Hotel Destinations for Autumn & Mid-Term Breaks - 10 of the Best

When selecting the finalists for our recent Irish Food & Hospitality Awards, we were especially conscious of the challenges that many hotels - particularly family-run properties - face, as they may have had less options for pivoting than smaller businesses mainly focused on food. So - perfectly timed for an autumn or midterm break, or perhaps for Christmas - this month’s 10 of the Best collection highlights some of the winning hotels Many are family- and pet-friendly and between them they offer plenty of activities (indoors and out) for all ages, along with pampering, good food and relaxation. Just what the doctor ordered this autumn. 

Fitzgeralds Woodlands House Hotel & Spa
Adare Co Limerick

With the midterm break just around the corner, our immaculately maintained and welcoming Family Friendly Hotel of the Year at Adare will be first port of call for many, and they do lovely pre-Christmas and Twixmas breaks too. It was established by Mary and the late Dick Fitzgerald in1983 and - although Mary herself remains a driving force - several of their children are now involved, including Elaina who is President of the Irish Hotels Federation. The hotel has been transformed over the years and exciting recent additions include Mary's Organic Garden and an imaginative dining and bar area, The Treehouse, with safe and comfortable covered and open air dining and relaxation for all age groups - and dogs are welcome too. Children love the space and interesting things to do including a Woodlands Fairy Trail, a mini pet farm, a walking trail and a playing field (young guests are reminded to bring hurleys and footballs). Other activities include a family toddler pool and 20m pool in the Health & Leisure Club, and there’s plenty in the area too, with Bunratty Castle & Folk Park, Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum, King John’s Castle and the Great Southern Trail cycling and walking route among the nearby attractions.

Ashford Castle
Cong, Co Mayo

Winner of our Best Activity Break in the 5* Hotel category, Ashford Castle may be luxury, superb food (including their iconic Afternoon Tea) and outstanding service personified, but it’s also famed for the exceptional range of activities and outdoor pursuits to enjoy on the 350-acre estate - there really is something for everyone here, so it has topped plenty of activity staycation bucket lists of late. And, far from being stuffy, both Ashford Castle and its 4-star sister hotel, The Lodge at Ashford Castle, offer family breaks - and welcome dogs. Activities offered on the Estate cover everything from the traditional (golf, fishing, equestrian) to the exhilarating (ziplining, tree climbing) and everything in between, including boating and cultural outings like Meet the Maker (crafts, artisan foods, music). Best of all perhaps are the wonderful Hawk Walks offered on-site by Ireland’s oldest Falconry School, which residents can book through the hotel.

Marlfield House Hotel
Gorey Co Wexford

With interest in gardens and gardening taking off during the pandemic, garden settings are becoming a must-have when planning holidays and short breaks - and they’ve always been a big attraction at the Bowe family’s gorgeous hotel near Gorey, Marlfield House (Boutique Hotel winner, Gardens & Garden Stays category). The beautiful grounds include a fine kitchen garden and, since 2015, the lovely café-restaurant, The Duck, has charmed visitors and local diners alike with its informal style and doors opening onto a terrace beside the immaculately maintained fruit and vegetable beds, which are awash with roses as well as garden produce all summer. Accommodation options have also widened to include Duck Lodge, a contemporary 2-bedroom self-catering cottage, and then the luxurious waterside Pond Suites in the gardens opened during the pandemic, all of which has made a visit to Marlfield even more irresistible.

The Twelve Hotel
Barna Co Galway

Handy to both Connemara and Galway city, our Pet Friendly Hotel of the Year is famed for its funky style, an exceptionally focused food and wine offering, and hands-on management by the inspired MD, Fergus O’Halloran. Their motto “True to The Region, True to The Season” sums up a philosophy that can be seen at work in every aspect of the hotel. So, it should come as no surprise that there’s an extra layer of enthusiasm and imagination when it come to welcoming dogs too – as they say themselves, “A stay at The Twelve Hotel is proof all dogs really do go to heaven”. The three ‘pet suites’ have a Pet Lobby with toys, water bowl, bones, leashes and towels and the Pampered Pet Program gives a whole lot of extras at no extra charge (just a refundable deposit, €50 per night). A welcome ‘doggie bag’ includes a toy, a treat and clean-up bags for walks (map of nearby woods and beaches supplied), for example, and there’s not only a Pet Menu but also doggie room service and a Pet Concierge Service with details and discounts on local dog walkers, sitters, groomers, dog boutiques, veterinarians. Dogs are allowed in some public areas too and the house rules are clearly laid out on the website. Pawsome!

Park Hotel Kenmare
Kenmare Co Kerry

Since it opened as a railway hotel in 1897, travellers from all over the world have found a home from home at our 5-Star Hotel of the Year - and the current owners, Francis and John “At Your Service” Brennan, never stop lavishing TLC on their beloved hotel, which has been under restoration for several years and emerged from the trauma of the last eighteen months with a beautifully re-imagined ground floor and extended outdoor space The Terrace, overlooking the gardens. What’s more there’s also a new sister hotel across the road, The Lansdowne Kenmare (see this month’s Competition) ,which opened in July. Even for the Brennan brothers it’s a remarkable achievement - and they didn’t hang around at nearby Dromquinna Manor either, where the recent lack of weddings triggered diversifications including the development of some very successful new food products. Short breaks at the Park include an ‘Enchanted’ 2-night stay, which is suitable for families, and, as well as the hotel’s deluxe destination spa, Sámas, activities include walking the Kerry Way, golf, fishing, horse trekking and cycling – and, of course, they’re renowned for their Christmas breaks too.

Gregans Castle Hotel
Ballyvaughan Co Clare

Simon and Freddie Haden’s quietly luxurious and restorative country house hotel is known for simple West of Ireland joys like warming turf fires and views across the Burren landscape - and, of course, it is one of Ireland’s top food destinations with gifted chef Robbie McCauley taking enormous pride in showcasing the wonderful foods of the locality in a memorable dining experience. The calm ambience belies a ferocious energy under the surface however, fuelling a constant drive to do things right, and do them better. This particularly relates to the environment and they are the winners of our Sustainability Award (Hotel category). It is worth taking time to browse their website, which details the hotel’s policy, The Green Hospitality Programme, Leave No Trace Ireland and the Burren Ecotourism Network, of which they are founding members (and Simon Haden is a member of the Board of Directors). Always one to find an opportunity in adversity, Simon banded everyone together during lockdowns to keep spirits up and came up with some projects that transformed a field into a productive garden, an orchard and newly created walking trails… A wonderful place at any time, it would be an inspirational autumn break destination.

Mulranny Park Hotel
Westport Co Mayo

Set in wooded grounds looking across Clew Bar to Croagh Patrick beyond, this former railway hotel dates back to 1897 and the disused line is now the Great Western Greenway walking and cycling route. Rightly proud of both its heritage and its superb location (“The Wild Atlantic Way At the Front Door and the Great Western Greenway at the Back Door”), it is mainly modern but has retained much of its original character and offers self catering apartments as well as spacious hotel accommodation and leisure amenities. The hotel’s reputation for activity breaks and family holidays is well earned; it is winner of our Best Activity Break 2021 (4-star hotel category) and the special feather in its cap is “The Gourmet Greenway” food trail, which was devised in 2011 by the hotel, in association with a number of Mayo food producers, to showcase the superb foods of the Mulranny, Newport, Westport and Achill areas, which can be explored along the Greenway route. Despite the challenges of Covid a new, expanded edition of the trail was produced this summer, which is greatly to the credit of all involved. Hallowe’en family breaks are offered.

Arnolds Hotel
Dunfanaghy Co Donegal

Situated near the harbour in the picturesque village of Dunfanaghy and overlooking the spectacular scenery of Sheephaven Bay, this famous old hotel (Best Activity Break, 3-star hotel) has been in the same family for four generations and it has the warm and relaxing ambience that is so special to family-run Irish hotels. Many happy memories have been made in this traditional holiday area - and, with plenty of wild and uncrowded space nearby, it’s just the kind of destination that a lot of us have been yearning for recently. This beautiful area is ideal for activity based holidays and the hotel has a well earned reputation for special interest breaks - walking, painting, fishing, golfing, cycling, surfing (tutored), kayaking etc - with staff very happy to help guests to plan the perfect holiday to suit their interests. With Dunfanaghy Stables on site, horse riding is normally a particular draw and Trail Riding breaks promise what could indeed be ‘the holiday of a lifetime’- and, although unavailable this season, that will be something special to look forward to next year. Meanwhile it makes a cosy off-season destination, and there are two family rooms.

No. 1 Pery Square Hotel & Spa
Limerick Co Limerick

A stunning property on the city’s most gracious Georgian square, Limerick’s premier boutique hotel was immaculately restored over several years by owners Patricia and George Roberts in celebration of its original architectural features and, ever since opening in 2004, the warmth of welcome and pampering of guests have always matched the care devoted to the building. Fine public rooms and sumptuous bedrooms are a delight, also memorable dining at the Long Room and Sash Restaurant where head chef Keith Pigott showcases local and seasonal produce with finesse, while the holistic Spa @ No. 1 offers the ultimate in wellness programmes. Winner of our Community Awards (Hotel category), it is what Patricia gives to Limerick that makes No. 1 Pery Square extra special. Events, such as the Georgian Christmas Fair for example, which lifted spirits so enjoyably last December, and suppport for the annual Pigtown Culture and Food series which has celebrated the food heritage of Limerick city and county each autumn since 2017. The perception of Limerick has changed dramatically in recent years, and it’s people like Patricia Roberts who have made that happen. A great base in a vibrant city that is easily explored on foot.

The Station House Hotel
Kilmessan Co Meath

Set in the heart of the Boyne Valley on twelve acres of woodland and manicured gardens, the Slattery family’s unique property is an old railway junction, closed since 1963, and they converted all the various buildings to create an hotel of charm and character. It has always been an interesting and unusual place to visit, with a well-earned reputation for good food with a local flavour, and - as well as being a comfortable base for business, or for exploring this fascinating county - its quirky character and colourful gardens make it a pretty wedding venue. The property had perhaps become more old-fashioned than old-world of late however, so it will be a big surprise to some guests returning post-pandemic to find that it has been refurbished throughout, introducing a lighter and more elegant country house style - especially in the beautifully appointed bedrooms – and re-establishing it as a must-visit destination on the enchanting Boyne Valley Drive. All of which contributed to it becoming our 3-Star Hotel of the Year. *Look out for the Boyne Valley Wine & Food Events, which are of special interest for short breaks.

Cliff at Lyons
Celbridge Co Kildare

Where many in hospitality quite reasonably feared disaster as a result of the long closures and restricted openings of 2020 and 2021, others saw opportunity - a chance to look at things differently and use the enforced downtime to develop and diversify. Few achieved as much as our 4-Star Hotel of the Year Cliff at Lyons, the former Lyons Demesne which became home to numerous interlinking enterprises including Jordan and Majken Bech Bailey’s destination restaurant Aimsir (the Guide’s Restaurant of the Year 2020, among many other well-deserved accolades) and the Cliff at Lyons hotel, where Majken is now operations manager and her influence can be seen in many stylishly simple changes. Recent successes at Cliff at Lyons are down to many factors, including the spread out restored ‘village’ accommodation (some pet friendly), which creates a comfortable ambience for social distancing. And, as well as reinventing an atmospheric banqueting room to create The Mill restaurant and building a new terrace at the hotel, activities over at Aimsir have included developing a new garden and farm – and their ‘Every Cloud’ pop-up food truck, which created quite a sensation. Stellar stuff all round. Although generally seen as quite an ‘adult’ destination, family mini-breaks (2B&B1D) are offered from €658 for two people and one child sharing, depending on the season.


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