10 Best: Christmas retreats
Let someone else do the hard work and enjoy a little of our country’s winter magic this year. Thomas Breathnach has 10 properties that will be pulling out all the festive stops
Longueville House, Co Cork
The Blackwater Valley in north Cork is home to some of Ireland's most exquisite country manors, not least Longueville House just outside Mallow.
This Georgian estate, dating from 1720, has sleigh-loads of seasonal magic, with owners William and Aisling O'Callaghan (pictured above with children Elena and Michael) your charming hosts. A menu of festive cuisine includes fish and fowl sourced from the estate's 500 acres. Santa will be popping down the chimney on the 24th. On St Stephen's Day, visit some real-life Rudolph's at Doneraile Wildlife Park, and sit back in front of a roaring fire for a seanchaí storytelling session.
Details: Longueville House (022 47156; longuevillehouse.ie) has a three-night package from €730pps, including breakfasts, lunches and evening meals. Children's rates are €170 (0-two years), €250 (three-12) and €535 (13-17).
Bushmills Inn, Co Antrim
For a taste of an Ulster Scots Christmas this year, head for the toasty Bushmills Inn on Antrim's north coast. This former coaching house, with its hayloft snugs and turf fires, has been comforting saddle-sore travellers since 1608.
Kick off Christmas Day with a bucks-fizz breakfast in their four-poster bed, before pocketing a gift from Santa. After a dinner banquet, grab a port and curl up in the loft for some classic cinema.
On St Stephen's Day, brave the Atlantic for the annual festive swim, before enjoying a warming glass of single malt at the inn.
Details: A two-night special arriving Christmas Eve costs from €345pps; child rates at €145. This includes two full Irish breakfasts, Christmas Eve dinner and a six-course lunch on the 25th, followed by an evening buffet. Tel: 048 2073 3000; bushmillsinn.com.
Hayfield Manor, Cork
Festooned with festive wreaths, garlands and twinkling spruces peeping from behind its drapes, Hayfield manor brings a touch of New England elegance to Cork.
Begin your three-night package before a roaring fire with welcome hot ports and patisseries, while the resident pianist tinkles out the seasonal classics.
Christmas four-course dinner will be served in the fabulous Orchid's Restaurant, while St Stephen's Day's spread is scrumptious brunch with live jazz music.
The Manor elves will be planting turn-down gifts in your room every night, and Santa's been to Smyths, so little visitors will receive a hand-delivered gift.
Details: Hayfield Manor (021 484 5900; hayfieldmanor.ie) has a three-night stay for €945pps, including breakfast, Christmas lunch, festive buffet, brunch and evening meal. Kids rates start at €95pn.
Renvyle House, Co Galway
Jutting out into the Atlantic with the wilds of Connemara on its doorstep, Renvyle Peninsula is one the most eye-catching landscapes on this island. It's not a bad haven for a Christmas getaway either.
Right on the shore, Renvyle House promises festive foodies a smorgasboard of fare to the order of pheasant, oysters and mince pies. But you didn't come west just for the nosh, so make the most of the local cycling and hiking expeditions during your stay.
The Wren Boys will be calling on the 26th, and with your own private beach it would be a shame not to take an end-of-year dip in the Atlantic.
Be warned. This place is very child-friendly, so don't come for peace and quiet.
Details: Renvyle House (095 43511; renvyle.com) has three-night rates for €659pps which includes breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Family packages (two plus two) from €980.
Kilronan Castle Estate & Spa, Co Roscommon
This aristocratic property, which features a five-storey baronial tower overlooking frosted Lake Meelagh, promises to do Christmas in style.
The former home of the Tenison family, its guests are treated to a mulled-wine reception in the Palm Court, a Christmas feast in the Douglas Hyde restaurant and a traditional knees-up in the Dungeon Bar.
On St Stephen's Day, keep those knees up in the noble drawing room, or lie back in the spa's sauna.
Details: Kilronan Castle Estate and Spa (071 961 8000; kilronancastle.ie) has two-night stays from €249 and three nights from €379pps, including breakfast, Christmas lunch and one dinner.
Harvey's Point Hotel, Co Donegal
Between the banks of Lough Eske and the snowcapped Bluestack Mountains, Harvey's Point has the dreamiest winter setting.
On Christmas Eve, warm up on the terrace with a hot toddy and a performance by the Tirconaill Youth Choir. It's just one of the festive activities in the hotel's selection box, which also includes wine tastings, cookery demos, poetry sessions and a dog show for guests' pooches. You can even take a jaunt with a Harvey jarvey to cap off your winter's tale.
Details: Harvey's Point (074 972 2208; harveyspoint.com) has a three-night Christmas package starting from €549pps, including breakfasts, two dinners, Christmas lunch and supper. The package also offers an extra night free for guests who wish to check in early.
Culloden Estate & Spa, Co Down
The five-star Culloden, set on a Belfast hillside, is something of a northern star. At this time of year, its palatial halls are decked with holly, and you can snuggle up in a stylish room overlooking Belfast Lough.
A one-night package includes dinner in the Mitre Restaurant on Christmas Eve and a Christmas Day buffet in the Stuart Suite. Father Christmas will be popping by, followed by carol singing and swanky Rat Pack crooning after dark.
Details: An overnight at the Culloden (048 9042 1066; hastingshotels.com) costs €305pps, or a two-night stay from €598pps, including breakfasts, Christmas lunch and dinner.
The Merrion Hotel, Dublin
Lavish baubled trees, frosted gingerbread houses and horse-drawn carriages -- come tinsel time, the Merrion always glows with festive swagger.
Christmas packages here combine a five-course dinner in the award- winning Cellar restaurant, a Champagne shindy with Santa Claus, and the Little Miss and Master Merrion games room to keep the kids chipper.
Guests who book the three-night stay bag enclosure tickets to the Leopardstown Races, while those who wish to stay at base can zen out at the Tethra Spa before unwinding in the drawing room.
Word to the wise, though: nestled down by a crackling fire with festive cocktail in hand, you may just decide to hibernate here. Just keep your gaze away from the scrooges in the Department of Finance across the road for fear of spoiling your festive cheer.
Details: A Christmas night stay at the Merrion (01-603 0600; merrionhotel.com) costs €290pps, including lunch or dinner and breakfast.
Two nights cost €410pps, while the three-night package costs €595pps, including breakfasts and evening meals.
Farnham Estate, Co Cavan
Fitness fanatics love this Radisson getaway for its impressive health spa. But at this time of year, the resort, set on pristine lakeland, is loosening its buckle. A bottle of wine awaits in your room on Christmas Eve before welcome drinks in the main house with your fellow guests.
The 'Name that Tune' show in the Lobby bar sounds dangerously entertaining. The Christmas Day lunch in the Botanica restaurant features the traditional bird served with roast chestnuts and chipolata sausage. Non-residents can join in for €70pps.
More active guests can try a spot of yoga, golf or a ramble around the estate's ancient woodlands. If snowdrops come early, Farnham might just pull out a perfect white Christmas.
Details: Farnham Estate's (049 437 7700; farnhamestate.ie) two-night Christmas package costs €390pps, including breakfasts, Christmas lunch and evening meals.
The Malton Hotel, Co Kerry
With its façade draped in masses of burgundy ivy, and a lobby infused with the scent of cinnamon and cloves, it's Christmas at first sight at Killarney's grande dame. The festivities kick off with a Christmas Eve soirée of minced pies and mulled wine, before guests are invited to midnight Mass at the Franciscan Friary.
On the big day, an afternoon tea of tiered gateaux from the Malton bakery is something of a tradition, but take a hike before the five-course supper. The Kingdom hunt will set off from the hotel on St Stephen's Day, but if bidding tally-ho is not your thing, venture out on a guided walking tour of the town.
Details: The Malton Hotel (064 663 8000; themalton.com) has a two-night stay for €550pps, with three nights for €699 including two breakfasts, one afternoon tea and two dinners. Single supplement is €30pn with kids' rates from €85pn.