FESTIVE BREAKS - TEN OF THE BEST

Whether for Christmas, New Year or that lovely quiet gap between them, this can be can be the perfect time for a short break with - or as a respite from - family and friends. That in-between time often offers great value for a refreshing post-Christmas recovery break and some hotels have interesting pre-Christmas packages on offer too. 

Ashford Castle
Cong Co Mayo  

Ashford Castle - Cong County Mayo Ireland

Castles are at their best in winter and, while Ireland’s most famous one is a fairytale place at any time, it’s especially alluring when dressed up for Christmas. There’s no denying it’s expensive but, aside from exceptional luxury, they offer fantastic programmes and the outstanding amenities include a dramatically designed spa and fitness centre along with some less predictable attractions such as a decadent snooker room (more of a suite really, with its own smoking terrace for enjoying those cigars) and a 35-seater cinema. Knowing how well they do things, it’s sure to be value for money if you plan your time to make the most of it. The terrific choice of activities ranges from golf, to a cruise on Lough Corrib (with traditional music and hot whiskeys), or a guided historical walking tour of the grounds and gardens. And then there is the food. Executive Head Chef Philippe Farineau (‘French Heart Irish Produce’) presides over an astonishing range of dining options, including the opulent Georges V Dining Room, while Head Pastry Chef, Paula Stakelum oversees the ritual of Afternoon Tea, which is served in the gorgeous Connaught Room, overlooking Lough Corrib. And, from GM Niall Rochford to the housekeepers who greet you in the corridors, the staff are just great. A Twixmas treat priced from about €730pps could offer a relaxing opportunity to enjoy this iconic and pet-friendly hotel - or you could stay at our Pet Friendly Hotel of the Year, The Lodge at Ashford Castle (1and 2-night stays from about €249), and book the Castle for dinner or Afternoon Tea.

 

The Merrion Hotel
Upper Merrion Street Dublin 

The Merrion Hotel - ChristmasDublin’s premier hotel takes pride in everything to do with ‘an old-fashioned Christmas’ and that includes recovering from it in style. The Post Christmas Pampering Package ‘designed to rejuvenate guests after the hectic festive season’ is understandably popular (1 night B&B in a luxurious double room, including a 55 minute treatment per person, from €295pps) and there’s a Winter Family Getaway (1 night stay from €795 for an interconnecting Superior King and Superior Twin room; and, as well as full Irish breakfast, kids under 12 dine free from the Room Service Children's Menu; the price is based on two adults and two children sharing but extra beds and cots are also available). There’s also a New Years Eve package from €428pps including champagne in your room and a celebratory dinner with entertainment in The Garden Room restaurant, which is good value for a hotel (and outing) of this calibre and, predictably enough, it sells out quickly.


Hayfield Manor Hotel
Perrott Avenue College Road Cork 

Hayfield Manor Hotel - Cork Ireland

Cork is special when it comes to good food and celebrations, and the festive period at this handsome property is bound to be atmospheric. Secluded in gardens near University College Cork, Hayfield Manor has a country house feel, yet it’s just a mile from the city centre. Their ‘very merry Twixmas’ break includes mulled wine and mince pies on arrival (in your room or beside the fire in one of the resident lounges), and a four course festive meal on one evening in either Orchids signature restaurant or Perrotts Garden Bistro. The ritual of the famous ‘Afternoon Tea at Hayfield Manor’ is included on the afternoon of your choice and other activities could include golfing or a shopping outing with lunch at the wonderful Farm Gate Café in The English Market. Costing from about €837 per room for a two-night break it’s a snip in comparison with Christmas or New Year packages (3-night Christmas pacjage from €1595pps; New Year from €515 pps) and there's a 1- or 2-night '5 star Package' available too which is not restricted to the festive season, from €426.

 

Harvey’s Point
Lough Eske Co Donegal

Blessed with one of Ireland’s most beautiful locations, this luxurious and impeccably-managed hotel on the shores of Lough Eske was opened by the Gysling family in 1989. It changed hands in 2019, but the (excellent) staff remained in situ, including the irrepressibly hospitable General Manager, Noel Cunningham, who has been a familiar figure at the hotel for a decade. Good food is a particular focus, with a choice of lake view fine dining and wine bar meals offered, and Harvey’s Point is also renowned for its special break, including all year activities and residential Christmas and New Year packages. The 3-night Christmas break includes two dinners in the restaurant - and a complimentary extra night for guests who are able to arrive on 23rd December, which is typical of their generosity of spirit. Also famously pet-friendly (in designated rooms), their “Crufts” at Harvey’s Point event on St Stephen’s Day has become a favourite fixture. Christmas package from €839pps; 2-night New Year package from €439pps.

 

Park Hotel Kenmare
Kenmare Co Kerry  

Park Hotel Kenmare - County Kerry Ireland

Francis Brennan’s famous hotel was one of the first to offer a really attractive Christmas programme - and, for their happy band of regular guests, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas unless they were looking out over the Kerry mountains while enjoying a seriously delicious Christmas dinner in the traditional dining room. The programme offers a nice balance of carols, conviviality and fine dining, old fashioned fun (in-house competitions, films in the Reel Room), fresh air and exercise (including a guided hike with the Kenmare Walking Club) or ‘the serenity of SÁMAS’, their Destination Spa. The 3-day programme will set you back €1,495 per person sharing, but visitors staying between the peak times of Christmas and New Year (27th-30th December) can avail of value offers, with overnight stays available from about €360pps. 

 

Powerscourt Hotel
Powercourt Estate Enniskerry Co Wicklow

Ritz Carlton Hotel Powerscourt - County Wicklow Ireland

Scenically located just a short drive south of Dublin city, the Powerscourt Hotel offers a glamorous location without having too far to travel from the city. Situated within the famous Powercourt Estate, with views of the iconic Sugarloaf Mountain from some rooms, it is well placed for golf, walking and exploring the beautiful Wicklow Hills, while the excellent on-site amenities include a destination ESPA spa as well as a leisure centre with swimming pool and Jacuzzi. All of the festive offers are attractively priced, given the type of hotel and its setting - the 2-night Christmas package costs from €849pps and there's also a 2-night New Year package from €550pps. Both include dinners in the hotel's destination Sika Restaurant (which has just had a revamp) as well as the main festive meal and you can expect a good breakfast too. Festive Afternoon Tea is also an option (reservations required) and, with Powerscourt House and Gardens, the new Powerscourt Distillery and the whole of glorious Wicklow on the doorstep, there is masses to see and do.

 

Dromoland Castle
Newmarket-on-Fergus Co Clare

The ancestral home of the O'Briens, barons of Inchiquin and direct descendants of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland, this is one of the few Irish estates tracing its history back to Gaelic royal families. It is now one of Ireland's grandest hotels and, in the the warm and watchful care of General Manager Mark Nolan and his team, one of the best-loved. Outstanding service and Head Chef David McCann's wonderful food invariably match the surroundings and, while it is an exceptionally atmospheric destination at any time, Dromoland is simply stunning when dressed up for the festive season. The range of packages includes a residential 3-night Christmas break from €1,365pps and - as part of a 2-night New Year break from €800pps - culminates with a Gala Black Tie Ball, which they quite rightly describe as “an extraordinary way to welcome in the New Year”. But, at a more modest level, they also offer a ‘Castle Awaits’ 2-night Winter Break from just €295pps, which is not restricted to the festive season includes a three course dinner in The Earl of Thomond Restaurant as well as their excellent full Irish breakfast each morning. The Leisure Centre and Swimming pool are available to all guests of course – and there’s even a €50 per room ‘resort credit’ given towards estate activities, so this could be a winter escape well worth remembering.

 

Glenlo Abbey
Bushypark Galway

Originally an eighteenth century residence, Glenlo Abbey is just two and a half miles from Galway city yet, beautifully located on a 138-acre estate, with its own golf course and Pavilion, it offers all the advantages of the country - and it’s only a short hop up the road to Connemara. Owners John and Marie Lally have been responsible for an extensive refurbishment programme at the hotel and a break between Christmas and New Year at this characterful Blue Book property could be just the ticket. Their Twixmas Package includes three nights luxurious accommodation with a good breakfast in the River Room Restaurant each morning, Festive Afternoon Tea on one afternoon,  Christmas Lunch and dinner on the other nights. It’s an atmospheric setting and, with the hotel’s resident pianist playing each evening in the Ffrench Room, it should be a relaxing stay - and fairly priced at €1914 for two people sharing the 3-night stay. And, with in-house entertainment including a falconry show in the Walled Garden, movies in the newly refurbished Abbey Theatre, and a Christmas Table Quiz there's no shortage of things to do.

 

Limerick Strand Hotel 
Ennis Road Limerick

Limerick Strand Hotel

For a family outing over the Christmas period it is worth inquiring about the popular panto package at this attractive city centre hotel on the west bank of the Shannon. The Limerick Strand usually teams up with University Concert Hall Limerick for a family offer which is available on selected dates before and after Christmas, although it books up quickly. Other offers include a 2-night residential package from €399pps, including a 5-course lunch in the River Room designed by their excellent executive chef Tom Flavin; party night packages; and a whole range of festive dining options including meals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Festive Afternoon Tea is available 2-4pm daily from €29.95 per adult  (€36.95 with a glass of prosecco) and €15.95 per child - with a special sitting on December 24th from 1pm-3pm, including a glass of mulled wine for adults and “all children shall be given a special take away bag with a Carrot for Rudolf & Mince Pie for Santa’s visit!”.

 

Mount Juliet
Thomastown Co Kilkenny

Kilkenny is a gorgeous place to visit at any time of year - and there’s nowhere more delightful than the lovely Mount Juliet in winter. Lying amidst 1500 acres of unspoilt woodland, pasture and formal gardens beside the River Nore, Mount Juliet House is one of Ireland’s finest Georgian houses, and one of Europe’s greatest country estates. Even today it retains an aura of eighteenth century grandeur, as the elegance of the old house has been painstakingly preserved - a very special setting for a festive break in the Manor House or Hunter's Yard. A three night festive stay at the Manor House with all meals (includung two dinners in the Lady Helen Rstaurant and Christmas Lunch at Hunters Yard) and activities, including falconry or equestrian on St Stephen's Day, costs from €2,018 for the total stay and the price for a similar package at Hunter's Yard is €1698. Several family festive breaks are offered (from as little as €488) and there's a New Year package from €500. With excellent food and masses to do on the estate and in the surrounding area, a break here should be memorable - and the prices are very fair. 

 

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