Always dreamed of being Lord or Lady of the Manor? Keen to kick up your feet with a four poster bed in front of a roaring fire? Ireland’s lush countryside is dotted with stunning mansion houses and castles to allow you to pander to your Downton-esque daydream.
An escape to one of these palatial properties is a fantastic way to detox from the outside world and lap up the charm of by-gone eras. A stay-cation in your very own castle or manor can be tailored to your desires, whether it is a gourmet getaway, a romantic retreat or a family break. The following picks are the gold standard of Irish country houses and castles – chronicling the best classic but never creaky luxury properties in the country.
Dunbrody House, Co. Wexford
TV Chef Kevin Dundon’s Dunbrody House Hotel on the Hook Peninsula has recently been awarded Best Luxury Country House Hotel in the World by the Luxury Travel Guide. A trip to Dunbrody is an unrivalled culinary getaway as can you enjoy an exceptional standard of dining in the award winning Harvest Room Restaurant and check yourself into the cookery school kitchen to pick up some tips to take home with you. From Food with Flair to The Art of Slow Cooking, your break at Dunbrody can be split between honing your own kitchen credentials and being wined and dined.
Echo Lodge, Co. Limerick
Tucked away in Ballingarry village just outside beautiful Adare, Echo Lodge is a gorgeous period property worth travelling to for its restaurant alone and checking in means you can sample their impressive wine list too. The Mustard Seed is an award-winning eatery offering fine dining in opulent surroundings, with wild game and impeccably warm service a speciality.
Carrig Country House, Co. Kerry
Carrig Country House is perched on the shores of Caragh Lake, just outside Killorglin on the famous Ring of Kerry. The Ring has no shortage of aesthetically awe-inspiring sights, but at Carrig House you can actually be a part of the beauty, waking up to unforgettable views from your bedroom window. Stroll the grounds before heading to their award-winning Lakeside Restaurant to enjoy some Ring of Kerry Lamb – truly a dinner with a view.
Viewmount House, Co. Longford
Longford may not have cropped up on your must-see list before but Viewmount House is worth the trip. Formerly home to the Earl of Longford, here you will receive VIP treatment as standard but the real draw is the calibre of dining offered in VM Restaurant. Chef Gary O’Hanlon is turning out imaginative, high end cuisine with the best of local ingredients, meaning you will retire to your boutique room very satisfied indeed.
Gregan’s Castle, Co. Clare
In the heart of the rugged beauty of The Burren is Gregan’s Castle, one of the country’s premier culinary destination hotels. Formerly the playground of the masterful Mikael Viljanen, David Hurley now heads up The Dining Room and was awarded Best Chef in Munster at the 2015 Restaurant Association of Ireland Awards. The Dining Room has consistently earned 3 AA Rosettes for Culinary Mastery and Excellence, making a sojourn at Gregan’s Castle a gourmet getaway to remember.
Lough Eske, Co. Donegal
Lough Eske Castle is the ultimate in opulent outposts, at the Northern tip of the Isle nestled in a 43 acre forest it has fairy-tale written all over it. Expect nothing less than rose petals scattered all over your magnificent fur poster bed when you return from a candlelit dinner at Cedar’s Restaurant. Recharge your batteries together in Spa Solis and contemplate never leaving.
Marlfield House, Co. Wexford
A romantic trip to the sunny South East would be immeasurably improved by checking in to the magnificent Marlfield House. A member of the prestigious Relais and Chateaux luxury hotel group, Marlfield house is sumptuous in its decor and a haven for couples in need of a retreat. With the stunning flower-filled House Conservatory Restaurant overlooking lush gardens, the scene is set for a night to remember.
Castle Leslie, Co. Monaghan
Paul McCartney’s wedding venue of choice, if its good enough for a Beatle’s Big Day then you can see why Castle Leslie is the perfect place to woo your significant other. Each castle room is unique and all remain true to their heritage in decor, some with grand baths at the foot of the bed, others with the opulence of open fireplaces, it would be difficult not to fall in love all over again at Castle Leslie Estate.
Ballynahinch Castle, Co. Galway
Sitting in a postcard-like valley at the foot of the 12 Bens Mountains in sleepy Connemara, Ballynahinch Castle is a fairytale memory waiting to be made. The castle is dotted with floor to ceiling windows overlooking its own babbling brook and woodland estate, a stunning view from both the four-poster luxury bedrooms and it’s Owenmore Restaurant. Chef Ultan Cooke, formerly of Aniar, adds to this magical setting with his Wild Atlantic Way produce focused cuisine.
Ard na Sidhe, Co. Kerry
On the shores of Caragh Lake in idyllic County Kerry is Ard na Sidhe, meaning Hill of the Fairies, a country house that feels like it is designed for romance. A candle-lit dining room and roaring open fireplaces offer intimacy and warmth in the cooler months. When it warms up you can take things outside and enjoy breath-taking picnic spots on the grounds or even a row boat on the lake.
Glenlo Abbey, Co. Galway
Home of the stunning Pullman Restaurant, which is housed in a reclaimed 1930’s Pullman train carriage, a trip to Glenlo Abbey is anything but ordinary. A luxury five star property dating back to the 1700’s and overlooking Lough Corrib, memories are made here. Opt for the Five Star Family Adventure Package and watch your little ones eyes light up as they discover an in-room Tee-Pee Tent before heading to the Abbey Movie Theatre to watch one of their favourites. Glenlo Abbey is also dog-friendly, so they can bring their furry friends.
Castle Durrow, Co. Laois
Let your little ones feel like princes and princesses with a break to fabulous Castle Durrow. Nothing is too much trouble here with younger guests as well as their parents treated like royalty in this stunning property. With sprawling woodlands on the estate and stunning gardens perfect for hide and seek there’s no fear of cabin fever at Castle Durrow.
Killashee House Hotel, Co. Kildare
Killashee House Hotel is perfectly located just 30 minutes from Dublin, so if you are looking for a break without a mammoth road trip a quick drive to Kildare is the answer. Steeped in Victorian grandeur and opulence yet equipped with amenities to keep everyone entertained, from a kid’s pool to neighbouring Caragh Open Pet Farm, no-one will be complaining of boredom at Killashee.
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that (and greed) as the ultimate motivators, I quickly realised that home-baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law I undertook a PhD, but a preference for cookbooks to textbooks persisted. As a (self-confessed!) demon in the kitchen, I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, which fuelled my desire to set my focus on food in a serious way. Working with The Taste allows me to satiate this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting. Follow me as I share my food adventures and hopefully inspire others to indulge their passion for cooking and food in the process!