In addition to offering simple joys like warming turf fires and unparalleled views across the Burren landscape, this quietly luxurious country house has earned a reputation in recent years as one of Ireland’s top food destinations.
The present house dates from the late 18th century, and has been added to many times, but the property has a long and interesting history. It dates back to a tower house, or small castle, which was built by the O’Loughlen clan (the region’s principal tribe) between the 10th and 17th centuries, and is still intact.
It has been run as a country house hotel by the Haden family since 1976, and is currently owned by Simon Haden and his wife Freddie, who have been proprietors since Simon’s parents retired in 2003 and whose fresh vision is bringing many new visitors to this fascinating area.
Surrounded by trees and gardens, in sharp contrast to the stark lunar landscape of the surrounding Burren, this peaceful place is an oasis of warmth, comfort and hospitality, and can be seen from miles around. It has a uniquely serene atmosphere, and garden flowers throughout the house reflect the personal style of the owners, who have deftly added light and colour to the period interior, artfully blending antique furniture and paintings with stylish contemporary textiles and interesting modern Irish art. (A small selection of works is offered for sale, details on application.)
The accommodation is simply lovely: spacious rooms with unique landscape views are thoughtfully furnished by Freddie with understated, yet luxurious, contemporary style - and deliberately left without the worldly interference of television.
Such immaculate surroundings are not, perhaps, a destination likely to come to mind for people travelling with dogs. But, while the public areas of the hotel are not suitable for pets, ‘particularly loved four-legged friends’ are welcome to stay with their owners in a "doggy" room with its own sheltered outdoor area, an outdoor kennel and an indoor play pen/bed for inclement weather. Unusually, this does not involve a compromise for pet owners, who will also be extremely comfortable - and what better place to bring your dog than the west of Ireland, where there is so much emphasis on enjoying the outdoor life.
In the morning, allow time to linger over an excellent breakfast - a delicious buffet set up with fresh juices and fruits, organic cereals, freshly baked bread, home-made preserves and local produce including Burren Smokehouse organic smoked salmon, Burren Gold organic cheese and Limerick ham; the menu of hot dishes reads very simply - but the secret is in the quality ingredients, which sing with flavour.
Although very elegant, this warm-hearted hotel is not too formal or at all intimidating; non-residents are welcome to drop in for lunch or afternoon tea in the Corkscrew Bar - named after a nearby hill road which, incidentally, provides the most scenic approach to Ballyvaughan.
In fine weather guests can sit out beside the Celtic Cross rose garden and watch patches of sun and shade chasing across the hills. The locality is full of interest and especially attractive to walkers – who may appreciated the in-room massage service, which is available by arrangement.
Small Conferences/Weddings (15/65); free broadband wi/fi. Croquet, cycling, falconry, gardens, walking, wine courses. Golf and garden visits nearby. Pets permitted in some areas. Children welcome (no concessions, but cot available, €20, baby sitting arranged). All day room service.
Rooms 21 (3 premier suites, 3 junior suites, 7 ground floor) B&B from €179.00 per room; check hotel website for updates. No SC.
The Dining Room
Gifted chef, David Hurley, currently heads up this famous kitchen - and, having been Paul Flynn's Head Chef at The Tannery in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, prior to joining the team at Gregans as Sous Chef in 2011, he arrived with an enviable pedigree.
With a cooking style described as 'modern European but distinctively Irish and unpretentious', and an emphasis on food provenance, David maintained the high standard that this kitchen had become known for when he took over as Head Chef, but he also wasted no time in developing his own style - and it is that which has attracted so much well earned praise in recent years.
The restaurant enjoys lovely views over the Burren (where there can be very special light effects as the sun sets over Galway Bay on summer evenings), and Freddie has created a calm and serene room in beautiful tones inspired by the landscape; the atmosphere is intimate, yet fresh - a perfect setting for a unique dining experience that is often accompanied by a pianist or, more unusually, a hammer dulcimer
Using local and organic produce has always been a key feature of Gregans Castle - all fish is caught locally around Galway Bay, and Burren lamb and beef come from local butchers, for example A daily changing Tasting Menu is offered, also a dinner menu, which is included in the terms for half board guests; some packages also include activities (one, a Savour the Wonders of the West break, teams up with Cashel House Hotel in Connemara) and offer very good value.
There is an impressively grown-up-sounding children's menu too, although children are also welcome to half portions from the dinner menu.
The wine list has been compiled with the same attention to detail and it is an interesting read; reflecting the house philosophy of commitment to small producers, it includes an impressive selection of organic and biodynamic wines, leading off with the excellent Spanish house wines.
Dinner at Gregans Castle is a real treat, but an attractive short à la carte lunch menu is also offered (very nicely served in The Corkscrew Bar) and a delicious Afternoon Tea too.