Kilkea Castle. It was a simple yet elegant affair. (Those are real lighted candles on the table!)
Lobster Cappuccino, Horse Radish & Roast Beef Toast (1, 4, 5, 14)
The dinner started with lobster bisque and roast beef tapas.
Salad of Irish Lobster, Brown Cab Jelly, Avocado, chilly Yogurt Cream, Yuzu Cloud (4, 5, 13, 14)
I liked how the playfulness of the salad with Yuzu foam, bits of avocado, and fresh mini greens didn't take the spotlight away from the Irish Lobster, the star of the dish.
Potato-crusted Fillet of Cod, smoked Celeriac Cake, Pea Puree, Wild Irish Mussel, Saffron & Apple Vinegar Crisp (4, 8, 9, 6, 14)
I loved the combination of the cod with the pea puree. The mussel and the saffron & apple vinegar crisp helped break the monotony of the dish.
Wild Atlantic Lamb Cannon with Salty Hay and Seaweed Ash, Braised Lamb & Barley Stew, Seared Liver, Beet and Balsamic Glazed Shallot, Potato Puree (14, 4)
The best lamb I tasted on this trip! Amidst the different ingredients and sauces, the flavor of the lamb meat stood out.
This Mencia-grape wine from Bierzo, Spain pairs well with lamb. It's the sort that grows on you as you drink the night away.
White Chocolate Sphere, Textured Passion Fruit and White Chocolate, Pistachio, Blood Orange Sorbet (2, 3, 4, 7, 14)
The sweet treats were good, but I think we've had better desserts in Manila.
Our short but memorable stay in Kilkea Castle is probably the most romantic travel experience I've had with Rache in our 14 years of marriage (to date).
It's also historic because of the successful TBEX Summit collaboration with Travel Brands, DMOs, and Travel Bloggers that pushes the boundaries of the Travel Blogging industry.
I actually have a harder time blogging about an awesome experience like this because I want to honor the memory, but sometimes it's hard to find the right words to say and not exaggerate.
I'm amazed with the Kilkea Castle team because they are lean and mean but never fail to deliver luxurious service befitting an Irish Castle.
There's no reception in the castle, there's no local telephone system either, but you feel that your needs are anticipated and your requests are addressed promptly.
Thank you to Aidan, Catherine, and the rest of the Kilkea Castle team for a job well done!
I can sum up our first impressions of Ireland with these three insights:
1) Irish people are like Filipino people.
Besides having a predominantly Catholic background, they are a happy and hospitable people, with lots of stories to tell and a distinct sense of humor.
Just as an aside, we are catching up with our Irish brothers on our consumption of beers, craft spirits, and whiskey.
2) The Culinary Scene is underrated, but I believe it's one of the best Culinary Centers in the EU.
The food is as good as in New Zealand where the ingredients are sustainably sourced within the locality, the beef is grass-fed, and the seafood is excellent, specially the salmon, oysters, and mussels coming from the Wild Atlantic seas.
The Irish butter is utterly to die for and among the best in the world, particularly the hand-churned butter from the local farm.
3) It's what you expect from a travel destination plus more.
I expected the natural views to be stunning, the bar scene to be wild, and the people to be welcoming and friendly. As I found out, Ireland is a country that lives up to what it's known for, where you get to discover and appreciate the place, the culture, and the people more with each passing day you're there. The next thing you know, you discover that you've fallen in love with the place completely. I know I did.
Kilkea, Kilkea Demesne, Castledermot, Co. Kildare
Telephone: +353 59 9145600, (U.S.): +1 (855) 9 KILKEA
Facebook: Kilkea Castle Kildare
Live an Awesome Life,
Disclosure: Our TBEX Summit @ Kilkea Castle is courtesy of Fáilte Ireland. I wrote this article with my biases, opinions, and insights.
P.S. Ireland is home to the world-renowned Waterford Crystals!
We got to appreciate an interactive display of Waterford Crystals that you would often see in chandeliers around Ireland.
We witnessed first-hand how the Master Cutter etched details into the crystal with precision.
Waterford Crystal Trophies are the most coveted trophies in some of the major sports competitions in the world.
My favorite souvenir from our Ireland trip is a personalized Waterford Crystal shamrock!