Ballyfin, Ireland (REVIEW)
Set at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in the centre of Ireland and just 80 minutes from Dublin airport, Ballyfin proudly stands in 614 acres of parkland. On entering the gates from an unassuming country road, the splendid mansion house soon comes into view and you find yourself with a warm Irish welcome out on the steps in front of the hotel. The car and luggage are taken care of and after a no nonsense check in, you are shown to your room.
Our room, the Marquis De Massigny, is tastefully decorated in a Toile de Jouy blue and white theme and the furnishings reflect the period of the house beautifully. Art pieces, fireplaces and huge drapes ooze luxury and comfort while being sympathetic to the restoration of the house. The symmetry reflected elsewhere in the house is also evident in the stunning mirrored wardrobes on either side of the fireplace. In the marble bathroom, a double vanity unit, huge bath and superb freestanding shower (with handheld and seat) are matched by a magnificent view of the water cascade at the back of the house. Full size Pevonia bathroom amenities are provided. All the usual luxury amenities can be found including hairdrier, full length mirror, TV, complimentary wi-fi, minibar (complimentary soft drinks and snacks). Turndown provided water, slippers and lavendar sachets.
You can sit in any of the main rooms and request drinks and the dining room caters for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is also a table with complimentary fruit and biscuits available throughout the day. The dining room is split into two rooms with spacious seating and an atmosphere conducive to relaxed dining. Breakfast can be taken at your leisure and is definitely worth getting out of bed for. A good choice of both hot and cold options are available, I can recommend the full Irish and the granola, fruit and yoghurt. The lunch menu offers a selection of lighter fare as well as a selection of main dishes, here we opted for the croque monsieur and steak sandwich. The jewel in the crown has to be the dinner menu. After pre dinner drinks and canapes in the library, you are ushered through to the dining room where you can either opt for the a la carte or tasting menu. On this occasion we opted for the eight course tasting menu and it did not disappoint, from hand dived scallop to the native breed dexter beef. A real surprise was the selection of nine different Irish cheeses which all proved to be delicious. An extensive wine list matched the quality of the food. The walled garden provides fruit and vegetables, eggs from free range hens and honey from the bees. Where possible, all food is sourced locally.
I could not fault the service. From arrival to departure, the staff are warm, welcoming and omnipresent without being intrusive. I would highly recommend the house tour which takes place every afternoon at 4pm. Lionel proved to be a splendid guide, regaling us with the history of the house and the story of its restoration.
The public rooms are stunning and perfect to sit in front of the fire (in the winter) with a book or to simply enjoy a drink or two. The cantilever staircase adorned with an array of impressive historical portraits is a stunning centrepiece of the whole building. The cellar offers wine tastings and the Bar is a cosy space to relax and enjoy Irish hospitality at its best. You will find a fitness room, swimming pool and treatment rooms in the house or you can choose from a host of activities in the grounds including tennis, carriage rides, falconry, archery and clay pigeon shooting. Hike, bike or drive around the grounds in a golf buggy which can be found outside the door. Helicopter arrivals are also catered for.
Ballyfin is a special place. The restoration is a credit to the owners and although the hotel is housed in a grand mansion, the atmosphere is intimate, warm and without any hint of pretension. This is quite an achievement. With only 20 rooms, it is easy to feel like you have the place to yourself. Every conceivable luxury has been thought of; the quality and genuine warmth of the staff only adds to what is already a truly memorable experience. This is Irish hospitality at its very best. World class is an often overused cliche. Not in this case.