Planning a trip to Ireland soon? Take a look through our pick of the best hotels to stay in to ensure your trip is unforgettable…
Ashford Castle, County Mayo
This majestic 800-year-old castle on the edge of Lough Corrib is more resplendent than ever following the completion of a $75 million investment. The one-time home of the Guinness family is now a prestigious Red Carnation Hotel and a Leading Hotel of the World. Located on a 350-acre estate, the castle features grand rooms, gorgeous antiques, oil paintings and, even, suits of armour. The 83 bedrooms combine traditional elegance, modern luxuries and meticulous attention to detail, and there are four restaurants serving exceptional food, from the sophisticated George V Dining Room to the atmospheric bistro, The Dungeon. You can also enjoy private wine tastings or dinners in the 16th-century cellars. Daytime activities range from horse riding, fishing and shooting to golf, cycling and kayaking. The peerless sporting estate is also home to Ireland’s first School of Falconry and has an award-winning spa.
NAME TO KNOW… Room divisions manager, Catherine Kenny, who has been working at the castle for over 20 years. She has many tales to share about life at the historic Guinness castle.
Doubles from €595 +353 (0)9495 46003; ashfordcastle.com
Ballyfin, County Laois
One of Ireland’s most important neo-classical houses, Ballyfin stands in its own 614-acre demesne, including lake, Victorian fernery, Edwardian rockery and walled garden, not to mention the tower with panoramic views. A Downton-esque knot of staff awaits guests on the steps as they arrive, setting the tone for service that is old school, yet warm and friendly. The reception rooms are filled with superb antiques and paintings, and there’s a fabulous indoor pool, vitality pool, sauna and four treatment rooms. The 20 bedrooms are all gorgeous, in classic Irish country-house fashion; perhaps the loveliest is the Lady Caroline Coote, with its graceful Empire-style ceiling, but each one is appealing in its own distinctive way. As for the food, it effortlessly lives up to the surroundings. Standards are very high at Ballyfin, and it’s the sort of place where one jarring note would spoil the show. Happily, it never does.
NAME TO KNOW… Glenn Brophy, a member of the butler team, who went to school at Ballyfin when it was a college and joined the day it opened as a hotel. Take his house-tour to learn how the property has changed over the last four decades.
Doubles from €590 +353 (0)5787 55866; ballyfin.com
Ballynahinch Castle, County Galway
Set at the foot of the Twelve Bens, Ballynahinch Castle has a history as colourful as its riverside setting is stunning. Surrounded by 700 acres of rugged Connemara landscape, it’s a hotel with a big heart that captivates its many returning guests. It enchanted Seamus Heaney, who wrote his fine poem Ballynahinch Lake while staying here, and it captivated delightful General Manager Patrick O’Flaherty, who has been at the helm for 20 years and lives with his family on the estate. Don’t worry – no spa or heliport here, just superb salmon fishing (the atmospheric, wood-panelled pub is full of memorabilia and has a famous set of weighing scales), spacious bedrooms, good food, comfort and kindness. In the elegantly redecorated restaurant, hung with superb 20th-century Irish art, you will kill for a table overlooking the Owenmore River. Stewarding the kitchen is head chef Pete Durkan, under whose watch Ballynahinch has earned two AA rosettes. He ensures that dining is a highlight of your stay, one that you will only want to repeat.
NAME TO KNOW… Des has been at the hotel for over 30 years and is passionate about the hotel’s history and its literary and art connections.
Doubles from £155 +353 (0)95 31006; ballynahinchcastle.com
Ballyvolane House, County Cork
Imagine a grand, Italianate, Georgian, Irish country house, gorgeous but lived-in, run as a guesthouse by its old-school owners since the mid-1980s. Imagine their son growing up there, then leaving to work at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong and later as general manager at Babington House. Imagine that he then returns, takes over the reins and runs the hotel his way. You are imagining Ballyvolane. Filled with antiques, oozing atmosphere, it’s also – thanks to deft touches introduced by Justin Green – somewhere that’s cool and stylish too. It’s that hard to achieve thing: a place where one can unwind, but makes its guests feel glamorous and special. There are Persian rugs, antiques, quirky retro tables, roaring fires and a lavishly stocked honesty bar, with Justin’s own delicious gin, Bertha’s Revenge, taking pride of place. The bedrooms are lovely and the food, eaten communally, unless you specify otherwise (you won’t), delicious. There’s glamping too, in the lovely gardens and grounds, and fishing.
NAME TO KNOW… Fly-casting instructor and former casting world champion, Glenda Powell, who can show you how to hook a salmon.
Doubles from €198 +353 (0)25 36349; ballyvolanehouse.ie
Cliff House Hotel
A good hotel in an unusual location is such a joy, not only because it offers spoiling things – including, in this case, a fabulous building, all glass, steel, slate and ‘living’ roofs. Cliff House Hotel drops to the sea in a series of levels, connected internally by a lift and a spiral staircase, with all rooms facing the water. It has fabulous bedrooms, an airy restaurant, jazzy bar and semicircular, lime green spa, and as for the Michelin-starred food, it’s courtesy of hugely talented 6’8” Dutchman Martijn Kajuiter. But it’s the clifftop waterside setting, the views and the charming local staff that really make it special. Ardmore is special too: Ireland’s earliest Christian settlement, founded by St Declán in 1416; nowadays a summertime seaside resort,
its charms include a famous 12th-century round tower and a gently curving beach. Here, you are guaranteed to rest, explore, make friends and eat well in equal measure. A delightful spot.
NAME TO KNOW… Sommelier Thierry Sauvanot, who will help ensure that you find a wine that perfectly complements your meal.
Doubles from €200 +353 (0)2487 800; cliffhousehotel.ie
Currarevagh House, County Galway
‘Things have always stayed the same here,’ says Henry Hodgson, fifth generation of his family to run their home as a guesthouse. ‘It would be rude to change them now.’ And that’s the joy of this Victorian country house. Beautifully set on Lough Corrib, with huge sash windows and original shutters, the house was built in 1840, though the family has lived here since the 17th century. Inside, you are transported to a calmer, more dignified time (Wifi is the only modern concession), where a gong heralds dinner and the breakfast coffee is served in original ’50s glass Cona receptacles, warmed by methylated spirit burners. Henry is charming and funny and totally at ease; his wife Lucy (they have three young daughters) is a marvellous cook and dinner is always delicious. You feel completely relaxed: what more could you possibly want? Room keys? ‘We don’t have them,’ says Henry, ‘your things will be perfectly safe.’ And you know, without doubt, that he speaks the truth.
NAME TO KNOW… Anne Marie, who knows everyone and everything within a 50km radius.
Doubles from €160 +353 (0)9155 2312; currarevagh.com
Dunbrody House, County Wexford
The great and good of Ireland and beyond make their way to this delightful country-house hotel not only for its sublime location – a perfect spot from which to soak up rugged and wild natural beauty and tranquillity – but also the warm Irish welcome of husband and wife owners Kevin and Catherine Dundon. They set the bar high for excellence – from the first-class seasonal, local food (well, Kevin is a celebrity TV chef, and you can take lessons too if you fancy it) – think rack of Wexford lamb with confit shoulder in the main Harvest Room restaurant or perhaps Kilmore Quay crab cocktail from the Champagne Seafood Bar – to each of the individual rooms and suites, all of which are luxurious with gorgeous fabrics and furniture. You might also fancy a steam and an Aromatherapy Associates massage in the spa – which amazingly also serves up delicious but healthy food and snacks. There’s also a guesthouse that sleeps six.
NAME TO KNOW… Gardener, Emmet, is only too happy to chat about Dunbrody’s kitchen garden, truffle trees, herbs and, of course, the wonderful collection of trees.
Doubles from €95 +353 (0)5138 9600; dunbrodyhouse.com
The K Club, County Kildare
Whether you’re a golfer or an art lover, a family or a fly fisher, there’s something for everyone at this stunning country mansion hotel. It was built in 1832, modelled on a French château, in 550 tree-filled acres through which the River Liffey runs. In 1991 it opened as a luxury hotel, becoming Ireland’s first AA five red star property. There’s fly fishing with resident ghillies, horse riding and clay pigeon shooting among other country pursuits, but golf is the sport that dominates. It has two Arnold Palmer-designed courses and hosted the 2006 Ryder Cup and 2016 Irish Open. The sumptuous interior is furnished with antiques, chandeliers, swagged curtains and fine paintings, including an impressive Jack Yeats’ collection. Culture vultures will enjoy the regular art talks and tours and seeing its rare replica of the Book of Kells. Choose between four restaurants, including top-notch fine dining in the Byerley Turk, and relax in the fabulous pool and spa.
NAME TO KNOW… The award-winning sommelier, Lisa O’Doherty, who can assist in selecting a bottle to accompany dinner.
Doubles from €229 +353 (0)1601 7200; kclub.ie
The Merrion, Dublin
Dublin’s finest hotel is effortlessly gracious. Everything feels right, from the location opposite the Government Buildings and the twinkly doormen, to the polished service and the elegant, classic bedrooms. Four tall, sober Georgian town houses – one of which was the birthplace of the first Duke of Wellington – have been opened up to create a series of expansive, welcoming reception rooms with stucco ceilings, peat fires, antique furniture and the owner’s outstanding collection of 19th and 20th-century Irish art, which you can learn about in a discreet audio tour. Just as impressive is the lovely formal garden, graced by Rowan Gillespie’s wonderful statue of James Joyce. As for the restaurant, it’s the province of two Michelin-starred Patrick Guilbaud, and there’s a spa with pillared infinity pool. No surprise that the charming general manager, Peter MacCann, has been in place since The Merrion opened, but quite a surprise to know that was less than 20 years ago. It feels timeless.
NAME TO KNOW… Head concierge since the hotel’s opening in 1997, Sean Lally, whose favourite thing about Dublin is the Dubliners with their great gift of the gab.
Doubles from €250 +353 (0)1603 0600; merrionhotel.com
The River Lee, Cork
Where better to stay in Cork than this stunning modern hotel, as exciting and hip as the city itself? Part of The Doyle Collection and sister of The Westbury in Dublin (see below) and London’s The Kensington, The Bloomsbury and The Marylebone, it’s on a picturesque bend in the river just outside the centre, with compelling views. Cork is a popular destination for foodies and the hotel’s riverside all-day bistro, Terrace On The Weir, is a local favourite for everything from brunch to late-night cocktails. It’s a relaxed place, where you can enjoy good food and the view, with Donegal tweed blankets if it turns chilly and an extendable roof if it rains. Inside, the river is on show through floor-to-ceiling windows in the grown-up Weir Rooms, also open all day for deliciously simple dishes. Fabulously comfortable rooms, a pool, gym and friendly staff put the icing on the cake.
NAME TO KNOW… Business excellence manager Helena Haliniak, who has a wealth of local Cork knowledge. Ask her where to go for a classic Irish tipple.
Doubles from €160 +353 (0)2142 52700; doylecollection.com
The Westbury, Dublin
Standards are always high at The Doyle Collection. Never more so than at The Westbury. Like its sisters, The River Lee (see above) and, three London hotels, The Kensington, The Bloomsbury and The Marylebone, it has a sleek design, intuitive staff and luxuriously comfortable rooms. It has an unrivalled location overlooking Grafton Street, with its galaxy of consumer delights. After a long day, your room will seem like the answer to a prayer – enveloping and soothing in shades of taupe, with custom-woven Irish wool carpets, mohair-covered chairs and underfloor-heated marble bathrooms. For food, there’s Balfes, a contemporary cross between a New York eatery and Parisian brasserie, where the dishes match its edgy decor, or haute cuisine at the sophisticated, upmarket Wilde. Don’t miss afternoon tea at The Gallery, overlooking the throngs of Grafton Street, surrounded by one of the country’s finest private art collections – an Irish institution.
NAME TO KNOW… Guest relations manager Joseph Downing, who will have you captivated by his vast knowledge of art history and the beautiful works on display in the hotel.
Doubles from €320 +353 (0)1679 1122; doylecollection.com