Leave the passport behind with our pick of perfect stay-at-home escapes.
FOR A GATHERING … Ballilogue, Kilkenny
In southern Kilkenny, I discovered handsome Ballilogue Estate – a trio of self-catering homes that have been thoughtfully restored and reimagined, marrying mod cons and contemporary style with the calm, rustic charm of the traditional Irish country home vernacular.
The three unique spaces – The House, The Lodge and The Loft – are available to rent individually or all together for family gatherings, small weddings, or just a weekend bolthole to enjoy with friends. I opted for a long weekend in The House with a gaggle of family and friends.
In addition to the three self-catering spaces, Ballilogue’s cultural history is preserved in the shape of Mrs Meaney’s, an Irish cottage museum on the estate, and an experience we all enjoyed hugely, especially the youngsters among us. Crossing the threshold of this impressively-preserved traditional cottage is a visceral treat for the senses.
Meanwhile, back in The House’s bright spaces, with their clean lines and its large living area – centred around a white-walled fireplace and chimney – we ate, regaled and relaxed. The modular furniture and pops of primary colour added to the cool vibe at the property.
With airy, spacious kitchens too, we were able to show off our culinary chops; but if the idea of slaving over a hot stove doesn’t exactly whisper “restful retreat” to you, you can bypass their kitchen garden altogether and opt for the private dining option instead, which also comes highly recommended.
So whatever your desires, whether it’s a chilled, yogic escape or a buzzy, foodie/family get-together, this authentic corner of Ireland, within the award-winning Ballilogue Estate and gardens, is a triumph on all fronts. Eoin Higgins
Ballilogue Estate offers a two-bed Loft, a four-bed Lodge and a five-bed Farmhouse (minimum two-night stay), with prices from €200 per night for the Loft for four people sharing.
FOR ROMANCE … Glenlo Abbey, Galway
Having just finished Liza Klaussmann’s beautiful book, Villa America, set on the glittering Cannes coast of the 1930s, peopled by F Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Cole Porter and more, I couldn’t have been in a more perfect mindset for a romantic retreat to Glenlo Abbey. I was particularly intrigued to try the unique Pullman restaurant, which is housed in an original 1920s Orient Express train carriage.
Any fears of a twee, “themed restaurant” experience were quashed as we were guided down the narrow aisle to a gorgeous little private dining cabin down the back, all red and gold and gleaming wood. I suddenly wished I was wearing something floor length and fabulous. The food that followed, crafted by chef Alan McArdle, in a teeny kitchen at the end of the carriage, was truly remarkable. Beautifully presented and every bit as star-worthy as the setting.
But the charm of Glenlo doesn’t begin and end with the Pullman. The hotel may not boast a state-of-the-art spa or a luxurious pool, but it has character and charm in spades. There is a comforting, cosseting vibe to the place, from the elegant old-world mood of the River Room restaurant, where breakfast is served with sweeping views of Lough Corrib, to the generous, well-appointed rooms and the elegant bar. The perfect spot to hide away from the world and indulge in a bit of Scott and Zelda magic. Lizzie Gore-Grimes
One night romantic break for two, including B&B, bottle of champagne, dinner in the Pullman, from €319.
FOR FAMILIES … Fota Island Resort, Cork
There’s a hint of boom-time bling about the modern façade of Fota Island Resort, however, the inside is anything but. Carved wood, roaring fires and exposed stone walls set the natural mood with plenty of squishy sofas and soft lighting to add warmth. When we arrived I set my sights on one of the cosy tweed-covered chairs in the Amber Lounge – preferably enjoyed with a pint of Guinness in hand – but it was past the kids’ bedtime, so we retired to our spacious interconnecting rooms. Unfussy, restful and well-equipped, Fota is a finely devised sanctuary for families, with a kids’ club, playroom, swimming pool, playgrounds, casual and formal dining options with kids’ menus, babysitting service, plus a spa, gym and golf course for the grown-ups.
The welcome milk and cookies by the beds was enough, along with the bed-bounce factor, to illicit “best hotel ever” responses from my little lot. The next morning, they hit the pool, and I hit the spa. One of the trump cards is the hydrotherapy pool, designed to work through those aching muscles jet by jet. The balance of adult and kids’ facilities makes Fota a solid choice for families, but its location adjacent to Fota Wildlife Park and Fota House & Gardens means a visit here is somewhat of a trifecta in terms of family rewards. After a day swimming, exploring the 100-acre estate and a family golf lesson, we nipped next door to the wildlife park for a personalised tour (€150 for up to six) that included feeding giraffes and rhinos – a real highlight of our trip. Orla Neligan
This Easter, B&B for a family of four, with access to kids’ camp, starts at €265 per night.
FOR SEA … Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa, Cork
As we wound down the dark bóithrín with nothing but the moon glinting off the calm sea to guide us, we began to wonder if there was anything past Clonakilty at all. But, as we took the last hairpin turn, the warm glow of Inchydoney Island greeted us like a beacon.
Arriving late in the evening, we headed straight to Dunes Pub & Bistro for fish and chips and live music, before crashing out on a mattress that I would steal if I thought I’d get it past reception.
Next morning, we awoke to a view only glimpsed the night before. “Breathtaking” is a word often overused, but… wow. A quick scramble for hats and coats and we were strolling the beach, as brave tots tested the water. By the time the inevitable leaden skies rolled in we were wrapped up in the Island Spa’s relaxation room, sipping cucumber water and watching the showers pass over the bay. Here I had possibly the best massage of my life, as well as an invigorating Marine Body Polish. Both I’d highly recommend.
Sufficiently chilled and heartened by the local seafood chowder in the Lounge, we headed to Lough Hyne for a tranquil kayak at dusk. No splashing around here, we gently glided across the lake as the sun set and stars began to sparkle, setting off the phosphorus glints in the water below. We left Inchydoney with the West Cork cadence in our heads and a feeling that our understanding of time and date has washed out with the tide. Lauren Heskin
The Easter break two-night package for a family of four, sharing a family room, includes B&B, Cooking with Chef on one afternoon for the kids, and an Easter Egg Hunt on Easter Sunday, from €460.
FOR CITY BUZZ … Bullitt, Belfast
Although located in the heart of Belfast city, you could be forgiven for missing the entrance to Bullitt Hotel, tucked away on Church Lane. However, once through the arches, guests are greeted with a display of Jameson Whiskey barrels in the courtyard, before entering the lobby with its unapologetic brash and bold design. Opened last October, Bullitt is from the same people who brought us The Merchant Hotel, so expect the same attention to detail, albeit in a much more contemporary setting.
Welcoming staff informed us of the night’s activities before we headed out to explore the sites and more importantly, the shops. When in Belfast a visit to Maven on Maryville Avenue is a must, as is treating yourself to a homeware gift (or two) while you’re there.
For dinner, we tried the Taylor & Clay restaurant in the hotel, where we got to watch the chefs at work in the open kitchen. My grilled seabass was served with delicious red lentil dahl and coconut spiced greens, while the barley risotto with mushroom, leek and Kearney blue cheese left my dinner date with a newfound love for mushrooms. By night, the lobby and courtyard bars offer great cocktails and plenty of buzz; the hotel’s unique (ski-themed) Baltic bar’s DJ had us dancing until the early hours. But for those who prefer a quiet night, don’t be put off – there was total peace and quiet when we returned to our room.
The next morning, our complimentary breakfast bag of granola, fruit and orange juice was left outside our door, which we followed up with a coffee from one of the only Kees van der Westen coffee machines in Ireland. The former barista in me was suitably envious! Melanie Mullan
Double room, including breakfast bag, from €124 per room, per night.