10 of the Best Romantic Destinations from Georgina Campbell's Ireland 'Best of the Best' guide

This month we suggest a few of Ireland’s most romantic destinations from Georgina Campbell’s Ireland, The Best of the Best - this highly selective edition of our famous ‘glovebox bible’ includes a uniquely diverse range of great places to eat drink and stay across all price ranges, from the frankly luxurious to the charmingly quirky. The perfect digital detox, its hand picked recommendations include plenty of perfect places for those special romantic occasions...

The Merrion Hotel
Dublin

The Merrion Hotel

Booking a stay or a meal at The Merrion is nothing less than a statement of standards. Comprising four meticulously renovated Georgian townhouses, Dublin’s leading hotel is a luxurious retreat in the heart of the city and a warm Irish welcome, historic décor, plush bedrooms and classy service make it five-star all the way. Luxurious public areas, perfect for enjoying the stunning ‘Art Tea’, are matched by beautifully furnished guest rooms and the sumptuous Tethra Spa. And, of course, equally appealing dining options including the magnificent Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud (adjacent), The Garden Room - a lovely all-day restaurant overlooking the hotel’s formal gardens - and the atmospheric vaulted Cellar Bar for informal meals. In a world of Identikit hotels with bland service, The Merrion feels incredibly special.

 

Wild Honey Inn
Lisdoonvarna Co Clare

Wild Honey Inn

Aidan and Kate McGrath’s Wild Honey is a true inn, offering rest, relaxation, refreshment and good company. Serving outstanding food in a warmly atmospheric pub setting (open fires, old woodwork, gleaming glasses…), Aidan, who was our Chef of the Year 2012, describes his cooking as bistro style, ‘informed by living on the rugged West coast of Ireland where there is an abundance of local produce from land and sea’ - but, with its unique combination of finesse and simplicity, this is no ordinary bistro cooking. Lovely comfortable rooms are offered too, reflecting the same understated philosophy - and, located in a town renowned for its music and on the edge of the Burren National Park, there is masses to do in the area. [Re-opens March.]

 

Ballyfin House
Ballyfin Co Laois

Ballyfin House

Chicago businessman Fred Krehbiel, his Irish wife Kay and managing director Jim Reynolds put in eight years of restoration before opening this Regency mansion in the foothills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, in 2011, as a luxurious - yet surprisingly homely - small hotel. While certainly impressive, hospitable General Manager Damien Bastiat keeps the tone relaxed and it is emphatically not stuffy. Although undeniably expensive, the nightly full board rates give good value at this treat destination, thanks to the exceptional range of extras included. Utterly unique - there is nowhere else in Ireland remotely like Ballyfin, and it is set in a very beautiful area that deserves to be better known as a short break destination.

 

Quinlan & Cooke Boutique Townhouse & Qcs Seafood Restaurant
Cahirciveen Co Kerry

Quinlan & Cooke Boutique Townhouse & Qcs Seafood Restaurant

With its welcoming fire, striking modern zinc-topped bar, and nautical antiques and pictures, Kate and Andrew Cooke’s atmospheric bar and restaurant with rooms abounds with character. Ultra fresh local fish and seafood supplied by the family company, Quinlan’s Kerry Fish at Renard’s Point, has made QC’s Seafood Restaurant a favourite Kerry destination for many years, and it is now equally sought out for the originality and confident style of its splendidly spacious townhouse accommodation. The comfort and enjoyment of guests come first here, making it a very special place. [Re-opens February]

 

Marlfield House & The Duck Café-Restaurant
Gorey Co Wexford

Marlfield House & The Duck Café-Restaurant

Often quoted as ‘the luxury country house hotel par excellence’, this impressive house was once the residence of the Earls of Courtown, and is now an elegant oasis of unashamed luxury offering outstanding hospitality and service, where guests are pampered in sumptuous surroundings. Opened as an hotel in 1978 by Mary and Ray Bowe, their daughters Margaret and Laura are now continuing - and developing - the family tradition of hospitality. As well as the main house, they now also operate a lovely informal café-restaurant, The Duck, alongside the kitchen garden - and also Duck Lodge, a cottage beautifully restored in contemporary style for self-catering, and with access to all of Marlfield’s amenities. All round a super destination for every occasion - and with romance by the bucket load when the occasion arises.

 

Perryville House
Kinsale Co Cork

Perryville House

More country house than townhouse, Andrew and Laura Corcoran’s harbour-front home is the prettiest in Kinsale and it has been renovated imaginatively and furnished with style. The whole building is immaculately maintained inside and out, and not only provides excellent, spacious accommodation in generous and extremely comfortable rooms (with luxurious bathrooms), but also plenty of relaxing space including a handsome bar and garden room. Light meals can be served here and it is a great additional amenity for residents. And, reflecting the Corcorans’ Slow Food philosophy, the good things offered at breakfast include Andrew’s own honey as well as home-baked breads, West Cork cheeses and yogurt and much else beside. Simply gorgeous.

 

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel
Recess Co Galway

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel

Renowned as a fishing hotel, this wonderful place is much loved for its beautiful setting, high standards and atmosphere. Despite the impressive scale, hands-on General Manager Patrick O’Flaherty and his outstanding staff make sure the atmosphere is relaxed - and the comfort and friendliness combined with huge open fires, excellent local food and a little quirkiness (plus an invigorating mixture of residents and locals in the bar at night), keeps bringing people back. Recent renovations include redesigning the Walled Garden - well worth a look - and installing a lift, while great breakfasts include their own rare breed pork products. A one-off in Irish hospitality - one stay here and you’ll be hooked.

 

Huntington Castle & Gardens
Clonegal Co Carlow

Huntington Castle

Ancient seat of the Esmonde family and now home to their descendants, Alex and Clare Durdin Robertson and their young family, the castle dates back to 1625 and is full of surprises - not least in the basement, where an exotic Temple to the Goddess Isis replaces the old dungeons - and, like all the very best castles, it even boasts a cast of resident ghosts. Add very special gardens, an adventure playground, gorgeous accommodation and a charming café (plus residents’ dinner available in the castle - and the wonderful Sha Roe Bistro at the end of the drive) and Huntington Castle adds up to a perfect and intriguing destination.

 

Ashford Castle
Cong Co Mayo

Ashford Castle

Beautifully situated overlooking Lough Corrib, Ireland’s grandest castle hotel dates back to the 13th century and - famously chosen by Rory McIlroy and his American bride Erica Stoll for their wedding in 2017 - it would be hard to imagine a more impressive setting for a romantic occasion. A byword for luxury, the Castle is owned by Beatrice and Stanley Tollman (of South Africa’s Red Carnation Hotels), who have invested generously to bring this beautiful property back to its glorious best. Extensive outdoor pursuits, a state-of-the-art spa, cinema, and impeccable service are among its many USPs - also fine food by Executive Head Chef, Philippe Farineau, whose strong support for artisan producers and suppliers is seen across a range of dining options.

 

Galgorm Resort & Spa
Ballymena, Co Antrim

Galgorm Resort & Spa

This former gentleman’s residence is now one of Northern Ireland’s most luxurious country house hotels, and the region’s premier wedding venue. Yet, while it is much larger and more contemporary following major redevelopment, it has retained its pleasant tranquil atmosphere. Spacious rooms and excellent facilities (including equestrian, and thermal spa) are matched by outstanding food, notably in the River Room restaurant, where Executive Head Chef Chris Rees’s cooking of seasonal food and local specialities is a memorable experience - as is the renowned ‘Galgorm breakfast’. And another special attraction is the Resort’s riverside Cocktail & Gin Bar, The Conservatory, where Afternoon Tea is also served.

 

Dromoland Castle Hotel
Newmarket-On-Fergus Co Clare

Dromoland Castle Hotel

The ancestral home of the O’Briens, barons of Inchiquin and direct descendants of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland, this is one of the few Irish estates tracing its history back to Gaelic royal families. It is now one of Ireland’s grandest hotels and, in the warm and watchful care of General Manager Mark Nolan and his team, one of the best-loved. Outstanding service - notably by Earl of Thomond Restaurant Manager Tony Frisby and staff - and Executive Head Chef David McCann’s outstanding food invariably match the surroundings. An ideal setting for that memorable evening.

 

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