MORE OF THE BEST ROMANTIC DESTINATIONS - TEN OF THE BEST
Spring has nearly sprung and romance is in the air…whether for a weekend away, or to tie the knot, these are just a few of Ireland’s most romantic destinations...
Cong Co Mayo
Ireland’s grandest castle hotel is seriously romantic, at any time – and its location, overlooking Lough Corrib, is simply stunning. While the motto ‘Excellence since 1228’ may be stretching it a bit, it has been an hotel since 1939 and, in the hands-on care of current General Manager Niall Rochford and an excellent staff, it’s better than ever at the moment. Grandeur, formality and tranquillity are timeless characteristics of this wonderful place, but its 350 acres of beautiful parkland and gardens, impressive public rooms (think panelled walls, oil paintings, suits of armour and magnificent fireplaces) and restaurants are much more accessible these days. Delicious local produce provides the inspiration for acclaimed Executive Chef Stefan Matz’s excellent cuisine, and to help you build up an appetite, there’s a great range of outdoor activities on the estate including falconry, lake cruising, fishing and golf; there’s also an equestrian centre – plus miles of wonderful walks, jogging trails and a bicycle safari. One- and two-night Valentines Specials, running from 11th-17th February, offer oodles of treats including chilled champagne in your room on arrival, a dozen red roses, and dinner in the magnificent George V restaurant (or, by arrangement, in the privacy of your suite or state room); from €247.50pps for dinner bed and breakfast. Needless to say, Ashford Castle also makes a wonderful wedding venue…
Castlelyons Fermoy Co Cork
Surrounded by its own farmland, magnificent wooded grounds, a trout lake and formal terraced gardens, Justin and Jenny Green’s gracious mansion near Fermoy is an impressive destination by any standards, yet it is so hospitable and relaxed that guests quickly settle in and feel that this is simply the way that life should be lived… Elegantly furnished with family antiques and extremely comfortable, it has big log fires, and the roomy bedrooms look out over beautiful grounds and have comfy beds dressed with crisp linen. Private salmon fishing on 8km of the great River Blackwater offers a wide variety of spring and summer beats, and the woodlands are especially beautiful for romantic walks in spring. Delicious food – much of it grown by Justin’s father, Jeremy, in the old walled gardens, or locally sourced – is another highlight. Memorable dinners are served in style at separate tables or around a long mahogany table, depending on the occasion, and guests can indulge in a late breakfast each morning (served till noon). Nearby, unspoilt West Waterford begs to be explored – including the Heritage Town of Lismore (complete with romantic castle and gardens) where the Greens’ characterful restaurant, O’Brien Chop House, makes the perfect lunch stop. For Valentines, two or three night breaks are offered at €319 - €399 per person, with a 4-course dinner on two nights and a complimentary half bottle of Champagne to greet you on arrival.
The Clarence Hotel
6-8 Wellington Quay Dublin 2
While heading for the country is a romantic treat for townies, country folk like nothing better than a city break. And, if you appreciate a place with style, character and a sense of history – not to mention a central, riverside location - you won’t do better than this iconic hotel. Dating back to 1872, the Clarence has long had a special place in the hearts of Dublin people and current owners, Bono and The Edge of U2 have given it cult status in recent times. While having a contemporary edge, the décor reflects the hotel’s original arts and crafts style, which adds depth of character. The hotel itself and its wonderful Liffeyside location make it is a highly romantic destination at any time and it’s renowned for offering a non-traditional venue for style-conscious smaller weddings. Civil marriages, civil partnerships and informal blessings can all be arranged in the hotel (to book a civil ceremony, couples must apply directly to the area registry office three months ahead). Valentine's Special packages running at The Clarence until 15th February include a one-night stay from €139 – or you can have a Valentine’s cocktail in The Octagon Bar followed by a Valentine’s 3 course dinner in The Tea Room restaurant (at a very reasonable €39.95 per person.)
Straffan Co Kildare
Barberstown Castle has been occupied continuously for over 400 years and, despite its many additions - including a new accommodation wing - it has retained a sense of history. It makes an atmospheric destination close to Dublin for a couples break, with four-posters a-plenty – and some particularly romantic rooms in the oldest section, the Castle Keep. Weddings are a speciality (‘You have your Prince, we have your Castle’) and it is one of Ireland’s most desirable venues. A private conservatory overlooking the original Castle Keep (1288) is used for weddings and civil partnerships, both of which require the couple to make arrangements for the local registrar to come to the Castle for the ceremony. Barberstown has always had a reputation for good food and banquets are held in the 16th century coach house, (now known as the Medieval Banqueting Hall); alongside, there is a private medieval-style drinks reception area, where a piper can welcome the arriving guests in traditional style. A Valentines dinner bed and breakfast stay, from €149pps, includes a half bottle of champagne and chocolates delivered to your room on arrival.
Ballingarry Co Limerick
Home to his famous restaurant, The Mustard Seed, which started life in nearby Adare in 1985, Dan Mullane’s spacious Victorian country residence is a delightfully romantic rural retreat set on seven acres of lovely gardens, with mature trees, shrubberies, a productive organic kitchen garden and orchard - and very luxurious accommodation. And this gorgeous place is also one of the region’s most exclusive wedding venues, specialising in small individually tailored celebrations. Renowned for using the best of local produce and home grown foods in season, they offer anything from an intimate wedding dinner for six to a lavish banquet for up to 75 - and there is an option to host civil partnership and marriage ceremonies on site, so there is no need to leave this atmospheric house and its beautiful grounds all day. ‘Miles more unique’ is the message – they do not offer wedding packages, as each celebration is individual. And, with Dan Mullane in charge, that’s guaranteed. Valentines breaks include a one night pre-Valentine bargain (€99pps) and Valentines week three-for-two offer, where a third night is complimentary.
The Merchant Hotel
16 Skipper Street Belfast BT1 2DZ
For anyone planning a romantic break in Belfast, this iconic hotel has to be one of the first ports of call - always grand, this former bank is stunningly furnished (with original artwork from the owner’s collection) and is now even more impressive, since the new extension was opened in the autumn. Chances are that a proposal is on the cards on a Valentine break here, and it’s earned a reputation as Belfast’s ultimate venue for luxury weddings both intimate and grand, so if you’re very lucky (and well funded) you could well be heading back for the big day. Both wedding and civil partnership ceremonies can be held here, and there are several elegant private events rooms available for this as well as receptions. A dream wedding is the promise and that’s what you get in high old traditional style, beginning with arrival in The Merchant's famous Rolls Royce Phantom, followed perhaps with a drinks reception on their new Roof Garden (with fire). All this and great food too. Wow.
Cromleach Lodge Country House Hotel & Ciúnas Spa
Lough Arrow, Castlebaldwin, Co. Sligo
Bordering on Yeats country, in the hills above Lough Arrow, Christy and Moira Tighe’s hotel enjoys one of the finest views in Ireland and it makes a very special romantic destination for any couple who appreciate beautiful countryside, deep down comfort (ask for one of the very spacious front rooms), outstanding food and discreet, thoughtful service. The Tighe family and their staff have the magic ingredient of genuine hospitality, doing everything possible for guests’ comfort and relaxation. Regular guests have known all this for a long time, but in recent years extra rooms and a small but carefully designed spa have been added so they can now host weddings - and, by applying the same principles of quality and customer care, the Tighes have created a venue to satisfy the most discerning of guests. They are licensed to hold civil ceremonies here too, which can take place in the front portion of the Diarmaid & Grainne Suite, overlooking Lough Arrow. Valentines offers include champagne and homemade chocolates in your room, aromatherapy oils and champagne breakfast; from €100pps (€115-130pps for lakeview and deluxe rooms – well worth a little extra.)
Lough Erne Resort
Belleek Road, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh BT93 7ED
Although built primarily as a golfing destination, the lovely setting and high level of luxury have also made this impressive waterside resort just outside Enniskillen a popular retreat with couples - and, surprise, surprise, it’s also a premier wedding venue. Entering in romantic style by Ross's Drawbridge, receptions are held in The Ross Suite overlooking Castle Hume Lough and given an additional edge by food supervised by chef Noel McMeel, who is known for his commitment to local foods and suppliers. Adding to the appeal of staying here is an impressive Thai Spa with a beautiful mosaic swimming pool – and there aren’t to many places where the happy couple can arrive by seaplane, watched by guests on the terrace. A number of packages are offered, but the idea is to create a unique event for each couple – and civil wedding ceremonies and civil partnerships can take place here too, in the stunning setting of County Fermanagh's rolling lakelands.
The g hotel
Wellpark Galway City Co Galway
A genuine five-star destination, the western capital’s most stylish hotel exudes the quirky creativity of its designer, internationally renowned milliner Philip Treacy (a Galway native - like the owner, Gerry Barrett) whose eye-catching colour combinations, lighting, furniture, carpets and fireplaces make the public rooms both comfortable and delightfully varied. Five years on, the original quirky Philip Treacy “mad hattiness” and stunning interior design still tends to quicken the pulse in the knowledge that one is somewhere unique, a fact enhanced by the able and attentive staff throughout the hotel. In bedrooms, the brilliant colours of public areas - notably the hotel’s trademark shocking pink - give way to the elegance of restful neutrals, with occasional quirky details and luxurious yet surprisingly sensible bathrooms. ESPA at the g offers total pampering, and an excellent Irish/European dining experience based on prime local foods at Matz at the g, overlooking Lough Atalia – is relaxing and romantic. 2-night Valentine's breaks (10-14 February, from €245.00 per person) include a 5-course Valentine themed dinner on one evening; extras offered include Rose Petal Turndown with tea lights, and Buck's Fizz Cocktail Breakfast. If a wedding then enters the plan, the g specialises in bespoke events – and also caters for intimate civil ceremonies…
Ballinacurra Kinsale Co Cork
‘Old-world opulence and personal service’ are the keynotes at Des and Lisa McGahan’s elegant country mansion near Kinsale, which has 22 rooms and is available for private parties (50-150), small weddings, golfing groups and corporate events. Given the right occasion, this is a fantastically romantic property, set within a walled garden and 40 acres of woodland and lawns – which are all yours, for your special bespoke celebration. Already well known as an exclusive wedding venue, Ballinacurra is looking forward to welcoming gay couples in 2011. Des comments, “The plus side is that, unlike 'marriage', there is no actual ceremony involved and it's a case of a couple signing an agreement indicating their desire to register as being partners, subject to various conditions including a Registrar being available at that venue on the date in question. If gay couples want a spiritual or humanist element to the ceremony, this can also be arranged as an additional part of the celebration.”
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