Rathmullan House has a well deserved following for its unique blend of quality and informality, the fantastic location, family- and pet-friendliness, superb food and an innovative mindset - and it's in top form these days
Set in lovely gardens on the shores of Lough Swilly just outside the village of Rathmullan, this gracious nineteenth century house is quite grand, with public areas which include three elegant drawing rooms, but it’s not too formal - and offers three dining choices, including an atmospheric cellar bar which is very relaxing and has a separate entrance as well as being accessible through the house.
Donegal has an other-worldliness that is increasingly hard to capture in the traditional family holiday areas and, although it has changed through the years, Rathmullan House still retains a laid-back charm and that special sense of place - and it is greatly to their credit that the Wheeler family have developed their business (and extended the season) without compromising the essential character of this lovely place.
It was built as a summer house by the Batt banking family of Belfast in the 1800s and was opened as an hotel in 1962 by Bob and Robin Wheeler, whose son Mark and his wife Mary Wheeler currently run it.
An impressive extension was quite recently built to a sympathetic design, providing ten very desirable, individually decorated bedrooms, and The Gallery, a state of the art conference facility for up to 80 delegates. Bedrooms in the original house vary in size, decor, outlook and cost, but all are comfortably furnished in traditional country house style.
In celebration of '50 years of welcoming guests to our award winning house' (2012), the Wheeler family commissioned the Dublin-born illustrator Dermot Flynn to do an illustration representing the people and some events that have been important to Rathmullan in each decade from the 1960s; it's a delightful record of half a century of family and hotel life - make sure you have a good look at it when you're there.
Cultural activities are an important feature of Rathmullan House too - check their website for events, which include talks and readings by prominent authors, wine dinners, even an annual theatrical performance in the gardens, ranging from Shakespeare to (the 2014 event) The Jungle Book.
*Rathmullan House was our Country House of the Year in 2007, and was presented with the Natural Food Award in 2009.
Conference/banqueting (80/60); free broadband wi/fi; video conferencing. Swimming pool, steam room, tennis, walking. Children welcome (free in parents room under 12 months, cot €10, baby sitting arranged, play ground, playroom). Pets permitted in some bedrooms by arrangement (special pet-friendly room available). Gardens.
Rooms 34 (20 with separate bath & shower, 9 ground floor, 4 family, 1 for disabled, All no smoking). B&B about €80-110 pps, ss €45, SC 10%. See website for special offers. Closed 6 Jan - 12 Feb.
The Cook & Gardener:
The dining room was revamped and extended in the last round of major renovations and, as its evocative new name suggests, has recently undergone a metamorphosis in terms of style - but the famous tented ceiling (designed by the late Liam McCormick, well known for his striking Donegal churches) is always retained.
It is a pleasing space that makes the most of the garden outlook - including a soothing formal garden beside the extension - and makes a lovely setting for excellent modern Irish cooking by Head Chef Micháel Hanley and his team, as well as the tremendous breakfasts for which Rathmullan is justly famous.
Cooking here is upbeat traditional and meticulously-sourced menus are based on the very best of local and artisan foods – and, working closely with Bob Wheeler, who is a keen gardener, Micháel uses fresh produce from their own lovely restored walled garden (where a sunny corner has recently been requisitioned, to provide a nice little outdoor dining area).
While fine dining has not been abandoned in terms of the high standard of food and service in the main restaurant, the ambience is now more relaxed - and next door, in a very attractive adjoining room (also part of the Cook & Gardener concept, and with access to the garden), a secondary bistro-style restaurant offers the informality of bare topped tables and family-friendly placemat menus together with an earlier opening time that will appeal especially to families. Lunch and supper are served here (1-2.30 and 6.30-7) and there's a proper little kids menu, with dishes offered in two sizes (mini and maxi).
Seasonality and provenance are clearly paramount on daily menus that offer many unfussy yet gloriously celebratory dishes that make the most of whatever's at its best in the walled garden, the surrounding area and Ireland as a whole.
Like everything else here, the wine list is meticulously sourced and there's a decent choice available by the bottle, 500ml carafe or 175ml glass.
All this plus caring service and a beautiful location...
The Tap Room
Excellent informal meals are served in this atmospheric cellar bar, which has a separate entrance and an outside eating area where 'Ruby, the 'Slowfoodco' mobile wood-fired pizza trailer, is an unexpected but practical centrepiece. Not so mobile any more though, as she had to be craned into position, so the Wheelers promptly ordered a second, larger, one to take to events. Whatever about events, there's a brilliant pizza menu on offer (using the famed Kemal Scarpello bases, baked near Burt) in this casual and relaxing dining space now - and also the full range of five local craft beers by Kinnegar Brewing, available on draught.