LAID-BACK RELAXATION - TEN OF THE BEST
Great value, character, comfort and sheer relaxation - a visit to any of these short break destinations will remind you what a pleasure it is to chill out and enjoy the real Ireland.
Beach Road Clifden Co Galway
Right on the harbour - with pretty water views when the tide is in - the Quay House is Clifden’s oldest building, dating back to around 1820. Originally the harbourmaster’s house, it’s had all sorts of uses down through the years and, since 1993, long-time hoteliers, Paddy and Julia Foyle have made it into one of Ireland’s most desirable guesthouses, and a key destination in the area. It’s a fine house, with a stylishly homely drawing room with an open fire that encourages relaxation, and exceptionally comfortable, wittily decorated and sumptuously furnished rooms, it makes a real home from home. As well as having two wheelchair-friendly rooms, seven studio rooms have small fitted kitchens, balconies overlooking the harbour and, as in the original rooms, excellent bathrooms with full bath and shower. Superb breakfasts are served in a charming conservatory, decorated with a collection of silver domes and trailing Virginia creeper criss-crossing the room on strings. Quay House was a deserving of winner of our Guesthouse of the Year Award for 2006, and also the national winner of the Irish Breakfast Awards. Free broadband wi/fi too.
Ballymascanlon House Hotel
Carlingford Road Dundalk Co Louth
Very handily located halfway between Belfast and Dublin and set in 130 acres of parkland, this attractive hotel just north of Dundalk has been developed gradually around a large Victorian house and is popular for golf breaks. It’s been in the Quinn family ownership since 1948 and improvements have always been completed with panache, lifting the hotel into the ‘rather special’ class. The bright and stylish public areas are furnished and decorated in a warm, comfortably contemporary style, with a homely atmosphere, and the spacious and very attractive new bedrooms share the same qualities, with specially commissioned furniture - and, in many cases, lovely views. The hotel restaurant is comfortable and, although it lacks the style of other public areas, a good breakfast is served here. With impressive leisure facilities, including a 20-metre deck level pool and tennis courts – and easy access to Dundalk, medieval Carlingford, the Cooley Mountains and also Newry and the Mournes, just across the border - it’s a good choice for a relaxing break.
St Mullins Graiguenamanagh Co Carlow
Lovely, lush Carlow is an inexplicably under-visited county – which, of course, is part of its charm. So a stay at Noreen Ardill’s friendly B&B, stunningly located above the River Barrow and the ancient and picturesque little harbour of St Mullins, could easily make you a regular visitor. Her well-maintained modern house may seem unremarkable from the road but this relaxing place is full of surprises. Genuinely hospitable and reasonably priced, it’s a tranquil place where the host wants guests to relax and make the most of every moment: the comfortable bedrooms, for example, are uncluttered with phones or hospitality trays but have balconies overlooking the romantic Barrow Valley - and there’s even a range of treatments (massage, mud wraps, refresher facials) to help guests unwind from the stresses of everyday life and make the most of this magical place. The dining room also overlooks the river- a fine spot to enjoy Noreen’s home cooked dinners: anyone for fresh Barrow salmon?
Sheedys Country House Hotel
Lisdoonvarna Co Clare
Forget about the clichéd image of this spa town and its (in)famous matchmaking festival – even if, according to some who have actually been, it can be great fun. Instead, when planning a trip to the west of Ireland, savour the promise of one of its best-loved small hotels. John and Martina Sheedy put heart and soul into their business, offering the warm ambience and friendly hands-on management that make a hotel special. The front gardens set the tone, with a rose garden, fruit trees, and a potager, to supply the kitchen. John Sheedy’s cooking is perhaps the biggest draw, reflecting pride in local foods (many are named on the menu) and pleasing combinations of classic and modern Irish styles – with an emphasis on simplicity and flavour that keeps ‘em coming back for more. And the cosy bar is just the place to snuggle down with an after dinner drink and explore the rather fine range of interesting Irish whiskeys. Magic.
The Square Baltimore Co Cork
For anyone who loves west Cork – and who doesn’t – this place is a wow. Currently a guesthouse with restaurants and bar, it’s made up of the Jacob family’s original guesthouse overlooking the square, the former Waterfront pub, two restaurants - the informal and kindly-priced Look Out, on the first floor and La Jolie Brise Pizza & Grill, on the square - and Youen Jacob senior’s long-established Breton seafood restaurant, which is slightly separate and still run as an independent entity. It’s well on the way to becoming an hotel but the current status suits it well, underlining its individuality. The stylish new rooms are extremely generous, with lovely bathrooms and a real home from home feeling; most will covet the harbour view – but the (quieter) rooms at the back have some very special features too. And most days find Youen senior seated outside The Waterfront on the square, with his dogs: a friendly presence, still keeping an eye on everything.
Maddoxtown Co Kilkenny
Easy to spot, thanks to the folly in the grounds, Tim and Monica Phelan’s elegant Georgian house near Kilkenny is a particularly friendly, welcoming place – and, whether you stay in the main house or the Coach Yard (where there’s a small spa and holistic centre as well as self-catering units), it has an unspoilt, truly rural quality that is becoming increasingly rare. The main house is furnished with family antiques, but there’s nothing showy about it – there’s no sign of having been ‘decorated’ and it’s all the better for that (although I know an interior designer who loves staying there). Guests who grew up in the country in simpler times will enjoy the authenticity, and this is carried through to the Coach Yard units which, while comfortable and well-equipped, have been done up quite simply in true country style. Dinner is available to residents, by reservation, babysitting can be arranged and pets are permitted by arrangement – how homely is that.
Castlebaldwin via Boyle Co Sligo
Stunningly located overlooking beautiful Lough Arrow, Christy and Moira Tighe’s hotel enjoys one of the finest views in Ireland – and, at quiet times, it makes a special retreat for the most discerning of guests, including lone travellers. The hotel has grown dramatically recently, to provide for weddings - bedrooms vary more than formerly, with the choice in position, size and price aiming to suit more guests - but the hospitable philosophy is unchanged, and this remains a wonderful place to stay. For private visits, ensure the best views and avoid unnecessarily lengthy corridors by choosing one of the original rooms (‘Classsic’; traditional décor and nearest reception); or the more contemporary Lakeview rooms (Superior and Deluxe), all with private balcony. There’s plenty of comfortable seating, both in the very thoughtfully equipped rooms and in the bar/lounge, and food in the revamped Moira’s restaurant is excellent. Dogs welcome (professional dog groomer by appointment), and people grooming available too, at the Ciunas Spa.
Ardfinnan Newcastle Clonmel Co Tipperary
Kevin & Ber O’Donnell are genuinely hospitable, offering guests a peaceful setting and homely comforts - including (if you opt to eat in) a log fire to relax beside after a real-home-cooking dinner based on home-produced and local ingredients. Choose between B&B at the farmhouse, which is as neat as a new pin, or self-catering in the cottage alongside (where dogs are allowed by arrangement); either way, it all adds up to a real country break. The delightfully-situated house is in an unspoilt area, and is surrounded by three mountain ranges - the Comeraghs, the Knockmealdowns and the Galtees - and close to the Rivers Suir and Tar, making it an ideal base for walking and fishing holidays. There’s a great welcome and guests feel at home immediately - especially if they opt for Ber’s deliciously simple dinners, as well as the lovely breakfast of stewed garden fruits, home-made breads and preserves along with steaming porridge or the ‘full Irish’…)
Gorman's Clifftop House & Restaurant
Glaise Bheag Ballydavid Dingle Peninsula Co Kerry
If you feel the call of the wild, but like your creature comforts too, you’ll love Sile and Vincent Gorman’s beautifully situated guesthouse on the Slea Head scenic drive, eight miles west of Dingle - as they say themselves, it’s “just a great place to relax and unwind”. Open fires and comfy seating crerat a laid-back welcoming atmosphere and the comfortable bedrooms all have sea or mountain views and good bathrooms. A great breakfast will set you up for the day, and all guests get the loan of a guide book and ordnance survey map during their stay, so you’ll be sure to make the best of your time in the area. Then there’s Vincent Gorman’s good cooking to look forward to in the evening – he showcases local specialities like Dingle prawns and Annascaul black pudding, along with their home grown organic produce - and, with big windows commanding superb sea views, there’s no better place to enjoy good food.
The very best spa breaks in Ireland