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…

Ashford Castle
Cong, County Mayo

Ashford Castle, Cong, County MayoSet in 350 acres of parkland, with magnificent views of Lough Corrib and the River Cong, Ireland’s grandest hotel dates back to the early 13th century, and it has recently been completely overhauled by new owners who have not only refurbished all the rooms and public areas but added a number of outstanding new amenities including a two-storey lakeview spa and - most recently - an ultra-luxurious ‘hideaway cottage’ in a beautifully located boathouse. Anyone who loves beautiful surroundings will be thrilled to stay at Ashford Castle - or simply to visit the gardens and grounds (entrance fee applies; ask for a map). The autumn colouring in the parkland and forests surrounding the castle can be stunning, and there’s something for everyone, from the seriously keen walker to the weekend visitor in search of a gentle stroll. Guided walks and a cycling tour are offered around the estate but, as clear information is given on each (including the amount of time to allow, from about half an hour to two hours), you can just as easily take any of the suggested walks at your leisure. And a good long walk will be rewarded by food by executive head chef, Philippe ‘French heart Irish produce’ Farineau, and his team, either in the Castle or at Cullen’s Cottage restaurant in the grounds, which is one of several accessible alternatives to the famed fine dining – and off-season breaks at Ashford Castle can offer good value too.


Cashel House Hotel
Cashel, Connemara, Co Galway

Cashel House HotelKay and the late Dermot McEvilly opened Cashel House as an hotel in 1968 and it gained a national (and international) profile almost right away as General and Madame de Gaulle chose to stay here for two weeks the following year. The French presidential visit meant immediate recognition for this very comfortable and cosy hotel, but it did even more for Ireland by putting the Gallic seal of approval on Irish hospitality and food. Today’s guests are fascinated by the photographs and other memorabilia in the hall, and you can even sit in de Gaulle’s favourite spot in the garden, with views out over the bay. Cashel House is located in a wonderful area for walking (and you may bring your four-legged companion too) but, as Kay McEvilly is a keen gardener, the beautiful gardens and woodland surrounding the house are another special point of interest and the perfect place for a gentle stroll. She also offers short residential Cashel House Garden Courses - yet another reason to visit this homely retreat.

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 available 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 Lady Helen Dining Room, or contemporary style in The Hound restaurant at Hunters Yard.

Roundwood House
Mountrath, Co Laois

Roundwood House, Mountrath, County LaoisIt is hard to see how anyone could fail to love the Kennans’ unspoilt early Georgian house, which 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 – forget about co-ordinated decor and immaculate maintenance, just relax and enjoy walking in the grounds, 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. Magic.

Temple House
Ballymote, Co Sligo

Temple House, Ballymote, County SligoSandy and Deb Perceval first opened the doors of their home to guests in1981 and it is now owned by their son Roderick and his wife Helena, who have brought their own brand of energy and enthusiasm to running this amazing house. Roderick and Helena are the latest in a very long line (Percevals have lived here since 1665), and their home overlooks the original lakeside castle which was built by the Knights Templar in 1200 A.D… The present Georgian mansion was redesigned and refurbished in 1864 and some of the furnishings date back to that major revamp. Today, guests return from bracing woodland walks on the 1,000 acre estate to enormous rooms cheered by big log fires – and after dinner, perhaps, an outing to the renowned traditional Irish music and dancing sessions nearby in Ballintubber.

Richmond House
Cappoquin, Co Waterford

Richmond House, Cappoquin, County WaterfordFor returning guests - knowing the genuine hospitality, comfort, caring service and excellent food awaiting in the Deevy family’s fine 18th century country house and restaurant just outside Cappoquin - there’s always a sense of pleasurable anticipation as you approach Richmond House through well-maintained parkland. And, with lovely woodland walks alongside a nearby river (and garden visits too in summer), it makes an excellent base for exploring this wonderfully beautiful and unspoilt area.


Gougane Barra Hotel
Macroom, Co Cork

Gougane Barra Hotel, Macroom, Co CorkIn 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 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.

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