GREAT ESCAPES FOR WINTER
Give yourself a break this winter and take off for a few days – there are cosy and relaxing places all over Ireland to tempt you, and some fantastic value to be enjoyed too. Browse through this gloriously diverse collection and take your pick…
Dunraven Arms Hotel
Adare Co Limerick
A former GC Guides "Hotel of the Year", Dunraven Arms is renowned for the amazing offers the Murphy family dream up to tempt visitors to cast off the gloom and doom that has been the story of the year so far, and to head for the pretty village of Adare for a cheering break. They’ve managed to maintain the comfortable feel of a small, family run, village hostelry, although it’s actually a large hotel - with all of the associated facilities such as a gym and leisure centre that you find time to enjoy if staying several nights. Bedrooms are spacious and luxuriously appointed and guests sitting rooms with open fires are dotted about the hotel, providing oases of calm; it’s easy to see how regular guests quickly begin to see it as a home from home - a remarkable achievement, especially as (unlike many ‘budget-beating offers’) the food and service are excellent. Lovely riverside walk nearby too.
Galgorm Manor Hotel
Ballymena Co Antrim BT42 1EA
Set amidst beautiful scenery, with the River Maine running through the grounds, this former ‘gentleman’s residence’ outside Ballymena is now one of Northern Ireland’s most impressive hotels. Well known as a wedding venue (separate facilities), it has improved dramatically of late with the addition of new deluxe bedrooms in the old walled garden area, many of them with river views - sad from a gardener’s perspective, but it works well for the hotel - although the older rooms and suites still await refurbishment. With an equestrian centre on site as well as a spa there’s no shortage of things to do - and a recent visit revealed some very good things going on in the kitchens: dinner in the new River Room fine dining restaurant was a series of pleasant surprises, and informal food (including breakfast) served in the atmospheric Gillies Bar & Grill is also consistently pleasing.
Straffan, Co Kildare
A hotel with a difference and very handy to Dublin, Barberstown Castle offers frazzled city folk an easy getaway with all the advantages of being in the country, minus the long drive. High on character, it has the distinction of having been occupied continuously for over 400 years, and now has sections from four different periods - the original castle keep, an Elizabethan house (16th century), a ‘new’ Victorian wing added in the 1830s by Hugh Barton (also associated with nearby Straffan House, now The K Club, with which it shares golf and leisure facilities) and a large sympathetically designed new wing. Some especially romantic rooms are in the Castle Keep, but most are more recent - stylish and spacious, some with four-posters. As well as a restaurant offering fine dining of character (choices include a Tasting Menu) there’s an elegant bar and two drawing rooms with big log fires - a cosy scenario for enjoying their delicious Afternoon Tea.
The Lodge at Castle Leslie
Glaslough Co Monaghan
It’s easy to be confused by recent developments at Castle Leslie - an extraordinary place that’s been in the Leslie family for three centuries and, until the last few years, had changed remarkably little. First the distinctly wacky castle was open to overnight guests, and also offered non-resident dining; then it closed (to be used only as a private club and venue), and guests were instead directed to The Lodge At Castle Leslie, a contemporary 4* hotel just inside the castle gates; now it’s all systems go again, with guests welcome at both the castle and the (atmospherically designed) hotel. This makes it a very appealing short break destination, especially as you can mix’n’match hotel facilities (equestrian; spa) and castle features (romantic rooms and dining; cookery school). Some guests opt to spend a few nights at the hotel with a ‘treat’ night at the castle to round it off – check out their online offers, notably the Country Weekend Getaway.
Red Bank House & Restaurant
Skerries Co Dublin
Terry McCoy is one of the great characters of Irish hospitality, and his renowned restaurant with accommodation is well placed in the fishing port of Skerries – a place with character to match his own, and a fiercely independent community who know what they want (and what they won’t have). A brilliant place for a break, in short – especially as, in addition to terrific food in the restaurant, guest rooms have the amenities you’d expect of an hotel. The restaurant is in a converted banking premises, which lends atmosphere (even the old vault has its uses - as a wine cellar) and Terry is an avid supporter of local produce, with fresh Skerries seafood providing the backbone of his menu. And there’s loads to do - Skerries Mills and nearby Ardgillan Castle (with tea rooms) to visit, and up to 40 golf courses within 20 minutes drive. Breaks begin with the Sunday lunch and overnight offer for as little as €140 for two.
Cong Co Mayo
Renowned for luxury, atmosphere and superb food and wine, Ashford Castle is also one of Ireland’s best-value destinations for off-season breaks. With big fires and twinkling lights creating a cosy ‘away-from-it-all’ atmosphere at night, and plenty of outdoor activities including golf, walking and falconry to sharpen the appetite for celebrated Executive Chef Stefan Matz’s culinary creations, the castle is perhaps supremely desirable in winter. And, with a great sales and marketing team that has always been up for a challenge, they’ve been riding the storm in this hoteliers’ annus horribilis by coming up with an apparently endless sequence of tempting offers to lure us to this beautiful place. And Galway city’s only down the road too.
Cashel House Hotel
Cashel Co Galway
If you’re one of the many who love Connemara out of season and hope for the thrill of stormy weather and a cosy home from home to retreat to as darkness falls, the McEvilly family’s gracious and beautifully located country house hotel on Cashel Bay could be just the spot for you. With a well-earned reputation as one of the country’s most relaxing retreats, it’s set in extensive gardens, and they’re known for quiet professionalism, comfortable accommodation, good food – notably delicious breakfasts offering a buffet display of home-made and local produce – and, as Kay McEvilly is a former Host of the Year, it should come as no surprise that warm hospitality is a key strength. With open fires at every turn, a proper bar and plenty of comfy places to retreat to with the papers or a good book, this is not a place to be rushed – at least 3 nights would be recommended, and their G Club offer could be just the ticket. Self-catering accommodation is also available nearby; details on application.
McGrory's of Culdaff
Inishowen Co Donegal
If getting out into the unspoilt winter countryside appeals to you, then Donegal is a great place to be – and, if you want somewhere not too fussy, with a real bar, good food and amazing music, then McGrory’s is the one. In business since 1924, what began as a general merchants’ store has evolved into a very particular kind of hotel, with good informal meals (especially seafood) and traditional music in the Front Bar (Tue & Fri), a relaxed evening restaurant, simple but very comfortable accommodation and Mac’s Backroom Bar (constructed on the site of the old outhouses of McGrory’s shop), which is a major venue for live shows featuring international names (Wed & Sat; events listings on website). Famous for its natural beauty and activities like golf, angling and walking, Inishowen is the perfect place to blow away those city cobwebs – and McGrory’s would make an ideal base. Midweek 2-night specials off-season too.
Carlingford Co Louth
Halfway between Dublin and Belfast, medieval Carlingford village is an ideal off-season break destination – while the narrow streets can quickly become overcrowded in summer, a winter visit here is much more relaxed. And, for many, the Carroll family’s 18th century house is the only place to head for - attractively situated in its own walled grounds, with views across the lough to the Mountains of Mourne, it has earned a reputation for warm hospitality, comfort and good food. With a welcoming drawing room fire, a proper little bar where guests can mingle, and a first floor dining room where non-residents are also welcome, it ticks a lot of boxes. Accommodation is comfortable - in a combination of rooms with character in the main house and newer bedrooms in a separate building, which have been finished to a fairly high standard – and the Carrolls also run their well known cookery school on the premises. Breaks (dinner B&B) from about €150pps midweek.
The Cliff House Hotel
Ardmore Co Waterford
There’s a haunting wistfulness about seaside holiday resorts in winter that can be very appealing. Ardmore is just a pretty little village, a traditional family holiday destination that fills up easily in summer with the bucket-and-spade brigade and their entourage, giving out all the happy vibes of people busy doing as little as possible. In winter you could be the only people walking on the beach, and there’s a gentle melancholy about it which is very relaxing – and a great contrast to the bright lights and buzz of this very special hotel, which is built into steep cliffs overlooking Ardmore Bay and the Irish Sea. Our Newcomer of the Year when it opened a couple of years ago, this once traditional seaside hotel entered a new era with éclat – and, now, its vibrant contemporary style, (seriously) ambitious cooking and emphasis on service is attracting appreciative guests from all over. There’s lots to do in the hotel (a stunningly positioned outdoor infinity pool - and a Jacuzzi, sauna, steam room and gym - all overlook the bay) but it’s also an area to explore, as West Waterford is beautiful and gloriously unspoilt: a visit to romantic Lismore (with lunch at Justin Green’s delightful O’Brien Chop House) is recommended. Gorgeous contemporary rooms all have sea views, and many have a private balcony for those warmer days – and plenty of special offers to tempt you to spend a couple of nights in this foodie paradise.
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