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Ireland’s Leading Independent Food & Hospitality Guide
Rathkenny Slane Co Meath
Trish and Brian Conroy’s stunning period property near Slane has been restored and renovated with consideration and taste – and huge amounts of TLC. The main house (formerly available as a venue for groups taking the whole house only, but now also open for individual bookings) offers six splendid double bedrooms, several elegant reception rooms, an exceptional dining room, huge kitchen, games room and more. There’s also a 19th century stable yard, converted to make seven lovely cottages which are available for self catering or B&B; complete with living room and fully fitted kitchen, they have elegantly decorated double or twin rooms (all ensuite with bath and shower) and lead out to a Garden Party Room, fitness studio and two treatment rooms. And you don’t even need to go out to eat as two stylish new restaurants, The Bistro and Brabazon, have recently been opened on site - along with a smart gift shop in the gardens, which is open at the same times (Wed-Fri 5-10pm, Sat/Sun from 12 noon to 10/9pm); a lovely spot for Afternoon Tea or a drink and a nibble as well as full meals. For a short break near Dublin, what could be better than this wonderfully luxurious place, set in lovely countryside and with loads to explore nearby?
Parknasilla Sneem Co Kerry
Beautifully located in 300 acres of sub-tropical parkland, overlooking Kenmare Bay, this classic Victorian hotel is an ideal destination for a relaxed grown-up break. Following major renovations, the former Parknasilla Great Southern Hotel re-opened somewhat shakily in 2008 but now, with the return of former General Manager Jim Feeney, is back on form with a new team of (mainly Irish) staff bringing the discreet efficiency and courtesy that was a hallmark of the Great Southern. Old fans may frown at the holiday villas tucked into woodland near the hotel, but they are not too obtrusive and extend the choice of rooms ranging from luxurious period style, through contemporary junior suites to older rooms which make up in comfort anything they may lack in style. Although the wonderful Great Southern art collection is missed, there are consolations - notably in the beautifully classic Pygmalion Restaurant, which is shining once again with new chef Peter Brennan at the helm.
Hayfield Manor Hotel
Perrott Avenue College Road Cork Co Cork
A city break may be just the ticket to mark the new academic year and September is a lovely time to stay at Cork’s premier hotel, which is set in gardens near University College Cork and within pleasant walking distance of the city centre in fine weather. Although relatively new, it has the feel of a large period house and is managed with warmth and discreet efficiency, offering a remarkable level of privacy and seclusion for a city hotel. Spacious accommodation is beautifully furnished, and on-site amenities include an unusual Beautique spa, with indoor pool, and treatment rooms furnished with antiques; overall the interior skilfully blends contrasting traditional and contemporary styles, making for an atmosphere which is noticeably ‘alive’. The two restaurants – Perrotts (informal) and Orchids (fine dining) are favoured destinations for discerning Corkonians, who especially enjoy the smart conservatory ambience and stylish bistro cooking of Perrotts at lunchtime and the chic formality of Orchids in the evening.
Ballinacarrow Ballymote Co Sligo
They definitely don’t make them like this any more - Sandy and Deb Perceval first opened the doors of their vast mansion to guests in 1981, and their son Roderick and his wife Helena are now in the hot seat, bringing their own brand of energy and enthusiasm to running this amazing house and its 1,000 acres of farm and woodland. The original lakeside castle was built by the Knights Templar in 1200 A.D., but the present mansion is Georgian and some of the furnishings are quite recent, dating from a major revamp in 1864… If you’re fed up with cramped city quarters, this is the perfect destination - the whole of the house has retained its old atmosphere and huge bedrooms are furnished with old family furniture (bathrooms are gradually being upgraded). Log fires cheer the enormous rooms, including an elegant sitting room with open fires and a very beautiful dining room featuring seasonal produce from the estate.
Lough Inagh Lodge
Recess Connemara Co Galway
Connemara calls many of us when a break is needed and there’s no shortage of great places to stay, including Maire O’Connor’s former sporting lodge on the shores of Lough Inagh, which makes a delightful small hotel. Small and characterful enough to have a country house atmosphere, yet with the service and facilities of an hotel it has all the advantages and none of the disadvantages of both country houses and hotels. Twin drawing rooms flank the entrance hall, each with an open fire, and there’s a very appealing bar with a big turf fire and its own back door and tiled floor for wet fishing gear. Unusually spacious and comfortable bedrooms with lake and countryside views include several with four-posters, and both the bar and the handsome Finisglen Room restaurant welcome non-residents. While it has special appeal to sportsmen and outdoor types, Lough Inagh makes a good base for exploring Connemara and is only 42 miles from Galway.
Newport Co Mayo
Former home of the O’Donnells, Earls of Tir Connell, this fine creeper-clad house embodies all that is best about the Irish country house and looks wonderful in September. It’s been close to the hearts of fisherfolk for many years – owner Kieran Thompson is himself a former fishing guest - but you don’t have to be skilled with rod and line to appreciate the warmth of this luxurious and immaculately maintained place. Everyone enjoys the gracious drawing rooms and the club-fender cosiness of the little back bar – and dining in the lovely high-ceilinged dining room is a real treat, as John Galvin (chef since 1983) displays no interest in fashion, instead producing meals of magnificent relevance. “Cooking which reflects the hospitable nature of the house” showcases home-produced and local foods, notably superb home-smoked salmon (only wild salmon is used) and ultra-fresh produce from a walled kitchen garden that has been worked since 1720, established before the house was completed. Magic.
The Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast
1-3 Great Victoria Street, Belfast BT2 7HR
Whether you hop onto the Enterprise or take a quick spin up the M1, where better to stay in Belfast than right in the city centre beside Great Victoria Street Station - and with valet parking if you arrive by car. Expect the same design-led modern classic style seen at the St Stephen’s Green hotel, with great attention to detail throughout - and none of the garish fashion excesses which have spoilt so many interiors recently. Accommodation is extremely comfortable (Egyptian cotton sheets, duck down duvets) with extras like fresh flowers, Voss mineral water, umbrella, complimentary newspaper; luxurious bathrooms have separate bath and shower and a high pamper factor. And then there’s the restaurant, Menu by Kevin Thornton, where all meals are served; very different from Thornton’s in Dublin, it’s the essence of casual chic - communal lightwood tables have runners and striking pink high-back chairs – with an emphasis on simple quality food, beginning with fresh local produce. Dead on.
Dublin Road Longford Co Longford
Longford may not be the first place to come to mind when pondering possible destinations for a weekend’s escape – but, with a house as lovely as Viewmount just outside the town, maybe it should be. Once owned by Lord Longford, James and Beryl Kearney’s 1750s house is set in beautiful wooded gardens, which are a passion for the couple, and designed as a series of rooms. It is a delightful house with a great sense of hospitality and has been sensitively restored with style, combining elements of grandeur with a human scale that makes guests feel very comfortable. And it has grown a lot of late, as the Kearneys have joined the house to restored outbuildings alongside, providing some fine new bedrooms looking onto the garden (in addition to six period rooms in the main house), and a very successful restaurant in one of the classic stone outbuildings. Longford could surprise you.
The Old Convent Gourmet Hideaway
Mount Anglesby Clogheen Co Tipperary
Just the place for couples ‘seeking a short getaway from it all experience’ at the end of the long summer holidays, Dermot and Christine Gannon’s restaurant with accommodation is in one of the most beautiful and unspoilt - yet relatively little known - parts of the country. Tellingly styled a ‘gourmet hideaway’, this unusual, very comfortable, and beautifully designed and decorated country house has mountain views across the famously scenic ‘Vee’- and is emphatically not for ‘family weekends’ (bookings are not accepted for children under 12). The lovely gardens now include a field purchased last year and are being developed to provide as much home produce as possible for the kitchen, and as an interesting amenity for guests. Dermot is one of Ireland’s finest younger chefs, Christine is a charming and a solicitous host, and the surroundings are wonderful – a heady combination that has those in the know beating a path to the door at weekends; go Wednesday-Thursday if you can (specially if you’re a G Club member).