A Case Study of Themed Vacations and Traveling with Family
Welcome back, everyone! In Part 1 of this series, I talked about how, and why, I planned an equestrian-themed vacation to Castle Leslie in Ireland. For a quick recap, as a veteran but rusty equestrian, I was looking to get back to the sport and enjoy some vacation time while doing it. My mom, also an equestrian, decided to join me on the trip. In this part of the series, I will tell you all about that vacation and how we found the experience at Castle Leslie.
Arriving in Ireland and Traveling to Castle Leslie
Since I was living in New York City at the time, my mom and I departed for Ireland from EWR (Newark, NJ). The flight was overnight, on the fourth of July which was a real treat to see from the air! In general, if you can book your international flights overnight, I suggest it. The easiest way to pass long hours on a plane is by sleeping! Mom and I got lucky enough to have an economy row to ourselves which made it even better. A little extra room goes a long way! I had booked both our round trip tickets with Chase rewards points. If you are unfamiliar with these – they can be a great way to cut down on the cost of an international trip.
Soon we arrived at Dublin’s International Airport. Castle Leslie is a bit to the north in County Monaghan, about an hour and a half by car. When I booked our stay with Castle Leslie, they offered guidance on how to get from the airport to the estate. The easiest way was to take a public bus to the Monaghan Bus Station, about 15 mins outside the estate. From there we would take a local taxi for the rest of the way. The bus ticket was around 17 euros and the taxi was around 15 euros. We were easily able to book the bus tickets online prior to our arrival and found it extremely easy to find the bus, right outside the airport.
The journey to Castle Leslie was beautiful. I thought I had seen beautiful green landscapes before, but I was wrong. There is such vibrancy to Ireland’s scenery. Beautiful and luscious shades of green were everywhere. As we moved out of the city, the charming countryside welcomed us. It was not long before we found ourselves at the estate.
There isn’t a much better vacation feeling than pulling up in front of a castle and saying “wow – I’m staying here”. Well basically – we weren’t staying in Castle Leslie itself, although that is an option. We had opted for the Lodge – which had beautifully appointed rooms and views into the stableyard. Check-in was easy and soon we were whisked away to settle in.
Settling in at The Lodge
Our room was lovely – about the size of a normal hotel room but much more elegant. I felt as though I was a guest at Downton Abbey. Even better was our little outdoor patio which had great views into the stable area (we were on the second floor). We could sit outside and enjoy views of the horses as they were prepared for their day.
After settling into our room, we headed downstairs to find dinner. We had booked on the “Happy Hacker” package – an equestrian centric break that involved 3 hours of riding per day, breakfast each morning, and a two-course meal each night. The dinner meal was served in Castle Leslie’s own “Conor’s Bar” located on the property. I have to say it was delicious! We soon retired to catch up after all the international travel, excited for our first rides the next day.
Enjoying the Ride at Castle Leslie
When you book an equestrian break at Castle Leslie, your rides are tailored to you. Before you arrive you will fill out and email a form that asks a bit about your experience and preferences. What level rider are you? Do you prefer a horse that needs a little prompting to get going or do you prefer a more spirited ride? Are you looking to take part in cross country rides (aka jumping centric rides on the estate) or are you targeting dressage (or even basic lessons)?
I was impressed with this effort to personalize the experience. It helped me feel like I would be able to get the experience I wanted for my hard-earned money. My mom was nervous about the experience – while I am a try anything, no fear (or that’s what I tell myself) type rider my mom is a bit more conservative. She doesn’t like riding fast or doing more risky activities like jumping. For her riding is a more leisurely activity. This probably affected our experiences.
The horses at Castle Leslie were well cared for and loved it was easy to tell. The equestrian team involved multiple instructors and group leaders, as well as stablehands. As part of the riding getaway package, we received both arena riding time and hacking time (time spent riding on the estate grounds) each day.
The equestrian team paired us with horses first based on our forms then later based on our performance and feedback. I found the pairings pretty on point for myself – I was generally paired with 3 different horses throughout the experience. For arena or general hacking, I had Tigger who was eager and spirited. For cross country and jumping, I generally had Jessica or Jigsaw – a little calmer, which helped me – a rather inexperienced jumper.
My mom had a bit more difficult time – although she has years of experience, as mentioned she is a calm and peaceful rider. Based on her experience and abilities she was given pairings a bit more advanced then she’d have preferred at first. But the team did their best and even traded horses during an estate ride to make her feel more comfortable which was very kind.
In general, I will say that riding at Castle Leslie is probably better suited to the more advanced or eager rider. They do a great job trying to accommodate everyone, even completely new riders, but the estate motto, “grip fast” is definitely well suited. If you’ve marked yourself intermediate to advanced and cleared the eye of the instructor, you should not be surprised to suddenly turn a corner during an estate ride and take off! While I found this thrilling, my mom was not as keen. Make sure you are very clear with the team what type of riding you’d like to do as to not be surprised.
The estate itself is enormous and offers every type of cross country obstacle imaginable. There is also a lake and the ability to ride through it as well as stretches for galloping. The trails are lovely and well maintained. Riding parties were typically around 5 to 10 people in my experience with two guides. The instructors and guides were knowledgable and capable riders. Do not expect tour guides – although they are happy to chat and share their knowledge – these riders are sportsmen through and through. They enjoyed the rides as much as I did.
Enjoying Everything Else at Castle Leslie and Nearby
When not riding on the beautiful estate, we spent our time enjoying the property, its non-equestrian services, and the neighboring village of Glaslough.
On the estate, we visited the family church which is famous in its own right. Sir Paul McCartney was married there! We enjoyed numerous walks and even took a few jogs out into the village (mom and I are both leisure runners).
We found Glaslough beautiful and charming. Opting to change up our routine we visited a few local eateries for meals. I even got my mom to try an Irish coffee! We especially loved Pocono Glaslough! Delicious, charming, and hugely welcoming. Only a quick walk up the street from the estate – if you find yourself at Castle Leslie go check them out.
After all the exploring and riding, I considered it a must-do to try out the spa at Castle Leslie. They offer fantastic massages and other treatments. I admit I splurged and treated myself to the spa 3 days in a row! I figured I was about to become a graduate student and have so much stress and so little time I deserved it (hey we all have our excuses right). With the money we saved using Chase points for our flights this wasn’t as financially suicidal as it sounds. If you feel like treating yourself at Castle Leslie – do it at the spa! It was luxurious and perfect for all those sore muscles.
After 5 days of “happy hacking” at Castle Leslie, Mom and I retraced our steps to Dublin for one last night before flying home. We didn’t get to do much exploring – just time to grab a burger outside the hotel and get to sleep. As we flew home the next day, I was sad to go. Castle Leslie had given me quite the adventure and satisfied all my equestrian goals. I had finally gotten to experience the cross country riding I had dreamed of. And what better place to do it than a beautiful Irish estate!
There is much more in Ireland to see and explore. I genuinely hope I get the chance to return soon! I hope you have enjoyed reading about my first and hopefully not last, themed vacation. If you’d like to read more about my adventures or experiences check out my latest posts over on the Journeys page!