• Karyn Farrell

Ireland's most cracking hotels: in a nutshell

Updated: May 2, 2019


Apologies for the appalling pun. If you're still reading this, I thank you.


If like me, you’re still feeling that post-Christmas pinch and a trip abroad is looking unlikely for the foreseeable future then fret not. Maybe now is a good time to plan a nice weekend away in good old Ireland, particularly as V-Day is just around the corner. And the good news is that despite rumours to the contrary, there is good value for money to be had if you’re prepared to do a bit of research or take advantage of some midweek deals. I absolutely love getting on a plane for a long weekend but sometimes it’s nice to remove all that airport hassle and instead jump in your car for a more relaxing experience.


Over the years we have stayed in some truly cracking hotels in Ireland so I’ve compiled a list of my absolute favourites, in no particular order. Some are a little bit fancy and for a special treat only, while others are more affordable but no less special.


Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel, Kilkenny city

We stayed here during the Kilkenny Arts Festival and I can honestly say it was one of the best hotel experiences I've ever had in Ireland. Bang in the heart of the city, I doubt you could get a better location. We booked at the last minute without any expectations which made for an even nicer surprise when we realised what a good deal we’d gotten.

We booked one of their deluxe rooms (ours was room 120) and I actually thought we’d been given the key to a suite in error when I opened the door. It was really big, bright and luxurious with a huge comfortable bed, great pillows, a table and chairs, two huge windows with beautiful flower boxes and a great view of the castle, all for a very reasonable price, especially considering it was during the festival.

The bathroom was also gorgeous with a huge window, both bath and shower, and a variety of Orla Kiely products which were replenished daily. Not only that, there were two complimentary bottles of water put into the room every day and Lily O'Brien chocs on arrival. There's also a Nespresso machine. We were blown away by the attention to detail - it really felt like the lap of luxury.

The breakfast room is also really cool with retro decor and vintage posters on the walls. Hot breakfast is made to order and was really good - proper buttery scrambled eggs on toast and good coffee. On top of all that, the staff were very friendly and professional. The reception area is deceptive as it’s a little old-fashioned and reminiscent of Irish hotels from the 80s and 90s but don’t be fooled. It’s an utterly fabulous hotel and one I know we’ll return to again and again. Oh, and it’s about two minutes’ walk from one of Ireland’s best restaurants Rinuccini’s where you can treat yourself to an absolute Italian feast. I’d highly recommend.


Rates:

Bed & Breakfast: Off-peak: €90 - €165 from Standard Double to Suites

Peak season: €130 - €205


Monart Destination Spa, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford

This one would definitely fall under the ‘special treat’ category and its ‘adults-only’ policy means it’s the perfect spot for a romantic weekend away for two. It’s one of the most relaxing places I’ve ever stayed and is without doubt the best spa experience I’ve ever had in a hotel. This is not surprising really as they’ve won awards left, right and centre for their facilities, most notably by Conde Nast who voted it ‘Runner-up Best Spa Retreat Worldwide’. You are told on arrival that this is a 'robed environment', which basically means you can wander around in your bathrobe and slippers all day. Perfectly acceptable behaviour though my husband's comment that it made him feel like he was resident in a nursing home did give me a giggle.

Located in the heart of the countryside outside Enniscorthy, it’s definitely a place to go to switch pace and switch off. Let’s start with the rooms. Deluxe rooms come as standard with a smaller number of suites also available in the 18th century house. And the deluxe rooms truly are deluxe – I may have squealed a little when we checked into ours. They are huge with the most divine beds topped with duck-down duvets. After a day spent lazing in the spa, there’s nothing better than just melting into that fabulous bed. I slept so well on both nights of our stay.

Deluxe rooms all come with a view, either from a terrace or a balcony, so you can choose from a lake or a woodland view to wake up to each morning. Windows are huge to allow you to take full advantage of your surroundings.

The thermal suite is magnificent. You could easily spend half the day there without ever booking a treatment, moving from pool to sauna to steam room to salt bath and then relaxing with a magazine and herbal tea on one of the loungers, strategically placed for the best possible vantage points of their woodland setting. Their Swedish-type sauna is located in the woods and I can guarantee any toxins in your body will be sweated out here. The temperatures are as they should be in any good sauna – almost unbearable but not quite. If you’re feeling brave you can then cool down under the outdoor ice-bucket shower just outside the sauna entrance. You will feel exhilarated afterwards and on top of the world. All of the facilities here are top-notch. The jets in the pool are very strong and really massage into your tired muscles. The steam room will really awaken all your senses. With standards that high, you can only imagine then how good their treatments are.


It’s not cheap but if you keep an eye on their website you can avail of some of their great packages. Recently they’ve offered two nights Bed & Breakfast and 1 Dinner from €239 midweek / €285 weekend per person sharing. This includes unrestricted access to the thermal suite. You’ll also be offered a welcome drink on arrival – a nice touch.


Rates from off-peak to peak B&B: €160 - €180 for a Deluxe Room and €500 for a Suite but a variety of packages including dinners and spa treatments are regularly available on their website and work out at good value.

Brooklodge, Macreddin Village, Wicklow

This is also special treat territory and a fabulous place to enjoy some down-time. Located in the heart of rural Wicklow yet only an hour from Dublin city, Brooklodge has everything you need on-site: a cosy pub, two great restaurants and a spa, so you can ditch the car and relax for the duration of your stay. The location is idyllic with chickens roaming loose on beautifully maintained grounds surrounded by mountains and trees. There is the most picture-perfect little church on site, visible through the trees which can be reached by a small wooden bridge across the river. Apparently this can be hired for weddings, including civil ceremonies, so if this sounds like your thing, check out their website here for more info.

We’ve stayed here twice: once in a standard Village room and the second time, courtesy of some wedding vouchers, in a Superior room. There lies a world of difference in your experience between the two so I’d recommend the upgrade if you can stretch to it. The standard rooms are just that – standard. There is nothing particularly special about them and you certainly don’t feel like you’re in the lap of luxury. They are plainly decorated and a little bit dated. However you are in for an absolute treat if you opt for a Junior Suite.

Ask for one of the traditional rooms with a balcony. Ours was just glorious - really big and bright with huge windows and French doors opening out onto a large balcony with fabulous views across the grounds. The bed was really comfortable and I also loved the Victorian-style bathroom with its black and white tiled floor. The large window also meant you could enjoy mountain views while relaxing in the bath.

Brooklodge is a foodie’s paradise - I’d recommend a two-night stay so that you can try both of their onsite restaurants. La Taverna Armento is their onsite Italian specialising in southern Italian cuisine. It has a casual and laid-back vibe and is good value for money but the food is far from ordinary. The ingredients are all high-quality and every dish was excellent. I went for the Buffalo Mozarella salad and a pasta dish. It was as good as any dishes I’ve had in Italy. It was so good in fact that I didn’t manage to take any photographs so I’m sorry about that. You’ll just have to take my word for it. Delicious and reasonably priced wine too.


But if you really want to treat yourself then you have to book a table at The Strawberry Tree, the first certified organic restaurant in Ireland. It doesn’t come cheap - you have the option of a five-course dinner menu for €69 per person or a nine-course tasting menu for €89 per person, with an additional €35 per person for paired wines. We’ve tried both but if it’s your first time I recommend pushing the boat out and going for the tasting menu. I know nine courses sounds like a lot but they are all perfectly portioned and well-spaced out in terms of timing so you’ll feel satisfied but not overly stuffed and they provide a palette-cleansing sorbet half-way through. You can expect an innovative menu with locally sourced produce and unusual but wonderful combinations. They can also provide a full vegetarian / vegan menu with notice.


Guest have access for free to the thermal suite.


Rates from off-peak to peak B&B:

Standard Village Room: €134-€178 Junior Suite: €184-238 Mezzanine Suite: €204-258

They also offer packages including dinner and spa treatments so keep an eye on the website for deals.


Farnham Estate, Cavan

Farnham is a 16th century estate located in the most picturesque countryside beside the Cavan lakes. I had no idea how beautiful this part of the world was until we hit the road to Farnham that day. It’s incredibly scenic and unspoiled and the lake views are magnificent.

To get the full experience here, you have to stay in one of the eight rooms in the old house as opposed to one of the newer rooms in the modern wing. In my view, if you’re staying on a 400 year old estate, you want your room to be representative of this. Though the modern rooms look fabulous with all mod cons, there is no comparison with the unique style of the traditional rooms. We stayed in the Deerpark Suite which was, without question, one of the nicest rooms I’ve ever stayed in in my life. I checked in while Martin was parking the car and I remember ringing him saying ‘Hurry up. You cannot believe the room we have”. The image below might give you some idea. Huge sash windows, a massive four-poster bed with a chaise longue at the foot, beautiful wooden floors and best of all, there was a working fireplace in the room with two armchairs on either side. Every evening after dinner we’d come back up to our room, light the fire and sit reading on either side. I can’t think of anything more blissful on a cold evening. We basically only left the room to use the spa and to eat.

And then there was the bathroom. I’m a little bit obsessed with hotel bathrooms but when I saw the images of this room on their website, this was the only one I wanted to stay in. The bathroom was about half the size of the bedroom with the same beautiful wooden floors and my favourite feature always: a freestanding bath. Is there anything better? It also had ‘his and hers’ showers and stunning additional features like the delicately upholstered armchair and the marble Art Deco sink with chrome light fixtures and a round mirror. The whole effect was breathtaking. I spent a lot of time in that bathroom, lying in the bath and staring dreamily out of the huge windows which overlooked the grounds. It really felt like a step back in time and I wanted to stay there forever.


The spa and thermal suite is also a massive draw for this hotel, mainly because of the indoor-to-outdoor infinity pool. It felt like you were swimming out into the rolling hills of the surrounding countryside. It’s pretty special. I also treated myself to a facial which was excellent and my skin looked amazing afterwards. You can see images of the spa online here.


Unfortunately we had a disappointing meal in the restaurant which was a real shame, as everything else about our stay was pretty much perfect. Apparently there had been some staffing changes at this time and there had been some teething issues. Friends of ours stayed here more recently though and said they really enjoyed their food so I’m glad to hear that this is no longer the case.


Rates for B&B: Standard King room: €125 - 189 Junior Suite: €160 – €224 Executive Suite (including the 8 traditional suites in the old house) €225 - €289 Master Suite - €275 – €349

There are a number of excellent value packages available on their website at any time, including one and two night stays with dinner and / or spa treatments included.

Absolute Hotel, Limerick

Limerick is often missed on the tourist trail but it has a lot to offer, including some excellent restaurants, the Hunt Museum and Limerick City Gallery of Art, to name but a few. I’ll be honest and admit I had never set foot in Limerick until a few years ago when I organised an event there for work and decided to book a meeting room and overnight accommodation in the Absolute. Well that was six years ago and we’ve used the same hotel every year since. For a business event, their facilities and staff are second-to-none. But that’s not why I’m writing about it. This is a wonderful hotel in every way and is an affordable option for a romantic break or a girls’ weekend.



The bedrooms are gorgeous and huge, even the standard ones. The décor is fabulous: modern and slick yet cosy, with exposed brick on one wall, a feature that always appeals to me as it reminds me of New York-style lofts. The beds are all King-Sized as standard and unbelievably comfortable, and the rain shower in the bathroom is wonderful and really powerful. This is the type of hotel that thinks of everything. I love the little touches like the ice machines at the end of the corridors and the fact that each room has an ice-bucket provided as standard. Not only that but each room (including the standard rooms) has a Nespresso machine. As they say on their website “there is nothing standard about the Absolute Standard” and I’d have to agree. I’ve stayed in many different rooms in this hotel and they’ve all been super.

It also has some of the friendliest and most professional staff I’ve ever encountered in my life and it always strikes me as a good sign that many of them have been working there since we first visited six years ago – a rarity in the service industry but speaks volumes about the ethos and the management of the place.


And if that’s not enough to entice you, then what if I tell you that the food in the restaurant is really good also. I rarely opt to eat in hotel bars but I always make the exception for the Absolute. The hake and risotto dish on their menu is my favourite – the flavours are divine – but I’d also recommend their fish cakes and their fish and chips. And as for the breakfast - it's one of the best hotel breakfasts I've had. The buffet selection is fantastic with granola, fresh fruit, a variety of nuts and seeds, honey etc… and a multitude of other options. Pretty much the opposite of what you would expect from a hotel breakfast in the best possible way. It’s really excellent and their coffee is great too. But to top it all off (if you can squeeze it in), there's an additional made-to-order menu with extras such as French toast and omelettes. Honestly you couldn’t ask for better and I look forward to coming back here every year. It’s a little gem.


Rates: Standard rooms B&B €118 – €145 Superior: €138 - €187 Suite: €178 - €227

Tinakilly House, Wicklow


If you’re looking for that authentic country house experience without paying through the nose, then Tinakilly is the one for you. Of all the places I’ve mentioned, this one is particularly close to my heart, and it’s one we’ve come back to time and time again. A mere forty five minutes’ drive from Dublin, it feels like a world away and a step back in time in the nicest possible way. The house itself is an elegant Victorian mansion set among beautifully manicured gardens with views of the sea in the distance. From the minute you walk in the door, you know that this somewhere special. Staff really go out of their way to make you feel welcome and the place feels both grand and cosy at the same time.



It’s the perfect place for a winter break: think snuggling up in front of the open fire with a book, or with a brandy on a cold evening. There are a number of little anterooms off the main reception area where you can sit and read the newspapers in the morning, or simply sit and stare out the windows at the lovely gardens beyond. The bar has an olde-world charm and is an easy place to lose a few hours on a cold winter’s evening.


It’s also fabulous in summer as they have some very cool Scandi-style outdoor seating – a good spot to take in the views with a nice cold glass of rosé.

And now for the rooms: this is luxury accommodation at a very affordable price. I’ve stayed in a few different rooms here and they’ve all been huge and super-comfortable. They are period-style with antique fittings, complemented nicely with all modern amenities.


Deluxe rooms come as standard, with Queen-sized beds and fluffy bathrobes. Junior Suites are a fabulously affordable option if you feel like an upgrade (some come with four-poster beds) and all come with a view, either of the sea or of the gardens. My husband and I stayed in one of these for a weekend not long after we’d started going out which kicked off my love affair with Tinakilly. Our room was massive with a seating area in front of the window where we treated ourselves to room service the next morning. Top of the range are the Captain’s Suites which come with a massive sitting room area, some with a fireplace. We got a good deal on one of those recently and it was such a treat. The room was enormous.


Last but not least, the food. Give over about an hour and a half to breakfast as it’s an absolute joy. The breakfast buffet is a feast to behold and the dining room is gorgeous. Try grab a table at one of the large windows to enjoy your beautiful surroundings. I’ve also enjoyed some excellent evening meals here too. I loved the goats cheese mousse with beetroot as a starter and the fish dishes have always been good. I recommend the mango and passionfruit cheesecake, if you can squeeze in a dessert.




Rates B&B: Deluxe room: €119 - 159 Junior Suite €149 - €189 Captain’s Suite €179-€199

Packages including dinner available from the website and are very good value.


No. 1 Pery Square, Limerick

We enjoyed a fabulous post-Christmas treat here last year, courtesy of some wedding vouchers from very thoughtful friends and family. They know us so well. Pery Square is an elegant boutique townhouse located across from the park in the Georgian area of Limerick city: my favourite part. It's right beside the Limerick City Gallery of Art which is definitely worth a visit, as is their fantastic cafe Zest which has great salads and cakes for lunch if you're peckish.

If you’re treating yourself I recommend booking one of the four period-style rooms in the townhouse, as opposed to the more modern Club Rooms. Our room, Lord Barrington, was really large and the bed was one of the most comfortable I've ever slept in. I definitely felt like Lady of the Manor here and loved cosying up in the huge armchair by the window with my book. The bathroom was stunning with a freestanding roll-top bath, his-and-hers sinks and Voya products – my favourites. The period rooms are really gorgeous though quite expensive so I would've expected tea and coffee making facilities in a room of this price-bracket as standard. But it wasn’t to be.

My husband and I both had treatments in the spa. My facial was excellent and my skin was glowing afterwards. We were happy that use of the thermal suite was included before our treatments as it is not included as standard for all guests, something that was surprising to me. There is a charge of €25 per hour for guests who do not have access as part of their package: rather expensive in my book, particularly as there was no pool area. I don't think the sauna and steam room really justify the price per hour. So if you’re thinking of coming here you might want to bear that in mind.


Unfortunately the one aspect we were least impressed with was the restaurant. It was a bit of a mixed experience for us. It's a gorgeous space and the wait staff were very friendly and charming but we both thought the dinner was a little average. But fret not – there are loads of great restaurants in Limerick so you won’t be stuck for options. We loved La Cucina Centro for casual but extremely tasty Italian fare Breakfast was also very mixed but I speak only about the food made-to-order. The breakfast buffet was amazing with huge variety. I loved the granola and seeds, and the fresh fruit was delicious. Freshly squeezed orange juice was also a nice touch and the coffee was good. However the food cooked to order was very disappointing.


Overall though we had a lovely relaxing time and the house and rooms are simply gorgeous. You won’t want to get out of that fabulous bath. Or that bed.


Rates B&B: €145 - €195 Classic double Period-style room: €225 - €275

There are also multiple special package offers available from their website.

Parknasilla Resort and Spa, Sneem, Co. Kerry

Parknasilla is now probably best known as the setting for the uniquely bizarre but utterly brilliant film The Lobster starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. It’s easy to see why they chose this place: the setting is wildly romantic and pretty spectacular, perched high on the edge of the Atlantic with panoramic views of the Kerry mountains and Kenmare Bay. The 19th century manor house itself makes for an imposing landmark with a distinctly Gothic feel, especially when viewed through the trees from across the water on a cold winter’s day in December, which was our experience. Contrast this with the gloriously cosy interior with log fires spread throughout. Surely there can be few things more enjoyable than sitting by the fire on a wild Irish day, watching from huge sash windows as the sea hammers the coastline and the wind whistles through the air. Add an Irish coffee or a brandy to the mix and I think you’ve got heaven.

If you’re looking for that ultimate Irish experience, then I think Parknasilla is the one for you. It’s got oodles of charm and a little bit of magic. Hospitality is very important here so you’ll be treated like royalty from the moment you walk through the door.

One of the big selling points is their spa and thermal suite but in particular the two outdoor hot tubs, perched on a veranda at the edge of the hotel overlooking Kenmare Bay. Talk about the ultimate location. We stayed over a very cold weekend in December so I think ‘exhilarating’ is the word that described it best. The hot tub was glorious and while our bodies sank deep into the warm water, our faces were whipped with the wind coming in from the Atlantic. Refreshing and wonderful and an experience to remember for a long time.

It’s also a great place to bring kids as the hotel has provided some specially created activities such as the fairy trail in the nearby woodlands where children go in search of small fairy houses hidden in the trees. There is also a treasure trail: you can pick up a map and clues at reception. Who wouldn’t love that, adults included?

They also pride themselves on their dining experiences here. We went for a casual bite in the bar on our first night but pushed the boat out on our second and treated ourselves to a meal in the Pygmalion restaurant which has the most spectacular views across the bay. Try to get a window seat if you can. I was completely off-duty here and hadn’t even brought my camera so you’ll have to take my word for it that the food was fabulous, particularly the sea food. The crab in particular sticks out in my mind but the fish and chips I had in the bar was also really tasty.

It’s an all-round super hotel that offers something for everyone. You probably won’t want to leave.

Rates for B&B: Standard rooms from €135 – €245 Superior rooms from €225-€335 Suites from €305 - €435. Keep an eye on their website for special offers including dinner and spa treatments

Glasshouse hotel, Sligo

This is my go-to place to stay when in Sligo. I've been coming here for years, both with work and for weekends away, and it always feels like a home away from home. Rooms are large and modern, with a bright uplifting decor in lime greens or orange tones to put a smile on your face in the morning and bathrooms tend to come with both a bath and shower. The vibrant colour scheme continues throughout the hotel with brightly patterned rugs and carpets on all levels.

It's excellent value for money as you'll see from the rates below, which makes for a very affordable two-night break. Ask for a room with a river-view - it's a nice way to start the day, sitting by the huge window and watching the river rush by below.

Bar food is really good, and the atmosphere is usually buzzy in the evenings though breakfast can be a little hit and miss. The continental buffet is not bad but the hot food is self-service from a carvery-type counter and is a little bit tasteless. The breakfast room is great though, especially if you can bag a table at the window overlooking the river.


Another other great thing about staying here - you are a mere five minutes' walk from one of the greatest restaurants in Ireland: Donnaghy's at Coach Lane. Ask for one of the booths in the bar area and you will have the feast of your life. Think loaves of freshly baked brown bread with chili jam, popped on your table for free to enjoy while you're waiting on your food to arrive, and the best fish pie you'll ever taste. Their seafood is truly off-the-charts. Oh and they also serve a litre of really good Syrah for €24.


Rates from off-peak to peak B&B: Double room: €92 -€130 Deluxe double €102 - €140 Deluxe double riverside room €112 - €150 Junior Suite €122 - €160 Deluxe Suite €142 - €180



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