A winding driveway through lush parkland and golf course brings you to the dramatic entrance of Farnham Estate Hotel: the reception is in a giant glass atrium linking the classical building dating from 1810 to the striking 21st century extension - impressive by any standards. However car parking situated several hundred metres from the entrance so the valet service, which is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week, is very welcome, particularly in bad weather.
Although not universally admired (especially by those who remember the old house as it was in private ownership), most visitors see the hotel as an interesting marriage of the ancient and modern, and it has a warm, friendly atmosphere.
There are three stunning drawing rooms in the main house, and The Wine Goose Cellar Bar is atmospherically situated underground, in tunnels.
The old house also has eight suites which have been cleverly restored with a sensitive eye to the past and some real modern flair: traditional fabrics cover exotic seats and old-fashioned shapes are given quirky colours and patterns, an idea which has been overdone in Ireland in recent years, but this is an early example and it was achieved with a sure eye and quality materials.
Rooms in the extension are sleek and modern and, although some rooms would benefit from sheer curtains for daytime privacy, they are very comfortable, with huge beds and wide-ranging facilities including WI/FI internet access, robes, irons, hairdryer, mini bar, coffee making facilities, simple heat control and complicated interactive flat screen TV & radio; fashion-led bathrooms may lack natural light (and insulation) but have both bath and shower.
The long, low design of the hotel helps it to merge into its surroundings relatively comfortably, but this means long corridors - if this could be problem, ask for a room near the reception area when booking.
The 1,250 acre estate has a private lake for fishing, seven kilometres of walks (no dogs allowed though, which is a shame) and a championship 18-hole golf course.
The health spa offers nineteen treatment rooms, a thermal suite, a relaxation room, an indoor-outdoor infinity pool and its own restaurant.
This is an appealing venue for business, conferences and weddings - The Redwood Suite, which has ten meeting rooms, can take up to 380 delegates theatre-style or seat 220 for a function.
Conferences/Banqueting (380/220); business centre, secretarial services, video conferencing; free broadband wi/fi; valet parking 24/7; laptop-sized safes in bedrooms. Archery, croquet, clay pigeon shooting, coarse fishing, equestrian nearby, golf (18). Destination spa (treatment rooms, hair dressing), meditation, fitness room, swimming pool, sauna, steam room. Heli Pad.
Rooms 158 (8 suites in the old house, 4 new suites, 120 no smoking, 50 ground floor, 8 for disabled.) Children welcome (under 17s free in parents' room, cots available free of charge, baby sitting arranged). Lifts; 24 hr room service; no pets. B&B from about €49.50pps. Special breaks offered.
Beside the Botanica Bar on the upper level of the impressive lobby/atrium area, smart casual is the tone in this spacious dining room, which is very attractively situated overlooking the lawns and mature trees around the old house.
Breakfast (the good spread typical of Radisson hotels), lunch and dinner are all served here and in its evening guise it's the most sophisticated of several dining choices offered at the hotel, all of which, including The Pear Tree Restaurant at the Health Spa, have botanical themes inspired by the estate's abundant plant life.
A highly-regarded new chef, Philippe Farineau, joined the team in autumn 2012, making this another of the North-East's growing number of destination dining spots. Formerly at Mount Falcon Estate in Ballina, Co Mayo, where his motto “French Heart, Irish Produce” and smart cooking pleased a wide audience, his enthusiasm for local and foraged foods bodes well for Farnham. It wasn't long before foraging weekends had been arranged, along with a local expert as guide.
In the Guide's experience, service in the restaurant can be disorganised and menus may not be a locally-focused as hoped; but the cooking meets expectations - and M. Farineau runs a very good kitchen that operates smoothly, even when he is not present, so a meal here should be enjoyable.