‘Fairytale’ Irish castle ranked in 25 best travel experiences in the world

New ‘Michelin guide’ for luxury travel picks top global holidays and experiences

A "fairytale" experience at Ashford Castle has been listed as one of the 25 best travel experiences in the world.

The listing was compiled by US travel advisor Chad Clark, who is aiming to certify travel "experiences" to create an annual list similar to what the Michelin Guide is for restaurants.

"You have the Forbes Travel Guide for hotel star ratings and Michelin for restaurants and Golf Magazine for the Top 100 courses, but there is nothing like that for experiences and that's what everyone is looking for today," he says. The 'Certified 25' is the "first of its kind in the travel industry", he says, and the aim is to create an annual list of the best travel experiences around the world.

Experiences - and “experiential travel” - are the current buzzwords travel industry. For the ultimate travel bragging rights, it’s no longer enough to book a luxury hotel room in the five-star hotel with the best views of whatever piazza you happen to be in. Now it’s about “making memories through experiences”, according to travel advisors. Travellers want to actually do, see or learn something while on a trip, as opposed to lazing by the pool. It’s no surprise that the trend is particularly evident in the luxury travel market with wildlife safaris, Arctic cruises and active travel with learning experiences, such as photography courses, all on the increase.


Airbnb is also building on this momentum with its “experiences” section, where travellers can link up with locals in cities around the world. Other similar initiatives include Cool Cousin, which is soon to launch in Dublin. The Cool Cousin app provides a profile of locals who you can select according to your interests. You then receive their map of their city ,which is loaded with at least 25 of their favourite places, from restaurants to shops, as well as personalised advice.

Despite all the interest in the area, Clark believes it is hard to find the "best in class" experiences – there is no gathering of five-star experiences, which is where his "Certified 25" come in. The winners of the first annual listing were announced at the Virtuoso Travel Symposium in Las Vegas earlier this week. Virtuoso is a consortium of luxury and specialist travel advisors and agents and many of Clark's listings are affiliates of the network, which has about 1,700 affiliates around the world.

Clark owns the Phoenix-based Chad Clark Travel Ventures. To create the Certified 25, he surveyed luxury travel industry suppliers and other travel experts, who submitted their best experiences from around the world. The winners were “chosen on their own merits of how cool the experience actually is”, he says. Reader beware however – money is no object when it comes to Clark’s definition of a “cool” experience.

Ireland's sole listing is the "Ashford Castle Fairytale experience". It includes private chauffeur transfers from the airport; two nights in a Stateroom; afternoon tea in the Connaught Room; falconry; a private showing of The Quiet Man in the 32-seat cinema at the hotel, with Champagne and popcorn of course; dinners in the Dungeon and George V restaurants; wine tasting; and meeting the estate's Irish Wolfhounds. The price of your fairytale? From €4,350 in low season to €6,350 in high season.

General manager Niall Rochford says the castle is "privileged to represent Ireland and Irish tourism internationally as the only Irish property to be included in this inaugural list". He describes Clark as someone "who has himself carved a career as a highly regarded and influential travel expert worldwide".

“Our Fairytale Castle Experience offers guests the chance to experience the magic of Ashford Castle, offering the utmost in modern luxury and five-star hospitality in the unique setting of this historic castle.”

In Sydney, Clark's list recommends you contact husband and wife team Jamie and Alex, aka Local Eyes Sydney, to give you the quintessential Sydney experience. This involves starting your day with early morning yoga or surfing on the beach before breakfast, National Park bush and beach walks. Jamie and Alex bring guests to their home for lunch and drinks before sailing to see Sydney Harbour's icons up close from their classic cruiser, Iluka. The nine-hour "quintessential" experience will set you back €4,183 for two people, more than what most of us will spend on a 10-day trip Down Under. (Price comparison note: Flights from Dublin to Sydney average at €1,100 per person.)

For those with even deeper pockets (or a second home to sell) who also have an ethical travel conscience, safari company Singita offers a behind-the-scenes stay in their lodge and Sabora Tented Camp in Tanzania.

The experience includes learning about their wildlife re-introduction efforts, through the Grumeti Black Rhino Project; working with their anti-poaching unit first-hand; learning about their new canine law enforcement unit as well as their fund of local enterprise development. As for the cost…take a deep breath. The six-night experience costs €6,305 per person, which might not seem too wild for a luxury six-night safari experience. However, there is also a compulsory contribution of €42,500 ($50,000) per booking to support Singita's conservation programmes. It is based on a minimum of two people and the maximum group size is six.

You might be glad to find out that the list also includes more affordable items to enhance your travel experience wherever it may be, such as the Kickstarter crowd-funded G-RO Smart Carry-on luggage.

The bag (from €380, g-ro.com) features smart technology such as USB ports and a powerful battery, slick lightweight design, as well as a patented larger wheel concept that means a bag that is easier to wheel on all terrain - from cobbled streets to airport walkways.

Photography company Flyographer (flytographer.com) also features. The company, founded in 2013, links travelers with professional photographers in more than 130 destinations so you can abandon your selfie stick and instead use a professional photographer to capture your holiday snaps…for a fee of €210-€550 depending on the number of locations and length of the session.

Other immersive experiences include a volcano adventure with Four Seasons Hualalai; Mongolia's Golden Eagle Festival with Nomadic Expeditions; an overnight Yurt stay at Platte Canyon with Brush Creek Ranch Luxury Collection; and a banquet on a remote section of the Great Wall of China with conservationist William Londesay.

See the full list below, or for more details, chadclarksertified.com

Top 25 Travel Experiences in the World (for those with very deep pockets)

Cong, Ireland: Ashford Castle's Fairytale Experience includes a "luxurious stay in a medieval Irish castle where guests are invited to take part in authentic Irish activities throughout the castle and its picturesque grounds".

London, UK: Travel company Noteworthy - who create "unforgettable Exquisite British Experiences" - allow clients behind-the-scenes access to the "Changing of the Guards" and the opportunity to photograph the event.

London, UK: The Beaumont Hotel in London offers a 'do-it-yourself' ice cream sundae with 300 potential permutations in the resort's Colony Grill Room. For Clark, this is (thankfully) only part of the luxury offering at the Beaumont, which adding personal touches to all client stays.

Bhutan: Amankora Bhutan's spiritual and cultural safari involves walks through ancient rhododendron forests watching black necked cranes, soaking in a hot stone bath; interacting with novice monks and dining in a rustic stone potato shed.

Wyoming, US: Platte Canyon Overnight Camp at Brush Creek Ranch is a luxurious camping experience that includes private outdoor activities, gourmet meals around an open fire, a large yurt and two traditional teepees with large decks located over the North Platte River.

New York, US: Chatwal Hotel guests can enjoy insider access to Broadway from the landmark building once home to the oldest theatrical club in the US. Guests have the opportunity to be part of the cast of a Broadway show.

Italy: Rosa Alpina Hotel bring guests on a journey through the Dolomite Mountains where guests hike in luxury from "hut to hut" while enjoying the gourmet food and wines.

Colorado, US: Limited "only by the imagination", Colorado's Dunton Hot Springs offers customizable experiences that are specifically tailored for each guest's interests, including cattle driving, and horse riding.

Flytographer: Flytographer connects travelers with vetted local photographers for short, candid vacation shoots in over 200 cities around the world, providing both an authentic travel experience and unforgettable souvenirs.

Hawaii, US: The Four Seasons Hotel Hualalai offers a volcano with a private helicopter journey over the big island, a trip to a Rainforest Cottage Hideaway where you can hike, swim, explore the area around the volcano.

New York, US: The Greenwich Hotel offers a fully complimentary minibar in all rooms. This includes v "vintage favorite goodies" reminiscent of childhood combined with trendy new snacks with all-natural, vegan and gluten-free options. By the way, this is a mini-bar with a difference. Alcohol is excluded.

Utah, US: A stay at the Waldorf Astoria Park City offers beautiful snow-covered views of the largest ski and snowboard resort in the US. Don't forget to take their signature vanilla mint chapstick on all adventures, according to Clark.

G-RO Luggage: G-RO luggage is specifically designed to accompany on-the-go travelers whether they are traveling around the block or around the globe.

China: With Imperial Tours, guests travel by helicopter over the Great Wall of China, landing at an isolated tower for a gourmet banquet with conservationist William Lindesay, who helped draft the law protecting wall.

France: Indulge in a progressive Parisian culinary journey at Le Bristol Paris, where they experience the French Art de Vivre, a decadent breakfast, a tailor made picnic and dinner at Michelin three-star restaurant, Epicure.

France: A meal at Les Prés d'Eugénie-Michel Guerard is described as capturing "the essence of French luxury, style, grace and elegance in a sumptuous setting".

Ecuador: Metropolitan Touring offer a nighttime walk through the forest in search of nocturnal amphibians and insects, ending with a surprise (well, it was meant to be a surprise) picnic.

Minaret Station, New Zealand: Travel company Minaret Station bring clients on a helicopter tour of the Southern Alps in New Zealand before touching down in a deserted alpine meadow. Then it's time to enjoy a gourmet spread of lobster pulled fresh from the sea, Minaret Station-sourced beef and lamb and award-winning New Zealand wines.

Mongolia: Watch Kazakh hunters at the Golden Eagle Festival in the remote Altai Mountains as these skilled hunters and their highly-trained eagles compete for the top prize. Nomadic Expeditions arrange this experience.

Amalfi Coast, Italy: Hotel Palazzo Avino's "Sea of Love" dining experience aims to suspend guests between land and sea. Start with a boat trip to your private candlelit dinner overlooking the ocean.

Peru: Experience the mystical beauty of Peru's Lake Titicaca, the cradle of Andean civilization, through visits to a traditional community on the island of Taquile and hiking ancient trails surrounded by stunning snow-capped mountain landscapes.

Tanzania: Singita safari company offer behind-the-scenes insight into the work of the Anti-Poaching Unit in the Serengeti.

India: Guests of the Ultimate Traveling Camp at Thiskey enjoy a day "on top of the world" where they are immersed in the region's unique rituals and have the opportunity to try their hand at archery, raft down the Indus River and enjoy a picnic lunch.

Australia: True North conducts adventure-cruises in Australia's stunning Kimberley region, with daily off-ship activities, some via the ship's onboard helicopter.

Australia: Tour Sydney with husband and wife team Jamie and Alex (aka Local Eyes Sydney) who invite guests to their home for lunch and onboard their classic cruiser, Iluka to sail up close to Sydney Harbor's icons. The tour also includes a native bush walk and opportunities to surf, stroll or perform yoga at the world famous Manly Beach.