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Visit Ireland, where hotels are castles

Devastated by the worldwide economic crisis, Ireland's economy is reeling, opening up all sorts of bargains to the intrepid visitor. Visitors today can get up to 45 percent off the heady prices of old, opening up the life of a medieval king to even thrifty visitors. While many Irish castles where razed by Cromwell's army as he marched across the countryside in 1649, plenty of them survived or have been rebuilt. There are at least 27 hotel castles scattered across Ireland, most of them an eclectic patchwork of architecture stretching from medieval to Victorian times. One such estate is Ballinalacken Castle Hotel (www.ballinalackencastle.com) nestled near Galway Bay. The hotel commands a breath-taking view of the 700-foot-tall Cliffs of Moher, and it's the perfect retreat for the traveler looking for a relaxing, authentic country experience. With just 12 rooms, and surrounded by a working farm, visitors can soak in the Atlantic coast and enjoy an authentic retelling of the areas history by the family who has inhabited the estate for hundreds of years. Or try Dunguaire Castle (www.shannonheritage.com) a little ways north for a more Disney-like medieval experience. Their evening banquet is a treat, complete with period costume, serving wenches and puffy-sleeved pages hailing lords and ladies. Make sure to book online before-hand, as it is a popular destination.

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