ROMANTIC GETAWAYS - TEN OF THE BEST

Spring may be a clichéd time for all things romantic, but there can never be a bad time to plan a twosome break. Here are just a few of our favourite romantic destinations in Ireland to get you thinking…

Cashel Palace Hotel
Cashel, Co Tipperary

The re-opening of the lovely Cashel Palace on 1st March 2002 is the most exciting event in Irish hopsitality for several years. Originally an archbishops' residence and one of Ireland’s best-loved hotels since the 1960s, this graciously proportioned Queen Anne-style manor house in the heart of Cashel town was acquired by the Magnier family of nearby Coolmore Stud in 2016, after a long closure. Since then no expense has been spared in restoring the property elegantly, with an eye to comfort and relaxation as much as respect for history, and developing the new amenities expected of a five-star hotel, including a gorgeous spa with an indoor/outdoor swimming pool. The main reception rooms and some of the spacious, beautifully furnished, and supremely comfortable bedrooms overlook the Rock of Cashel at the rear (private access for guests), and the wide-ranging dining options include some very desirable outdoor spots – the garden at the excellent Mikey Ryan’s Bar and Kitchen, next door, is one that many visitors will already know – and a choice of atmospheric dining areas in the main hotel. Cashel Palace is luxurious and has a very romantic side to its multi-faceted personality but, most importantly - thanks to the warmth of hands-on service from well known General Manager Adriaan Bartels and his team – this Blue Book property still exudes that old fashioned atmosphere and hospitality that modern hotels simply cannot emulate. One for the bucket list.

 

Clare Island Lighthouse
Clare Island, Co Mayo

Clare Island LighthouseAn island stay is the ultimate escape for many, so a stay in a lighthouse at the northern tip of a mountainous island four miles off the rugged west coast of Ireland should fulfil the dream very nicely. Especially when the island was once home to the pirate queen, Gráinne O'Malley. Romantic history aside, Clare Island Lighthouse now makes an unusual and atmospheric place to stay on the largest island in Clew Bay, which is a unique destination by any standards and especially appreciated by artists, walkers and nature lovers. The only lighthouse in Ireland to have two towers (both of which are in use), this wonderful, historic property dates back to 1806 and has been in private ownership since it was decommissioned in 1965. The Fischer family of Hamburg have owned it since 2008 and, together with local business partner and interior designer Roie McCann (who is General Manager), they renovated it to a high standard before opening for guests in 2013. The main living area is in the former lighthouse keeper's home and, while bedrooms vary in size and outlook, all are very comfortable. The style is spare and arty, with underfloor heating and atmospheric open fires and stoves keeping all areas cosy. This is a special 2-night full board experience, in a stunning location, and there’s another highly unusual USP – ‘Storm Watching’ weekends are offered in winter (Nov-Apr). Now wouldn’t that be just the thing.

 

Ballynahinch Castle
Recess Co Galway

Ballynahinch CastleRenowned as a fishing hotel, this crenellated Victorian mansion enjoys a most romantic position in 450 acres of ancient woodland and gardens on the banks of the Ballynahinch River. Although impressive in scale, the atmosphere is wonderfully relaxed - a magic combination which, together with great service and friendliness (and an invigorating mixture of residents and locals in the public bar at night), all combine to bring people back time and again. The tone is set in the foyer, with its huge stone fireplace and ever-burning log fire and many of the (very comfortable) rooms have lovely views over the river. Excellent meals are served in both the Owenmore Restaurant (a bright and elegant room for evening meals, organised to allow as many tables as possible to enjoy its uniquely beautiful river setting) and the mighty high-ceilinged Fisherman’s Pub, which has a huge fireplace and many mementoes of the pleasures of rod and hunt – and is a good place to drop into for lunch when touring Connemara. A stay at this wonderful place is a restorative treat, and it will always be memorable.
 


Marlfield House Hotel
Gorey Co Wexford

Marlfield House, Gorey, County Wexford Once the residence of the Earls of Courtown, and now an elegant oasis of luxury and tranquillity, where guests are cosseted and pampered in sumptuous surroundings, the Bowe family’s impressive Regency house is set in 36 acres of woodlands and immaculately maintained gardens - and its imposing gates, tree-lined driveway, antiques and glittering chandeliers all promise a very special experience. Under the management of sisters Margaret and Laura Bowe (both born with the hospitality gene in fine fettle and very high quality thresholds) there have been some interesting developments of late. While they treasure the traditional qualities of Marlfield House, their newer café-restaurant and garden terrace, The Duck, has broadened its appeal locally and to wedding parties by introducing a younger, more informal dining option. Likewise, while the superb accommodation includes some very grand state rooms and a vast Master Suite, you can now also stay at Duck Lodge, a contemporary 2-bedroom self-catering cottage, or the luxurious Pond Suites, which have added an extra dimension to the whole property and make the garden setting even more attractive. Whether for a stay or a meal to remember, Marlfield has it all.

 

The Merrion Hotel
Upper Merrion Street Dublin 2

Merrion Hotel, Dublin A break in the capital can make the perfect romantic treat – and you won’t do better than a stay at Dublin’s leading five star, just off Dublin’s finest Georgian square and near many of the capital’s main cultural attractions including the National Gallery, which is just a short stroll away. With its marbled hallways and beautifully landscaped gardens, the period elegance of The Merrion provides a stunning setting for romantic celebrations. Beautifully furnished guest rooms and suites are complemented by gracious public areas, an important art collection and an impressive Spa & Health Club (18m pool, spa, gym) and, with modern Irish cooking in The Garden Room, Afternoon Tea in the Drawing Rooms or Terrace, gastro-pub fare in the atmospheric Cellar Bar, and fining dining in Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud (next door), The Merrion provides a desirable dining destination for every time and mood. But its defining feature is discreet, thoughtful service and staff - under the direction of hands-on General Manager Peter McCann - are invariably courteous and helpful. Five star as it should be done: what more could anyone want?



Wineport Lodge
Glasson Athlone Co Westmeath

Ray Byrne and Jane English’s lovely lakeside lodge is one of the most romantic destinations imaginable, both for its beautiful location and the luxury, service and good food offered. Luxurious suites and guest rooms all have seriously sumptuous bathrooms with Voya organic toiletries from Sligo, private balconies overlooking the lake – and superbly comfortable beds (with goose down duvets and extra large pillows) with panoramic lake views … All of which may make it hard to leave your room, but there’s loads to do including pampering in the Treatment Suite, soaking up the view from the waterfront hot tub, lake cruises, excellent walking and exploring a wonderful midlands area that deserves to be better known. And then there’s the food: Wineport Lodge began life as a restaurant, and its combination of stylish seasonal cooking that showcases local produce and a uniquely beautiful setting remain unrivalled throughout Ireland. A magic spot.


Hayfield Manor Hotel
Perrott Avenue College Road Cork

Hayfield Manor, Cork If a break in Ireland’s culinary capital appeals, the discreetly stylish Hayfield Manor could be just the place for you. Cork’s premier five star hotel, it is set in two acres of mature trees and gardens in the south-west of the city, near the university, and has the feeling of a large period country house - albeit with some striking contemporary features. Managed with warmth and discreet efficiency, Hayfield makes a luxurious base for a romantic break and, while the guest rooms have a deliciously high pamper quotient, so does the hotel’s unusual Beautique Spa and its very pretty swimming pool. And the hotel has always had a reputation for its food - fine dining is offered in Orchids Restaurant (where a formal Afternoon Tea is also served) and there’s a more casual style in the smart contemporary Perrotts Garden Bistro, which is a favourite destination for Corkonians to meet up for a relaxed meal. Despite the quiet, almost rural setting, the city centre is just a pleasant walk away in fine weather – and many activities, including golf, are available locally.

 


Gregans Castle Hotel
Ballyvaughan Co Clare

Gregans Castle Hotel, Ballyvaughan, County Clare At their gently luxurious country house hotel overlooking The Burren, Simon Haden and his wife, Freddie – who is responsible for the very beautiful, subtly updated décor inspired by the surrounding landscape - offer quiet opulence, open fires and understated romance. It’s a place with a long and interesting history and, although the present house is relatively modern (only going back to the 18th century!) and has some quite recent additions, the exterior is simple, which is in keeping with the surroundings and gives it an air of mystery – and vivid contrast with the warmth, comfort and uniquely serene atmosphere within. A member of the Burren Food Trail and billed as a ‘luxury, gourmet and eco hideaway’, it’s the natural emphasis on the special character of The Burren, outdoor activities and stunning food that attracts so much well deserved praise – and makes Gregans Castle a magic spot to return to for a magical dining experience after a day in the outdoors. Discreetly hospitable staffand soothing, luxuriously furnished bedrooms – many of them romantic and some dog friendly – together with delicious, meticulously sourced food from chef Robbie McCauley all make and this a great place to be. The perfect hideaway.
   



Cliff House Hotel - Ardmore County Waterford IrelandThe Cliff House Hotel
Ardmore Co Waterford

On the edge of pretty Ardmore village with its sandy beaches to walk, charming local pottery and gift shop, and excellent food and pubs, the Cliff House Hotel is beautifully located - and some may fondly remember the old-fashioned afternoon teas it was famous for in years gone by. Today, The Cliff House and its gorgeous self catering properties, Cliff Cottage and Cliff Beach House, bring a new focus to an area of outstanding hospitality and unspoilt natural beauty that has long been a remarkably well kept secret – and remains so, to a great extent, even though the very successful Waterford Greenway has recently introduced so many new visitors to the Waterford-Dungarvan area. The Cliff House is not your average five star hotel and, with its fresh contemporary style, ambitious cooking and emphasis on professional and genuinely caring service, it offers a refreshing spin on luxury that is equally appealing to Irish residents on short breaks and to international visitors. Its reputation for exceptional food is well earned and, whether for fine dining in the famous House Restaurant or more relaxed meals in the bar, chef Ian Doyle’s cooking alone is reason enough to head here. A must for romantic foodies then – and the special breaks offered include a 2-night Couples Retreat, which is well worth investigating.

 

Bishops Gate Hotel
Derry, Co Londonderry

Bishops Gate Hotel

Hideaways are most often in remote places - on islands, perhaps, or in deeply rural areas. But there is something especially appealing about the idea of a hideaway in a city - and, although it brings a treasure chest of history to its current role, this unusual place - our Hideaway of the Year 2017 - has also brought something very new and different to ancient surroundings. Originally built as a private residence over two centuries ago, and then becoming a Gentlemen's Club, this handsome building in Derry lay empty for many years before being transformed into the atmospheric boutique hotel that it is today. Bringing history, luxury, style and service to the Cathedral Quarter, Bishop’s Gate Hotel is a uniquely interesting place to stay within the historic city walls - and the charming staff are full of warmth, enjoying nothing better than sharing its history with guests. There’s a lovely pride of place that immediately makes new arrivals feel at home. While at the heart of everything - it’s just a short walk to the impressively restored Guildhall, and then over the Peace Bridge to the stunning Ebrington Square Parade Ground (home to the Walled City Brewery among other attractions) - this fascinating place also has a sense of luxurious retreat from the everyday. A very special destination, with a romantic side to its personality - and a great asset to Derry City. 

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