Staycation Wishlist Vouchers - 10 Of The Best

We may not know what restrictions we’ll have to work around this Christmas, but there’s plenty we can do when choosing gifts that will make a real difference. We all need something to look forward to and psychologists say that one path to mental wellbeing is to switch off from reality sometimes and imagine ourselves enjoying some future activity. And this year we need to make the season of giving work for everyone, including our hotels, restaurants, pubs and food producers. So why not gift a voucher from a favourite hotel or restaurant - or better still, perhaps, from a hospitality marketing group, to give the fun of choosing and planning a treat from all the experiences they offer, and spread the spending around to help more businesses? If we could all buy at least one hospitality voucher this Christmas - for personal and corporate gifts - there will be so much more for everyone to enjoy next year. 

Ireland’s Blue Book 
Fitzwilliam Square Dublin 2
Tel: (01) 676 9914 (office hours)

Ireland’s Blue Book (formerly the Irish Country Houses & Restaurants Association) was established in 1974 to bridge the promotional gap ‘between bed and breakfast accommodation and the larger hotel industry’ and some of the founding members - including Cork veterans Ballymaloe House and Longueville House, Connemara gem Currarevagh House and the uniquely old-world Hunter’s Hotel in Co Wicklow - are still going strong. Renowned for all-round quality, hands-on hospitality and local (often home produced) food, they were way ahead of the posse when they introduced their famous Blue Book Vouchers in 1992 and they’ve since become the go-to solution for discerning gifting - and one of the big success stories of Irish food and hospitality. Service is at the heart of the Blue Book ethos, but many of their properties also offer self-catering and exclusive rental, and the membership is astonishingly diverse. Offering everything from classic country houses (like Coopershill, Co Sligo, which features on the 2021 cover), seriously special hotels (think The Merrion in Dublin and Co Laois gem, Ballyfin Demesne… ) and top restaurants (including Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud and top Kilkenny destination, Campagne, to castles, historic estates and quirky options (including an island lighthouse, and even a Shannon barge) to choose from, who wouldn’t love to receive a Blue Book voucher this Christmas? New members, Delphi Lodge in Connemara and Dublin fine dining favourite Dax Restaurant, bring the membership for 2021 up to nearly 60 and vouchers are available from €100.
 

Hidden Ireland 
Louisburgh Co Mayo
Tel: 098 66650 (office hours)

Established in the 1980s by a group of like-minded custodians of big country properties, the focus of Hidden Ireland is on sharing the experience of the country house as a family home, with its values of ‘heritage, tradition, charm, style, and personality’ and communal dining. Aiming to provide something quite different from ‘the typical modern hotel experience’, Hidden Ireland hosts put the emphasis on sharing their homes and their history - whether it be many generations in the same family, as in Clonalis House in Co Roscommon (home to Carolan’s harp among many other fascinating items in their small museum) or Temple House, which the Perceval family have called home since 1665, or a property rescued from dereliction like the lovely Roundwood House in Co Laois. Other much-loved properties in the collection include Ballyvolane House in East Cork (where Bertha’s Revenge gin is a unique attraction), Paddy and Julia Foyle’s wonderfully quirky Connemara destination, The Quay House, and a recently-joined member, The Castle in Castletownshend Co Cork (see photo). Many of the Hidden Ireland properties are available as ‘big house rentals’ (catered or self-catering) and/or have cottages or converted outbuildings available for self catering. Vouchers are available from €100.

Good Food Ireland 
Drinagh Co Wexford
Tel: 053 915 8693 (office hours)

Founded in 2006 by its CEO, Margaret Jeffares, Good Food Ireland positions itself as ‘The link between good food and the tourism hospitality sector’- a “network of like-minded people and places carefully chosen for their passionate commitment to using Irish ingredients, supporting local farmers, food producers and fishermen. Only those businesses that meet the highest standards, through a strict selection process, can join the Good Food Ireland Collection”. Hospitality members include hotels - such as Northern Ireland’s pioneering Hastings Hotel Group (see below), the wonderful Mount Juliet Estate in Co Kilkenny, and favourites like The Dunraven Arms in Adare - restaurants and pubs ranging from Woodruff and Lock 13 in the Dublin area to tourist hotspots such as Kylemore Abbey in Connemara. Then there are the producers themselves, cookery classes, tastings (craft drinks as well as food) and tours. …Members all around the country - ranging from Calvey’s Achill Lamb in the west to The Dew Drop Gastropub in the east, for example, and Ditty’s Home Bakery in the north to Glenilen Farm in the south - can be found on GFI’s interactive map. Vouchers covering dining out, cookery courses, hotel breaks, food and drink shopping, ‘and much more’ are available online, from €50-500.

Original Irish Hotels 
Foxrock Co Dublin4
Tel: 01 295 8900 (office hours)

An amalgamation of the former Manor House Hotels and Irish Country Hotels, Original Irish Hotels is a collection of sixty independently owned hotels in prime locations throughout Ireland, north and south (if a little thin in the midlands). It includes such gems as Ballynahinch Castle (see photo) and Lough Inagh Lodge in Connemara, Beech Hill Country House Hotel in Derry and BrookLodge & Macreddin Village in Co Wicklow, institutions like Buswells in Dublin, The Granville in Waterford and the Londonderry Arms in Co Antrim. They’re all registered hotels (although some have self catering options as well, or operate as private venues) and the range of styles includes ‘traditional and boutique hotels, castles, manor and country houses’, but they’re all unique - and many of our favourite ‘nice old fashioned hotels’ are in the Original Irish Hotels collection, which makes it very special. Gift vouchers from €50-€1000 are available online, also 2-night gift packages at €400-€500.

Irish Hotels Federation 
Northbrook Road, Dublin 6
Tel: 01 497 6459 (office hours)

Founded in 1937, the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) is the national organisation of the hotel and guesthouse industry in Ireland and its primary function is to promote and defend the interests of the almost 1,000 hotels and guesthouses that it represents nationwide. Recently the IHF came up with the brilliant idea of ‘The Go Anywhere Gift Card’ which can be used at about 350 of its member properties. Participating IHF members include many much-loved destinations all around the country, including Fitzgerald’s Woodlands House Hotel & Spa at Adare, Co Limerick, which is home to current president, Elaina Fitzgerald Kane, and one of its longest standing members. Guesthouses include The Moorings at Portmagee in Co Kerry, and there are three star Kerry gems such as Dingle Benners, Killeen House Hotel in Killarney and the Grand Hotel, Tralee. Participating four and five star hotels include places with very different personalities such as The Armada, Lahinch Coast and Dromoland Castle in Co Clare; famous Wexford four star The Ferrycarrig; and Kildare favourites Cliff at Lyons, The K Club and Kilkea Castle & Golf Resort…Every county offers similar choices, so there’s no shortage of ways to spend that Go Anywhere Gift Card, which is available online from €50-€1000 as an electronic or physical card.

Restaurants Association of Ireland 
Bridge Court, Dublin 8.
Tel: 01 677 9901 (office hours)

The Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) was formed in 1970 with the initial goal of forming a strong lobby that would represent the industry at Government level on issues of importance to the Irish restaurant industry - recently, for example, it has been instrumental in helping to reduce the VAT rate for restaurants. It now represents over 2,500 members and also has over 150 trade partners (businesses that are RAI approved suppliers of products and services for restaurants), so its importance in terms of supporting individual businesses and our food and hospitality industry in general can’t be overstated. Last November, with the support of Fáilte Ireland as part of their ‘Taste the Island’ promotion, the RAI launched its universal gift voucher, which can be used at any of their participating members, which include hotels and restaurants with rooms as well as full service restaurants, coffees shops, gastropubs, golf clubs and cookery schools. Gift vouchers are available from as little as €20 and are emailed out at the time of ordering.

MHL Hotel Collection
Dundrum, Dublin 16

Established by three partners, John Malone, Paul Higgins and John Lally, the MHL Hotel Collection is ‘a collection of unique and individual hotels in key city and resort locations throughout Ireland’. While sharing a ‘commitment to delivering exceptional hospitality to all guests’, each property has its own distinct personality and charm. The collection comprises four- and five-star hotels including top destinations such as The Westin and the InterContinental Dublin (see photo), Powerscourt Resort & Spa in County Wicklow, The Galmont, Glenlo Abbey and Harbour Hotel in Galway city, and the Limerick Strand Hotel. While it may not be Ireland’s largest collection, MHL is impressive in terms of the calibre of the member properties and an MHL Gift Voucher might be especially attractive as a corporate gift, as well as making an extremely welcome gift for family or friends. Vouchers are available to purchase as a monetary amount, or as an experience - you could buy a Spa Daycation at Dublin’s InterContinental from €150, for example, or Dinner for Two in Seasons Restaurant for €90, while a hamper at the Limerick Strand is available from €49, or Afternoon Tea for Two from €53. Great range of hotels and well worth investigating.

Flynn Hotels 
Castlecomer Road Kilkenny
Tel: 056 776 0500
Although now perhaps more famous for its other high profile hotels - the Old Ground Hotel Ennis, the Imperial Hotel Cork (see photo) and the Newpark Hotel Kilkenny - the Flynn Hotels group has its origins in West Waterford where the late Elizabeth (Dottie) Flynn started it off with the former family home, Whitechurch House, before taking on the Park Hotel Dungarvan. Although there are just four hotels in the group, they are in excellent locations and are all much-loved, with very different characters. General (monetary) gift vouchers that can be used in any of the hotels start at just €50 and others options include an Escape Spa voucher from the same price that can be used in the spa at the Imperial Hotel, Cork. But the top one is the "Our Gift to You" Christmas Voucher, which includes an extra complimentary 1 night stay at any Flynn Hotel during the months of January, February and March 2021 based on a minimum spend of €250 on a Flynn Hotel Voucher. Given what the hotels have to offer a Flynn voucher has the makings of a very nice family gift - particularly at The Newpark, perhaps, which is our Family Friendly Hotel 2020, and the Park Hotel Dungarvan, which is very handy to the Greenway.

SÓ Hotel Group 
Tel: 061 335566

Só Hotels is a small group of four star hotels owned by the respected West of Ireland businessman, Pat McDonagh. In 1978 the former schoolteacher founded the highly successful Supermac’s fast food chain and (equally relevant to the story) has sponsored Galway hurling teams since 1990. Given this commitment to community, it is not surprising that the mission at Só Hotels should be not only to deliver the highest level of service, but also ‘a true Irish Experience’. Notable members of the group are the spacious Castletroy Park Hotel and Leisure Club (see photo), which also offers self contained suites in an adjacent building and is very well located near the University of Limerick and its cultural amenities, and the Lough Rea Hotel & Spa which is not only a destination in its own right but also a good value base to explore the historic towns nearby, Galway city (20 minutes drive) and surrounding areas including north Clare. Gift vouchers are available online from €25 to €500 and experiences can be purchased for individual hotels; for example, there’s a Loughrea Hotel & Spa Pamper Package at €79 and overnight packages for two from €109, while is €90, or you could buy a 3-month Gym/Leisure Club Membership for €170 or a Sunday Night Escape at €90. Coming up to Christmas they also offer a Galway Shopping B&B Special from €70 for two, with late check out until 2pm and €20 spa credit per person (50 minute treatment).
 

Hastings Hotels 
Upper Newtownards Road Belfast
Tel: 0044 028 9047 1066 (office hours)

Northern Ireland’s premier hotel group, Hastings Hotels was founded in the mid 1960s by the late Sir William Hastings and currently comprises seven properties. The much-loved 5-star Culloden Estate and Spa (see photo) at Holywood, just outside Belfast, is the jewel in the crown, while the newest is the landmark Grand Central in the city centre - Belfast’s tallest building, it boasts a 23rd floor cocktail bar with superb views. The Slieve Donard Resort and Spa in Newcastle is at the foot of the Mournes, then there’s the 17th century Ballygally Castle on the Antrim Coast with its resident ghost, the Everglades in Derry, and the Stormont Hotel in Belfast - all have a claim to fame and none more so than the Europa, which is known worldwide for its resilience during the Troubles. But for many the most attractive feature of all the Hastings Hotels is their food sourcing policy, which has a strong focus on provenance and supporting local producers throughout the group. Gift Cards, which can be used in any of the seven hotels and have no expiry date, are available online from just £20, or the card can be for a specific experience such as Afternoon Tea or a Spa Treatment - and, during November, the purchaser also gets £10 for every £100 spent.
 

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