Georgina Campbell suggests some especially interesting places to take an off-season break – places where nature’s bounty is celebrated in wonderful ways: foraging expeditions, cookery courses and, of course, excellent seasonal meals to enjoy.

Marlfield House & The Duck Café-Restaurant
Gorey Co Wexford

Our Hotel of the Year for 2020, this impressive house outside Gorey (former residence of the Earls of Courtown) was opened as an hotel in 1978 by the legendary Ray and Mary Bowe and has since enjoyed a well-earned reputation as ‘an elegant oasis of unashamed luxury’, offering outstanding hospitality and service. Always impeccably run, it has changed with the times under the management of daughters Margaret and Laura, who are now continuing to develop the family tradition of hospitality with vision and style. As well as the main house, they operate the lovely informal café-restaurant, The Duck, alongside the kitchen garden - and also Duck Lodge, a contemporary self-catering cottage. It’s a magnificent example of sustainable development and a joy to visit at any time - and perhaps especially in autumn when they offer special events and gear up for the Wexford Opera Festival (22 Oct- 3 Nov), this year even bringing a pop up of The Duck to Selskar in Wexford Town (weekend of 26-28 Oct; book by phone only: 053 9421124).


Dunbrody Country House Hotel
Arthurstown Co Wexford

Dunbrody Country House HotelSet in parkland and gardens on the Hook Peninsula, just across the estuary from Waterford city, Catherine and Kevin Dundon’s elegant Georgian manor is renowned for its food, and especially the fine dining restaurant, The Harvest Room, where Kevin and his team demonstrate very tastily the ethos of fresh local and in season that applies to everything at Dunbrody. Given its history, the house is quite grand but that is not to say that it’s no fun - and each of the Dundons’ imaginative developments in converted outbuildings has added to the fun factor. First there was what must be Ireland’s most stylish cookery school - designed to cater for all levels of cooks, from budding enthusiasts to the experienced gourmet - and, alongside it, a beautiful spa. Then there's 'The Local' - a rustic late-week bar, with an authentic rural pub ambience and simple tasty, local fare - and when Kevin Dundon says local, he means really local as a lot of the food served at Dunbrody comes from their extensive kitchen gardens, especially at this time of plenty.

Longueville House
Mallow Co Cork

Longueville HouseIf it’s October it must be time for the renowned Longueville House Mushroom Hunt, held this year on Sunday 13th October. Hopeful hunters gather at 9.30 am for this annual north Cork muddy boots event, then hike around the estate (maps - and two mushroom experts - supplied) in search of the edible mushroom varieties that grow here so prolifically in autumn. Once the day’s harvest is in and identified, chef/proprietor William O’Callaghan, head chef James Cullinane their team cook a feast of mushrooms from the haul, creating a special three-course lunch that’s served with wines chosen for the occasion. (Price €85: coffee & home made cookies on arrival, Mushroom Hunt, luncheon with wine; Children under 12, €25: milk & cookies on arrival, Mushroom Hunt, Kiddies Luncheon with Farm Pressed Apple Juice; family packs available). Dogs on a leash are welcome too. Later in the month, the annual Harvest Lunch with orchard walk, cider house and distillery tour by Dan Duggan - chief Apple Brandy Distiller and Cider Maker at Longueville House - is held to coincide with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, on 30th October and again on November 3rd; price €69 including lunch with cider; children €25 with Longueville House apple juice.

Killeavy Castle Estate

Killeavy Co Armagh

First time visitors expecting a conventional castle hotel are in for a surprise at our Newcomer of the Year for 2020, Killeavy Castle. But it will be a pleasant one as there is so much to discover - and the opening of Killeavy Castle Estate is set to give discerning travelers, from within Ireland and abroad, the joy of discovering the Ring of Gullion, and the beautiful Slieve Gullion Forest Park. And it's all thanks to the vision and determination of the owners, Australian-based local man Mick Boyle and his wife Robin, who have restored what was a derelict 19th century castle to create a boutique venue - and, alongside it, a modern hotel of character that's been developed around the castle's old coach house and mill buildings. Complete with its own farm (heritage cattle supply the kitchens) and a productive walled garden it’s a perfect getaway, set in one of Ireland's loveliest yet least known areas - and just minutes from Newry.

Ballyknocken House & Cookery School

Gleanealy Ashford Co Wicklow

Ballyknocken House & Cookery SchoolCatherine Fulvio is so well known thanks to her TV work, demonstrations at food shows and other events and cookery books, that guests feel they already know her when they arrive at her pretty Victorian farmhouse near Ashford. Comfort, cosiness, home-cooked food and hospitality are the hallmarks of this third-generation business and Catherine and her team make four-course dinners for guests using seasonal local produce, including vegetables and herbs from the Ballyknocken farm. The fruit trees and herbs that she planted when she first took over the running of the house now provide seasonal produce for the table, and for her popular cookery school - which is in a renovated milking parlour in the grounds. A busy programme of events offers a wide range of classes for all levels of ability and experience, many of them lifestyle or seasonally led - vegetarian, foraging and Christmas cooking, for example - and residential cookery breaks. Not that you have to attend a cookery class to enjoy a stay here, of course, it is also a great base for a walking break, or simply to explore the beautiful Wicklow Hills.

MacNean House & Restaurant
Blacklion Co Cavan

Neven Maguire has long been one of the country’s most outspoken advocates of seasonal and local produce – proudly pointing out that Cavan and the neighbouring counties of Meath, Monaghan, Fermanagh and Leitrim are exceptionally well endowed with the great foods that make ingredients good enough to speak for themselves once they reach his kitchen (think Corleggy cheeses, Thornhill duck, Fermanagh black bacon, Rossinver organic herbs and vegetables to name but a few examples). So it should come as no surprise that, along with his famous tasting menu (available with or without wine pairings), Neven should offer an equally impressive Vegetarian Menu. Where else would vegetarians be able to indulge in dishes like Ryefield goats cheese with walnut purée and pickled vegetable, and Courgette Risotto Fritters with smoked tomato jam & sherry vinegar jelly? And next door to Neven and Amelda's beautiful restaurant with rooms, the Neven Maguire Cookery School offers down to earth classes and residential courses on many popular topics including healthy eating and vegetarian cooking, based on the very best of seasonal ingredients - some of them produced on site in an impressive kitchen garden that flourishes behind the restaurant.

Rathmullan House
Rathmullan Co Donegal

Rathmullan HouseWhat better time to visit Donegal than off season, when its rugged charms are at their best and there’s a cosy fireside and great food to go back to after a day exploring this stunning county. And great food doesn’t get better or more local than at the Wheeler family’s relaxed hotel on the shores of Lough Swilly, as the beautiful Walled Garden is at the heart of everything that happens in the kitchen here. Each day’s menu in the aptly named Cook & Gardener restaurant is inspired by its seasonal bounty, and always includes some outstanding vegetarian dishes among the exciting creations. And, in the basement, the atmospheric Tap Room bar is renowned for the hotel’s collaboration with a pair of likeminded businesses, Scarpello & Co (of stone baked pizza fame) and nearby Kinnegar Brewery - a partnership made in heaven. Special breaks themed around local food and the unique Donegal experience are held throughout the year - an especially appealing one for those who enjoy visits to untamed places is their Dinner Bed & Breakfast Wild Atlantic Way package, which is available for 1 to 3 nights and encourages guests to revel in Donegal's dramatic coastal landscape. From the towering cliffs of Sliabh Liag in the south of the county to Irelands most northerly point, Malin Head, it's an area steeped in history and folklore - and, having enjoyed nature at its wildest, how lovely to come back to the cosy pleasures of Rathmullan, including an excellent breakfast as well as their famous Cook & Gardener dinners.

The Tannery
Dungarvan Co Waterford

The Tannery - Cookery SchoolPaul and Maire Flynn’s wonderful restaurant with rooms and cookery school have done an enormous amount to attract discerning visitors to West Waterford and - backed up by other excellent long established businesses in the beautiful rural and coastal areas nearby - they are continuing to build on the area’s growing reputation as a food destination. Whether to take part in one of the weekend cookery classes - fun and informative days in the kitchen for anyone with a casual interest in cooking, including small groups, hen parties, corporate off-site events - or simply to enjoy the terrific cooking in the restaurant or relaxed wine bar, a visit here is always worth a journey. Everything at The Tannery ties in with Paul’s avid support for local and seasonal foods and his admirable philosophy of simplicity. The state of the art cookery school kitchen and the range of courses reflects Paul’s cooking ethos – Paul Flynn’s Autumn Kitchen was the seminal course that inspired him to open the cookery school (fourteen hands-on students or up to 30 for demos). While the main restaurant is a special destination for many, the atmospheric Tannery Wine Bar offers a super alternative for casual dining, with a focus on wines by the glass, blackboard specials and small plates. Magic.

Hanora's Cottage
Nire Valley, Ballymacarbry, Co Waterford

Hamoras CottageFor a relaxed break in one of the most scenic and unspoilt parts of Ireland, the Wall family’s fine modern country house and restaurant in the beautiful Nire Valley makes an ideal base, and it is especially beautiful in autumn. They describe the Comeragh Mountains as a place where 'transport is abandoned and walking commences' and walking breaks are a speciality - serious walking, low level walks, forest walks, quiet country roads for walking (and cycling) all begin at the doorstep of Hanora's Cottage, and the breaks offered are outstanding value, especially midweek. Hanora’s is renowned for its relaxed comfort - and its good food. Husband-and-wife team Eoin and Judith Wall are both Euro-Toques chefs, and they take great pride in sourcing the freshest and best ingredients from local suppliers, including seafood from nearby Helvick and artisan foods from the farmers’ markets in Dungarvan and Clonmel. Walking breaks include memorable breakfasts and a packed lunch as well as 5-course dinners in the restaurant – where a full vegetarian menu is always an alternative.

Ballyvolane House
Castlelyons Fermoy Co Cork

Ballyvolane HouseRenowned for offering an outstanding - and remarkably diverse - guest experience, Justin and Jenny Green’s home was the destination of choice for Charles and Camilla, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall on their recent private visit - and it is our Country House of the Year for 2020. A gracious mansion, it is surrounded by its own farmland, magnificent wooded grounds (complete with trout lake) and mature gardens, all carefully managed and maintained. The gardens and woodland are especially lovely in autumn and a leaflet outlining the garden and walks is available to guests. The gardens and woodland are the special domain of Justin’s father, Jeremy, and the Greens produce a huge amount of vegetables throughout the year in the vast walled garden, including less usual vegetables such as sea kale, asparagus and globe artichokes as well as lots of different varieties of many oif the more widely grown vegetables and fruit. They are also famous for terrific local beef and wild foods - feathered and furred game appear on the menu in season, as well as wild Atlantic salmon caught on their beats on the river Blackwater. And not only are the fruit preserves for breakfast homemade, but also elderflower cordial and ’Ribena’ – and happy hens produce wonderful eggs for breakfast and baking. And that’s before we even start thinking about the whey-based Ballyvolane gin, Bertha’s Revenge, that’s quite rightly taken the crafts drink world by storm. Just the spot for a peaceful, very relaxing and well-fed break, especially in this season of plenty.


There are currently no comments

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment
Not a member? Register for your free membership now!
Or leave a comment by logging in with: