With soaring fuel prices affecting everything - and especially travel costs -picking a destination that's an hour or 90 minutes from home means better value  for your break, as well as less stress and more chilling time. So if you're based in Dublin why not try one of our picks for a quick break within easy striking distance of the capital?

Ballyfin, Co Laois

Ballyfin HouseBefore opening this gorgeous Regency mansion in the foothills of the Slieve Bloom mountains as a luxurious hotel at the height of the recession, Chicago businessman, the late Fred Krehbiel, his Irish wife Kay and managing director Jim Reynolds put in eight years of restoration. And it has proved a great success with Irish guests looking for somewhere exceptional for a special occasion, as well as international high flyers. While impressive, it's surprisingly homely too - hospitable General Manager Peter White keeps the tone relaxed and it is emphatically not stuffy. Its many USPs include real privacy (thanks to its reservations-only, full-board policy, with only a few extra dining reservations accepted for non-residents) and, although the daily rate seems high, it also offers value when you analyse everything that's included. With so much on site, many guests never feel the need to leave the estate: prepare yourself to fall in love.


Ghan House
Carlingford, Co Louth

Ghan House, Carlingford, County Louth Little over an hour's drive from Dublin airport and about the same from Belfast, the Carroll family's 18th century house is very attractively situated in its own walled grounds on the edge of one of Ireland's most intriguing little places, medieval Carlingford village. This Blue Book property is very much a family affair and run by Paul Carroll, together with his mother Joyce (who is officially 'semi-retired') and offers accommodation in four rooms of character in the main house, each with sea or mountain views, and eight newer bedrooms in a separate building. As well as a relaxing sitting room with an open fire, there's a proper little bar where you can enjoy an aperitif or an after-dinner drink. Dinner is a high point at Ghan House, where pride is taken in meals based on home-grown, homemade and mainly local produce, including seasonal meats and seafood; oysters are synonymous with Carlingford, of course, and there may also be mussels from the lough and Ballagan lobsters on the menu. It's a lovely area to explore, with great walking in the hills and seashore.


Rathsallagh House
Dunlavin, Co Wicklow

Rathsallagh HouseThe O'Flynn family's large, rambling country house is only about 90 minutes from Dublin, but - famous as it is - it could be in a different world. While modern amenities have of course been added and it is very professionally run by Joe O'Flynn and a long-serving staff, it still has that classic country house atmosphere with crackling log fires in elegant, comfortably furnished drawing rooms. The old kitchen bar is a favourite gathering place before dinner (with fireside seats at a premium) while accommodation ranges from large rooms with great views in the old house to cottagey rooms in the stable yard. All are lovely in their own way, and rooms in a newer block are also traditionally furnished. Good food has always been central to Rathsallagh, starting with seasonal produce from the farm and the beautiful walled garden - and this lovely place has several times been a winner in our Irish Breakfast Awards. There's an18-hole golf course too, on site but operated under separate management.


The White Cottages
Skerries, Co Dublin

White Cottages - Skerries County DublinJackie and Joe O’Connor’s beautifully located B&B is right on the sea on the northern edge of Skerries town, and it is truly unique – how often do you wake up to the sound of waves on the rocks outside your bedroom window? It's literally on the water's edge and the unbroken sea views of the working harbour and, to the north, the magnificent Cooley and Mourne Mountains are simply stunning - and all the better for enjoying them from such a warm and relaxing base. Joe and Jackie are natural hosts, the four bedrooms are charming and highly individual, and standards are very high all round. Everything is immaculate and excellent food includes The White Cottages Afternoon Tea, prepared by Joe and Jackie's daughter, Jessica and available to both residents and non-resident groups by arrangement. Special occasions are anticipated too - you can arrange for fresh-cut flowers, chocolates and bubbly to be in your room on arrival and, if the weather is promising, why not try The White Cottages Romantic Picnic? Nearby Dublin seems a world away – the White Cottages is a perfect hideaway to get away from it all for a few days or as a base to explore the pretty north Dublin countryside and coast.


Scholars Townhouse Hotel
Drogheda, Co Louth

Scholarstown House HotelMartin and Patricia McGowan's small hotel is a listed 19th century double-fronted redbrick building. With its fountains and broad stone steps leading up to the front door, bustling, friendly staff and a sense of individuality, it creates a good impression from the outset. Rooms are compact but uncluttered and very thoughtfully designed with a place for everything, while dining here is an attraction in its own right, with creative cooking from Chef David Kelly that focuses on using local produce, especially seafood, and attentive service in both the restaurant and bar. An oasis in Drogheda's busy town centre, it makes an interesting destination for a short break and is very quickly reached from the capital - but this hidden gem is no longer the secret that it appears to be, so booking well in advance is essential, especially at weekends.


Roundwood House
Mountrath, County Laois

Roundwood House, Mountrath County Laois IrelandHow could anyone fail to love this unspoilt early Georgian house? Lying secluded in mature woods of lime, beech and chestnut, at the foot of the Slieve Bloom mountains, a sense of history and an appreciation of genuine hospitality are all that is needed to make the most of a stay here. Frank and Rosemarie Kennan put over a quarter of a century of renovation work into this wonderful property, and clearly derived immense pleasure from it, before having the satisfaction of handing the reins over to their daughter Hannah and her husband Paddy - who "retain the philosophy of the old, with no introduction of wide screen televisions or trouser presses", much to everyone's relief and delight. While it is unconventional in some ways, the house is extremely comfortable and well heated, each bedroom has its particular charm, and the food (notably the locally reared beef and lamb) is really good. And, within this gem of a place, there are further hidden treasures to discover. Don't leave without visiting Frank's Library (a stunning outhouse conversion housing "A History of the Evolution of Civilisation", no less), or the beautiful arched barn at the back, where logs from the estate are stored like works of art. All this and a beautiful area to explore: what more could you want?


Lorum Old Rectory
Kilgraney, Bagenalstown, Co Carlow

Lorum Old Rectory, Kilgraney, County CarlowEverybody loves Bobbie Smith's welcoming mid-Victorian cut stone granite rectory near Altamont gardens, which now makes an elegant and homely place to stay. With her daughter Rebecca now on the team, it’s no wonder that repeat guests travel specially for the easy hospitality and delicious home cooking using mainly organic and home-grown ingredients. Rack of local lamb is a speciality, cooked with a honey, mustard & rosemary glaze, and - in the Hidden Ireland style - residents have dinner at a long mahogany table, where wonderful breakfasts are also served. Elegant and homely, there's a library as well as a lovely drawing room where guests can gather around the fire and relax. The rooms are beautifully furnished and very comfortable, with good bathrooms, big beds and lovely views - and one particularly impressive guest room has a four-poster bed. A lovely base to explore this lush area at any time, especially in spring when Altamont gardens are at their best.


Ballyknocken House
Gleanealy, Ashford, Co Wicklow

Ballyknocken House, Ashford, County WicklowCatherine Fulvio may now be famous as a TV chef and cookery book author with a cookery school here in the Wicklow Hills but, before all that, she had already taken over the B&B that her late mother had run at the family farm. Perfectly placed for walking holidays, playing golf, or simply touring the area, the charming Victorian farmhouse provides comfort and cosiness, along with good cooking and genuine hospitality. A gently Victorian theme prevails - bedrooms are charmingly done up, with antique furniture and very good beds - and pretty bathrooms, some with Victorian baths. Catherine cooks four-course dinners for guests, with vegetables and herbs coming from the farm - and, thanks to her Italian husband, some specially imported wines on the drinks list. All this, plus extensive breakfasts, a relaxing atmosphere and the option of cookery classes, ensures guests keep coming back for more.


Kilkea Castle Hotel & Golf Resort
Castledermot Co Kildare

This magical 12th century castle has undergone sensitive renovation under the guidance of the current owners, the Cashman family. Formerly a stronghold of the Fitzgeralds, the Earls of Kildare, it is one of Ireland’s oldest inhabited castles and is now a thriving hotel and dining destination with a choice of restaurants, lodges, championship golf course, spa, falconry and equestrian activities - and it makes a fairytale wedding venue. The original structure is surprisingly small - a 'boutique castle' perhaps - but it is atmospheric and elegant, with intimacy as well as a certain sense of grandeur. The entrance hall comes complete with knights in armour and a relaxing bar opens on to a terrace - overlooking gardens and the golf course, it can be a magical spot on a warm summer evening. Rooms vary - some are grand, others have cottagey charm - and there are high-spec lodges too. Good dining options include 1180 (the year in which Hugh de Lacy built the castle) and Hermione’s Restaurant and the Bistro in the clubhouse, for more casual fare. Special breaks are well worth watching out for and may include a visit to the National Stud Farm in Kildare.
Ferrycarrig Hotel
Ferrycarrig, Co Wexford

Overlooking the River Slaney just outside Wexford town, this stylish modern hotel has something for everyone. It’s very family friendly, especially in July and August when there are ‘Crazy Clubbers’ activities for children, and the leisure centre - which includes an excellent children’s pool - is popular with locals as well as hotel residents and offers spa treatments too. Accommodation is contemporary, comfortable and well designed make the most of the location; many rooms have balconies and, as well as family rooms, there’s an adults only floor. With views across the estuary and into Wexford town, there’s no better place to chill. The Dry Dock bar serves light food during the day and has a wonderful big deck overlooking the water - just the spot to relax with a drink and watch the birdlife on the river. The main restaurant, Reeds, takes pride in showcasing local produce and shares the lovely estuary views, so a meal here can be a memorable experience. All round a place of many USPs - and especially the staff, who are friendly, helpful and welcoming to all.

The BrookLodge Hotel & Macreddin Village
Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow

BrookLodge Hotel

A favourite destination for food loving folk and now dubbed ‘Ireland’s only luxury BIO hotel’, the history of this extraordinary food, drink and leisure complex is romantic. Imagine having the vision to build this wonderful place on the site of a deserted village in a Wicklow valley - yet that’s exactly what brothers, Evan, Eoin and Bernard Doyle did, and we visited the site often when it was under construction in the late ‘90s, to see the dream emerging. Today, the offering of this spacious and welcoming hotel is diverse, including ‘green’ conferences and events and a luxurious spa. Thanks mainly to Evan, who is the hands-on visionary, the hotel and its destination restaurant, The Strawberry Tree, have earned national recognition for their pioneering position on organic and wild food. It’s an inspiring place to stay and, whether eating in The Strawberry Tree (don’t miss visiting the adjacent Store Rooms), La Taverna Armento (informal authentic Italian alternative for dinner) or popping into the atmospheric Actons Country Pub (just the spot to enjoy their organic craft brews) or The Orchard Cafe, with its abundant grapevine, the memorable meals served everywhere at BrookLodge are great value, especially given the outstanding quality of the ingredients and the consistently excellent standard of cooking. An organic food market is held here on the first Sunday of the month (first and third in summer) too, and always worth a journey


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