Ballyfin – County Laois
One of Ireland’s most important neoclassical houses, Ballyfin stands in its own 614-acre demesne, which includes a lake, Victorian fernery, Edwardian rockery and walled garden, not to mention the tower with panoramic views. A Downton-esque knot of staff await guests on the steps as they arrive, setting the tone for service that is old school, yet warm and friendly – Richard E. Grant once quipped that it is ‘like stepping back in time, without the inconvenience of no electricity’. The reception rooms are filled with superb antiques and paintings, and there’s the fabulous indoor pool, vitality pool, sauna and treatment rooms. The 20 bedrooms are all gorgeous, in classic Irish country house fashion. There is also a beautiful private Gardener’s Cottage available to rent. As for the food, with the highly regarded Sam Moody at the helm – he won a Michelin star for the Bath Priory – it effortlessly lives up to the surroundings. Standards are sky high at Ballyfin, and it’s the sort of place where one jarring note would spoil the show. Happily, it never does: this is one of Europe’s great hotels.
Doubles from €580
+353 (0)5787 55866; ballyfin.com