AUTUMN BREAKS - 10 OF THE BEST

Autumn is perhaps the loveliest time of the year to enjoy gentle outdoor pursuits like woodland walks and foraging, and there are plenty of tempting places to stay that are surrounded by wonderful forested grounds or with parkland or gardens to visit nearby - and, perhaps, more challenging routes for dedicated walkers. Here are just ten of our favourites to think about…

Marlfield House & The Duck Café-Restaurant
Courtown Road Gorey Co Wexford

Often quoted as ‘the luxury country house hotel par excellence’, this impressive house was once the residence of the Earls of Courtown and, since Mary and Ray Bowe opened it as an hotel in 1978, it has been a benchmark for luxury with outstanding hospitality and service. Now celebrating 40 years in business, guests continue to be pampered in sumptuous surroundings by their daughters Margaret and Laura who run the business with verve and vision. As well as the traditionally elegant main house, they now also operate a lovely informal café-restaurant, The Duck, with a terrace alongside the kitchen garden - and also Duck Lodge, a contemporary self-catering cottage.

 

Renvyle House Hotel
Renvyle Co Galway

In one of the country’s most appealingly remote and beautiful areas, the Coyle family’s house has a romantic and fascinating history, having been home to people as diverse as a Gaelic chieftain and Oliver St John Gogarty. Its setting and quirky charm is unrivalled in Ireland and, with outstanding hospitality and great local food from legendary General Manager Ronnie Counihan and head chef Tim O’Sullivan respectively, this unique hotel is a good example of the reasons that Galway achieved the 2018 European Region of Gastronomy designation - and it’s no wonder that it has developed a cult following. A wonderfully away-from-it-all and pet-friendly place to stay, with all the outdoor activities of Connemara on the doorstep - and cosy indoor treats too, beside the fire or in the sunny conservatory. Just a great place to stay, or to call into when touring Connemara.
 


The Old Inn
Crawfordsburn Co Down BT19 1JH

The Old Inn, Crawfordsburn, County DownOak beams, antiques and gas lighting emphasise the natural character of this famous and hospitable 16th century inn – the oldest in continuous use in all Ireland, there’s always a welcoming fire, polished brasswork and fresh flowers in the old world foyer. Although very handy to Belfast it’s in a pretty village setting, just a mile from the sea – and you’ll find miles and miles of scenic walking nearby at Crawfordsburn Country Park and the North Down Coastal Path. The Old Inn is known for its good food too, whether in their fine dining Lewis Restaurant, named after the author C.S. Lewis, or the characterful bar, which is a popular casual dining place with locals. One of Northern Ireland’s most charming destinations.
 


Sheen Falls Lodge
Kenmare Co Kerry

Sheen Falls Lodge, Kenmare, County KerryThe waterside location of this famously stylish yet relaxed hotel just across the river from Kenmare town is beautiful, and it is set in a 300-acre estate of woodland, riverside walks and gardens. Paths take you through lush woodland which, although renowned for exotic tree ferns and spring-flowering cultivars (rhododendron, azalea, camellia), is lovely in autumn too, and you can meander quietly along the riverbank and enjoy the wildlife. There are plenty of more challenging walks to enjoy in the area too, of course (with guides available), but there are times when it’s hard to beat a woodland stroll. Accommodation is contemporary classic, offering traditional luxury with a modern lightness of touch – and dinner in The Falls restaurant, overlooking the tumbling water, is always a treat.



Mount Juliet
Thomastown, Co Kilkenny

Mount Juliet Hotel, Thomastown, County KilkennyThe distinctively lush beauty of County Kilkenny lies in its rivers and woodlands - and there’s no better time than autumn to visit Mount Juliet House, set on 1500 acres of unspoilt woodland, pasture and formal gardens beside the River Nore. Although now perhaps best known for golf, this is one of Europe's greatest country estates and offers many activities, including beautiful walks, fishing, horse riding, and a Spa & Health Club for pampering. Excellent food too: choose between some of the best fine dining in the country at the classical Lady Helen Dining Room, or contemporary style in The Hound restaurant at the new Hunters Yard Hotel.

 
Roundwood House
Mountrath, Co Laois

Roundwood House, Mountrath, County LaoisA classic Hidden Ireland property, the Kennan family’s unspoilt early Georgian house lies secluded in mature woods of lime, beech and chestnut, at the foot of the Slieve Bloom mountains. A sense of history and an appreciation of genuine hospitality are all that is needed to make the most of a stay here – it is a much-loved, living family home, so just relax and enjoy walking in the grounds (and the nearby hills), good home cooking and the company of other likeminded guests. Frank and Rosemarie Kennan put over a quarter of a century of renovation work into this wonderful property, and it is now run by their daughter Hannah and her husband Paddy Flynn - who “retain the philosophy of the old, with no introduction of wide screen televisions or trouser presses”, much to Frank and Rosemarie's relief. It’s a magic place - and don’t leave without visiting Frank’s Library: “A History of the Evolution of Civilisation”, it is simply wonderful.


Castle Leslie Estate
Glaslough, Co Monaghan

Choose between rooms in the extraordinary Castle or in The Lodge, a sensitively designed and atmospheric modern hotel built around a stable courtyard, complete with an equestrian centre and Victorian Treatment Rooms. Except for Afternoon Tea at The Castle and group bookings (and breakfast for Castle guests), dining options for both residents and non-residents are the hotel’s informal Conor’s Bar or Snaffles Restaurant, where old recipes from the Castle Leslie Estate Cookbook may serve to inspire the good cooking that has always been a feature here - and a very good breakfast is served. A lovely destination in itself - and a great base for exploring an area that deserves to be better known.



Glasha

Glasha Ballymacarbry Via Clonmel Co Waterford

Olive and the late Paddy O’Gorman made their hospitable farmhouse beside the river Nire into the kind of relaxed country retreat that visitors to Ireland dream of finding, with rooms that are distinctly luxurious for a farm stay, and plenty of comfy lounging room too. Ideal for lovers of outdoor pursuits, it’s a walkers’ paradise - Glasha links the Comeragh and Knockmealdown sections of the Munster Way - and the nearest pub is just 3 minutes’ away on foot. Olive makes a delicious home-cooked dinner for guests, by arrangement, and it’s just a lovely place to stay.

 

Gougane Barra Hotel
Macroom, Co Cork

In one of the most peaceful and beautiful locations in Ireland, this delightfully old-fashioned family-run hotel is set in a Forest Park overlooking Gougane Barra Lake, famous for its monastic settlements. The Lucey family has run the hotel since 1937, offering simple, comfortable accommodation as a restful base for walking holidays - rooms are comfortable and have been given a gentle upgrade but not over-modernised. But, since Neil Lucey and his wife Katy (who is a chef) took over management of the hotel in 2005, their energy has brought a fresh approach. Walking holidays remain an important part of the business, but there’s now a cultural edge too (Neil opened a little theatre where they host their now-famous summer productions) and there’s a stronger emphasis on food. Visitors are encouraged to drop in for informal meals - Katy’s delicious bar meals are just the ticket after a long walk in the Forest Park.



Ballyknocken House
Ashford, Co Wicklow

Ballyknocken House, Ashford, County WicklowPerfectly placed for enjoying the autumn splendour of Mount Usher gardens and the Wicklow Hills – including tranquil lakeside forest walks at Glendalough, only a short drive away - well known chef and author Catherine Fulvio's charming Victorian farmhouse has been in the Byrne family for three generations and they have welcomed guests for over thirty years. Since 1999 it has been run by Catherine, who refurbished the house delightfully in old country style; it is now renowned for comfort, cosiness and warm hospitality - and, of course, her wonderful home-cooked food and the cookery school.

 

Huntington Castle & Gardens
Clonegal Co Carlow

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 and Huntington Castle adds up to a perfect destination. It even has Henry and Stephanie Stone’s wonderful Sha Roe Bistro in the village, just at the end of the driveway…

 

 

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