The opportunity to experience some of the best places to stay in Ireland is easily one of the nicest parts of this job. There are lots of fantastic destinations, but what I love most is getting to stay in some of hidden Ireland’s Country Houses. The incredibly charming Ballyvolane, which was originally a classical Georgian home, was our haven for the night and from the moment we entered the grounds we were captivated by its charm. The guesthouse is owned and operated by Justin and his wife Jenny with three generations of the Green Family now living in Ballyvolane.
The gardens and grounds of Ballyvolane are a mix of mature trees, walled gardens and woodland. Ballyvolane literally translates as ‘the place of springing heifers’ and is testament to the fertility, richness and natural diversity of the land on which the estate lies. In the walled garden there is a vegetable garden providing fruit, vegetables and herbs for the kitchen much of the year round. The produce from their garden ensures that the dinner changes every night making sure guests never experience the same menu twice.
As you can imagine every detail of this house has been carefully preserved. One the first floor the sitting room & dining room are warm, relaxing spaces that guests are encouraged to enjoy. Upstairs, six luxurious bedrooms with beautiful views overlooking the gardens provide all of the homely comforts required for a restful nights sleep. The rooms are extremely spacious, individually furnished, tastefully decorated and above all outrageously comfortable.
All rooms have en-suite bathrooms, some of which have beautiful big old antique baths which beckon a good long soak after a hard days work or play. A Nespresso coffee machine is installed in each room, complimentary Nespresso coffee, teas, homemade blackcurrant or elderflower cordial and the all important jar of freshly baked cookies are always within easy reach.
To quote the words of these wise owners, “We only use ingredients from here”…. This means from Ballyvolane’s walled garden, farm, river and from the local area. “We rear our own rare-breed pigs (Saddlebacks, Gloucester Old Spots & Durocs). We are lucky being situated in County Cork as there is an abundance of fantastic artisan food producers close by. Our beef, lamb and mutton come from Michael McGrath in Lismore, fish and shellfish from O’Connell’s Seafood in the English Market, Cork and from Ballycotton Seafood in Midleton, our bacon, sausages, black and white puddings and loins of bacon come from Caherbeg Pork Ltd in Rosscarbery and artisan cheeses from all over Cork, Waterford and Tipperary.”
Justin’s father Jeremy grows a huge amount of vegetables throughout the year in Ballyvolane’s vast walled garden. Exotic vegetables such as sea kale, Tuscan kale, asparagus and globe artichokes as well as lots of different varieties of salad leaves, 4 kinds of potatoes, chard, spinach, courgettes, all sorts of cabbages, curly kale, beetroot, Jerusalem artichokes and much more besides. Fruit such as loganberries, figs, pears, apples and raspberries are served up in season and the green house is used for growing cucumbers, chilies and tomatoes.
Dinner in Ballyvolane is informal and relaxed. The offering each night is a four course set menu. Needless to say, all special dietary requirements are catered for. There is the option of communal dining or individual dining. Dinner is generally taken ‘house-party style’ with the other guests around the main dining table. There are a couple of separate tables in the dining room should you wish to dine away from the main group. In any event, dinner at Ballyvolane is an integral part of the Ballyvolane experience and a ritual not to be missed.
We started with Macroom Buffalo Mozzarella, Chargrilled Fennel, Basil and Olive Oil. Creamy mozzarella pairing excellently with the lovely liquorice flavour of the Fennell. Basil adding that punch of garden fresh flavour to every mouthful.
Our main course of Roast Sirloin of Fitzgeralds Irish Beef, Celeriac Puree, Roast Potatoes and Garden Purple Sprouting Broccoli. This incredible beef was the undisputed champion of the plate. Cooked just to the point of retaining its pert pinkness whilst the fabulous fatty marbling had melted and disperserd throughout. Tenderstem that had seen nothing more than a light steaming made for an outstanding accompaniment. Roast potatoes a solid favourite of mine, did not disappoint. This is the sort of cooking that comes from people with a genuine love of great food and the knowledge and skill required to cook to a level that retains the integrity of the produce at hand.
Following on from a very robust main with a decadent dessert of Sticky Toffee and Date Pudding, Butterscotch Sauce and Whipped Cream. This is a meal designed to comfort even the most world weary amongst us. The warm, gooey goodness of the mega moist sponge ensured each spoonful was a mini melting pot of flavours from the rich, caramel like dates mingling with the butterscotch sauce. Utterly divine.
Dinner is a very communal and party like affair. A truly special experience in very special surroundings. A couple of post dinner Gin & Tonics and that beautiful bedroom was calling. From the fresh air taken in while walking the grounds earlier in the evening to the rich, indulgence of a beautiful dinner an early night was welcomed.
Revived and ready to hit the road, but not until a bounty of breakfast dishes had been devoured. A sumptious spread of fresh fruits, yoghurts, breads and of course the all important full Irish. Leaving with a full tummy and a refreshed body and mind, hand on heart I would recommend a stay here for anyone that has a true love and appreciation for the charm of an old country house and a love of fresh, locally sourced and impeccibly cooked food.
Ballyvolane House is also the home of Bertha’s Revenge Small Batch Irish Milk Gin. Launched on 16 December 2015 at The Irish Georgian Society HQ in Dublin, Bertha’s Revenge Gin was awarded ‘Drink of the Year’ by John & Sally McKenna’s Megabites Drinks Awards on New Year’s Eve 2015. More recently, Bertha won a Bronze Medal at the International Wine & Spirts Competition 2016, the Irish Food Writers Guild ‘Irish Drink Award 2017’ and a Gold Medal Award at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2017. Bertha’s Revenge Gin is aptly named after Bertha the oldest cow in the world who died aged 48 in 1993. Using a base-spirit of whey alcohol produced by Irish dairy farmers, our own spring water, and an interesting mix of locally grown and foraged botanicals, we have hand-crafted a gin reflecting Bertha in her prime. A fragrant nose, soft mouth feel and warming spicy middle notes to mirror her maternal core. And a long confident fruit driven finish to celebrate her longevity. Bertha is distilled in small batches in the distillery in the farmyard at Ballyvolane House.