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Ireland’s Leading Independent Food & Hospitality Guide
The good value which has been a feature of Irish hotels and restaurants continues for Christmas and the New Year. Even (or, perhaps, especially) at this late stage, it could be tempting to abandon everything and head off for a festive break – and there is plenty of quality to choose from throughout the country.
Suggestions given here focus on Christmas but ‘between breaks’ (27th-30th) can be especially good value and really refreshing – and a New Year outing might be just what’s needed to start 2014 off on a bright note.
Cong Co Mayo
Castles are at their best in winter, and this one must be a fairytale place when dressed up for Christmas. There’s no denying it’s expensive but they offer fantastic programmes and, knowing how well they do things, it’s sure to be value for money. You can check in from noon on Christmas Eve (in most hotels it’s late afternoon), with mulled wine and mince pies to get you into the festive mood, and the 3-day programme includes three of celebrated chef Stefan Matz’s stunning dinners (with a Gala Dinner on Christmas night), a jazz brunch on 26th, and a terrific choice of activities including golf, a cruise on Lough Corrib (with traditional music and hot whiskeys), a cookery demonstration in the castle kitchen and a guided historical walking tour of the grounds and gardens. And, from GM Niall Rochford to housekeepers who greet you in the corridors, the staff are just great. Price: 2/3 nights from €1150/1600 pps.
The BrookLodge & Wells Spa
Macreddin Village Co Wicklow
Our former Hotel of the Year has a lot going for it at Christmas - only an hour from south Dublin yet deep in the beautiful Wicklow countryside, it’s the perfect place for the fresh air and exercise that makes all the difference to Christmas – horse riding or mapped trail walks, on-site golf and, except for Christmas Day, treatments in The Wells Spa. With its own mini ‘village’, including a proper country pub with real atmosphere and micro brewery, gift shops, and a choice of eating in the casual Orchard Café or the authentic Italian restaurant, La Taverna Armento in addition to the famous Strawberry Tree Restaurant in the hotel, this really is a one-stop destination with plenty of places to escape to over a two or three night stay. Christmas Eve kicks off with carol singers, mulled wine & mince pies on arrival, then dinner (choice of Strawberry Tree Restaurant or La Taverna Armento). And it’s great value too: 3 night package from €625pps.
The Westbury Hotel
Grafton Street Dublin 2
While many city people dream of an idyllic country Christmas, there’s another batch of folk – including suburbanites and apartment dwellers – who love the buzz of the city. If that’s your thing, go for broke and get right to the heart of it; you won’t get more central than the Westbury Hotel, just off Grafton Street. Given the expected clientèle, the Westbury offering is different - no packages here, the deal is à la carte. From 28th November you can shop until you drop then fetch up here for Afternoon Tea on The Gallery, a festive lunch or dinner (from €39.50) in the smartly refurbished restaurant, Wilde - The Restaurant (kids menu available), or a more informal meal in Café Novo. But the big thing is lunch on Christmas Eve, with Santa dropping in from North Pole. Options on Christmas Day include formal lunch, with champagne reception. B&B from €249 per room.
Park Hotel Kenmare
Kenmare Co Kerry
This was one of the first hotels to offer a really attractive Christmas programme - and, for their happy band of regular guests, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas unless they were looking out over the Kerry mountains while enjoying a seriously delicious Christmas dinner in the Park’s dining room. After a candlelit dinner and carols on Christmas Eve, guests can head off to the church of choice, returning to mince pies before bed. Christmas Day brings the opening rounds of in-house competitions (you’ll find out all about those…); you can while your way through the day (lunch, afternoon tea, arrival of Santa Claus…) or head out for some fresh air and exercise in anticipation of the evening’s champagne reception and formal Gala Dinner. Revive on St Stephen’s Day with a treasure hunt, a good walk (Old Kenmare Road - with the Kenmare Walking Club) or the finals of those competitions. Then another lovely candlelit dinner, dancing... 3-day programme from €1,360.00 pps.
Hayfield Manor Hotel
Perrott Avenue College Road Cork
Cork is special when it comes to good food and celebrations, and Christmas at the very civilised Hayfield Manor Hotel is bound to be an atmospheric affair. Secluded in gardens near University College Cork it has a country house feel, yet it’s just a mile from the city centre. After shopping for those last minute prezzies, guests begin with a recuperative afternoon tea on Christmas Eve, before getting into the spirit of Christmas with carol singers, and a candlelit dinner - then, after evening services, return for mulled wine and warm mince pies. Children are especially welcome, and the family focus means a traditional Christmas lunch (with pianist playing old favourites) and the day progresses gently, with a stroll or traditional board games. Things liven up in the morning, with a late Jazz Brunch – then it’s time to get out and about, or use the residents-only spa. 3 nights from €945 pps (further details on inquiry).
Solis Lough Eske Castle Hotel
Lough Eske Co Donegal
Donegal is a great winter destination and, although it does not have views of Lough Eske, there is indeed a castle at the heart of this impressive hotel. The scale is pretty grand, which is perfect for Christmas – and, with crackling log fires, mulled wine and warm mince pies, the festive mood comes easily on Christmas Eve. There’s a particular emphasis on special food, with a candlelit dinner on Christmas Eve, both a traditional Christmas Lunch and an evening buffet on Christmas Day, and another dinner on St Stephen’s Day. The hotel’s attractive leisure facilities (Spa Solis, indoor swimming pool with beautiful glass atrium) could offer the perfect antidote to all that fine food however. The scenery is king here, though - and bracing walks are an option at any time. And the 3-day package is surprisingly reasonable - from €595 per person sharing; child discounts available.
Ritz Carlton Hotel Powerscourt
Powercourt Estate Enniskerry Co Wicklow
Scenically located just a short drive south of Dublin city, the Ritz-Carlton Christmas Celebration package offers something different, and is aimed at couples who just want a couple of nights away in a glamorous location without having too far to travel – or spending too much money. The offer is specifically for a two night stay on 24th and 25th December, with dinner in Gordon Ramsay at Powerscourt (where Jonathan McIver is Chef de Cuisine), on the first night; the main meal on Christmas Day itself is a festive buffet lunch so dinner on the 24th will be the culinary highlight of the stay (the reverse is also available at a slightly higher price, see ‘Gourmet Christmas Celebration’ on www.ritzcarlton.com). Amenities include a leisure centre with swimming pool and Jacuzzi, and destination spa – which, as well as golf and walking in the hills, could be something to look forward to later in your break. From only €780 per couple sharing a two-night stay, this is a very attractive offer.
Rathsallagh House, Golf & Country Club
Dunlavin Co Wicklow
Is it in Wicklow or is it Kildare? Rathsallagh may have a teensy weensy bit of an identity crisis due to its location on the borders of the two counties – but, that aside, it’s pretty darn perfect as far as its many regular guests are concerned. And how right they are. The huge popularity of this gorgeous place, with its genuine country house atmosphere and terrific food, explains the fact that its Christmas package is invariably fully booked well ahead in the year. However, they do operate a waiting list, and that is currently open - and they are offering an After Christmas Two Night Break which, from €114.50 pps per night (min 2 night stay) is great value and maybe it’s better to have Christmas at home and a recovery break to look forward to afterwards. [Christmas (waiting list): 3 night package from €885 + free night before or after – or €665pps for a 2-night package.]
Cashel House Hotel
Cashel Connemara Co Galway
In winter Cashel House is a cosy place of old-fashioned comfort with big turf fires, good food and service. People travel from all over the world to be here for Christmas – what the McEvilly family offer is very special and it appeals to guests who want to spend a quiet, traditional Christmas in Connemara, and who appreciate the genuine hospitality and discreet service. It’s one of the few places where you would feel comfortable on your own – famously, you can even have Christmas Dinner served in your room if you wish. Guests get to know each other at a welcoming cocktail reception on Christmas Eve, and next day’s Christmas feast is in the evening, allowing a gentle day of moseying around and a buffet lunch – or, if the weather is kind, a day out in the fresh air, enjoying Connemara. The 3 night package offers very good value, from €695pps + service.
Nuremore Hotel & Country Club
Carrickmacross Co Monaghan
The Gilhooley family’s fine country hotel near Carrickmacross is a popular destination for Christmas, and for very good reasons – it’s only about an hour from Dublin (handy for northsiders), it’s set in a parkland estate with its own 18-hole golf course - and, with talented and dedicated head chef, Raymond McArdle, in the kitchen, you’re sure to have some very special food in store. The generous bedrooms have views over the gardens and lakes and it’s a comfortable place to stay, with a very traditional atmosphere. The dining room is a comfortably furnished room on two levels, overlooking the gardens and golf course - but once Raymond’s stunning food is on the table you’ll notice little else, especially as the wine list and service match the cooking. For non-golfers, there’s a good leisure centre (with swimming pool, gym and spa), or you might find it interesting to explore this little known area - the lovely Slieve Gullion Forest Park is a pleasant drive away. A 3-night Christmas package is well-priced at €550pps (one and two-night packages also available on request).