Ireland's Travel Bible: 25 hotels and hideaways you need to visit ASAP
Georgina Campbell Awards
Published 22/09/2016 | 01:00
Georgina Campbell has announced her 2017 awards. Here, she outlines the 25 winners... and why you should visit them.
Hotel of the Year
Harvey's Point , Co. Donegal
"A stunning location, luxurious accommodation (balanced by some very accessibly priced rooms with particular appeal to families and walking groups), a beautifully situated waterside fine dining restaurant - Harvey’s Point has all of those things, and they make it pretty special. But the real USPs are its people.
"Dating right back to the time when it opened as a small lakeside lodge in 1989, charming hands-on family management was its secret weapon and that - plus terrific, well trained staff - remains the case today.
"Nothing is too much trouble to ensure that guests (and their four-legged friends too, by arrangement) get the very most from their stay. Superb attention to detail."
Details: Lough Eske, Co. Donegal; harveyspoint.com.
Restaurant of the Year
Good Things @ Dillon's Corner, Co. Cork
"Carmel Somers has long been recognised for doing more than any other chef in the region to promote local produce - which continues to be the case and her menus reflect this in a variety of ways. Fresh, seasonal and, where possible, organic is the fundamental ethos at Good Things.
"In 2015, the business migrated to Skibbereen, and many favourites, including the famous West Cork Fish Soup, have made the transition to the smart new premises which, while also simple in tone, has all of the Carmel Somers hallmarks of style, creativity, comfort - and an exciting sense of anticipation."
Details: 68 Bridge St., Skibbereen; thegoodthingscafe.com.
Chef of the Year
Sebastien Masi, Pearl Brasserie, Dublin
Pearl Brasserie, Dublin
"In a town where new restaurants are stealing the limelight every month, it’s reassuring to know that some of the long-established gems - like this one, almost hidden from view and beloved by savvy diners for 16 years - are as delightful, and as relevant, as the day they first opened.... Everything this owner chef is serving up is top class and, despite being there for many years, he keeps his cooking fresh, on trend, yet very true to his classic roots... a pure pleasure to eat."
Details: 20 Merrion St. Upper; pearl-brasserie.com.
Outstanding Guest Experience
Ballyvolane House, Fermoy, Co. Cork
Hip and heartfelt: Ballyvolane House.
"Enterprise, diversification, love and respect for what has gone before, seasoned with creativity and a light touch when imagining what might - or, perhaps, what needs to - come next. These are the things that come to mind when thinking of Justin and Jenny Green, the current custodians of Ballyvolane House.
"This gracious mansion is surrounded by its own farmland, magnificent wooded grounds, gardens, a trout lake and salmon beats on the River Blackwater and stay here is always a treat... Hip is not a word that’s much associated with traditional Irish country house, but it sits very well here."
Details: 025 36349; ballyvolanehouse.ie.
Host of the Year
Kathleen O’Sullivan, Seaview House Hotel, Co. Cork
"Down in the South-West, a warm welcome and personal supervision are the hallmarks of one of Ireland’s most restful and best-loved country house hotels. Beautifully located at the heart of scenic West Cork, Seaview House Hotel has been in business now for over three decades and, like every other Irish hotel, it has been through good times and bad. But repeat business has always been its secret weapon.
"This is partly due to the lovely location, the beautiful gardens, the very comfortable accommodation (with sea views from many of the spacious rooms), the immaculate maintenance and housekeeping, and the excellent local food served in the restaurant. But most of all it is owner Kathleen O’Sullivan’s special brand of quiet and understated hospitality that has made it a home from home for so many regular guests down through the years."
Business Hotel of the Year
The Fitzwilliam Hotel, Dublin & Belfast
Room with a view: Fitzwilliam, Dublin
"Understated luxury is the hallmark of these city centre sister hotels in Dublin and Belfast, both of which are cool destinations for leisure guests thanks to their excellent locations, design-led contemporary style, good food and outstandingly friendly and helpful staff. These same qualities - plus thoughtfully designed guest rooms offering a comfortable in-room working environment and high-spec conference and meeting facilities - also have special appeal for discerning business guests.
"By contrast with big conference hotels, the scale is pleasingly intimate, with stylish and state-of-the-art meeting rooms offered for small to medium meetings (up to 80 delegates in Dublin, 55 in Belfast), and an emphasis on warm hospitality, good food and service... In short, they are just great places to stay, and to work."
Details: fitzwilliamhoteldublin.com; fitzwilliamhotelbelfast.com
Country House of the Year
Viewmount House, Longford
Viewmount House: Taking the midlands by storm.
"This lovely 1750s Georgian house is set in four acres of beautiful wooded gardens, much of which have designed by the current owners, James and Beryl Kearney, over nearly 20 years as a series of rooms, with many intriguing features. It really is a delightful house and has been sensitively restored with style, creating a wonderful away-from-it-all place to stay and - since 2008 - also making a great setting for a restaurant and chef, Gary O'Hanlon... Since then they have taken the midlands by storm, making Longford a destination for food lovers throughout Ireland, and beyond - and transforming the image of the region as a whole."
Guesthouse of the Year
Number 31, Dublin
Breakfast at Number 31...
“'Behind a tall creeper-clad wall and a discreet plaque you will find…' Noel and Deirdre Comer’s introduction to their Hidden Ireland guesthouse in a pair of Georgian mews buildings is mysterious and very accurate.
"The coolest of city centre destinations, it is perhaps the happiest legacy of controversial Dublin architect Sam Stephenson, who once lived here and created the modernist setting that guests enjoy today - the famed sunken lounge, a charming garden and even a rooftop conservatory.
"The combination of spacious and supremely comfortable accommodation, warm hospitality, an exceptional location - and of course a great, seasonally-led, breakfast - has made this a destination of choice for many a discerning traveller."
Details: 31 Leeson Close; number31.ie.
B&B of the Year
Carbery Cottage Guest Lodge, Durrus, Co. Cork
Durrus delight: Carbery Cottage
"It’s hard to say where the main appeal is at Julia Bird and Mike Hegarty’s lovely B&B. Is it the stunning sea and mountain views, or the laid back comfort of this delightful (and pet friendly) house? Maybe it’s the food - which includes dinner by arrangement (seasonal seafood banquets are a speciality), or is it the warm and slightly quirky personalities of the hosts themselves?
"The answer, of course, is that the key to the magic of this place is an inspired mix of all of these elements, with true hospitality at its heart. Simply wonderful."
Farmhouse of the Year
Killiane Castle Country House & Farm, Drinagh, Co. Wexford
Farmhouse gem: Killiane Castle Country House
"The Mernagh family offer B&B in a pretty grand style, with a working farm that boasts a real castle (that may be climbed, with care, to the very top), a charming 17th century house to stay in, and lots to do including a farm walk, pitch & putt, and watching the milking. With excellent rooms, terrific food and hospitality, and great pride of place, this is the perfect spot for stressed townies - especially with children in tow - and a wonderful discovery for visitors from abroad. And perhaps the best thing of all about this farm is that it’s moving into a new generation, with Kathleen Mernagh and her son Paul currently involved - and it just goes on getting better."
Details: Drinagh, Co. Wexford; killianecastle.com.
Hideaway of the Year
Bishop’s Gate Hotel, Derry
Derry's newest hotel: Bishop's Gate
"Our favourite hideaways are most often in remote places - on islands, perhaps, or in deeply rural areas. But there is something uniquely appealing about the idea of a hideaway in a city - and, although it brings a treasure chest of history to its current role, this unusual place has also brought something very new and different to ancient surroundings.
"Originally built as a private residence over 200 years ago, and then becoming a Gentlemen's Club, this handsome building in Derry lay empty for many years before being transformed into the atmospheric boutique hotel that it is today. Bringing history, luxury, style and service to the Cathedral Quarter, Bishop’s Gate Hotel is a uniquely interesting place to stay within the historic city walls - and the charming staff are full of warmth, enjoying nothing better than sharing its history with guests..."
Details: 24 Bishop St., bishopsgatehotelderry.com.
Bord Bia 'Just Ask' Restaurant of the Year
1826 Adare, Co. Limerick
1826 Adare, Co. Limerick
"There have been some superb 'Just Ask!' winners over the years, and none better than Wade and Elaine Murphy’s charming restaurant in Adare.
"Wade is a Euro-Toques chef who lives the philosophy and takes enormous pride in showcasing the best of local produce... Delicious starters may feature Doughmore Bay crab from Doonbeg fisherman Charlie Sexton, for example, while Kerry Hill lamb and free range pork from Garretts butchers in Limerick are staples...
"A well chosen and informative drinks list includes a good sprinkling of Irish names across spirits, beers and cider too - and, as with the excellent cooking, the difference is in the taste."
NB: “Just Ask!” is a public awareness campaign that encourages consumers to look for information on where the food on their plate comes from.
Details: 1826adare.ie; bordbia.ie/justask.
Taste of the Waterways Award
Two Cooks Restaurant & Wine Bar, Sallins, Co. Kildare
"This terrific little restaurant and wine bar is in a traditional terrace beside the Grand Canal, only half an hour from Dublin. Opened recently by Josef Zammit and Nicola Curran - a well known couple with a following among Kildare diners - Two Cooks was designed with affordable quality for the lucky locals in mind.
"The compact two-storey premises somehow manages to offer something for all ages and occasions in a small space, and to do it with style - both in a simple yet atmospheric ground floor wine bar offering a blackboard tapas menu, and a larger restaurant up the narrow stairs. It offers a relaxed ‘fine dining without the fuss’ experience... and the bill is extremely reasonable."
Details: 5 Canal View, Sallins; twocooks.ie. This award is presented in partnership with Waterways Ireland (waterwaysireland.org).
Seafood Restaurant of the Year
Jack’s Coastguard Restaurant, Cromane, Co Kerry
"There’s something especially pleasing about eating in a restaurant that overlooks the land- or seascape which is the source of the food on your plate - and that is certainly part of the appeal at this delightful spot on the Ring of Kerry, which has a beach at the bottom of the garden and lays claim to being the only place in the county where the McGillicuddy Reeks and the Brandon of mountain range can be viewed at the same time… The cooking is excellent and everything is beautifully presented, with generous servings of lovely fresh local vegetables too."
Cafe of the Year
An Fear Gorta/The Tea & Garden Rooms, Ballyvaughan, Co Clare
"The building that houses this famous West of Ireland tea room dates back to 1790, when it was built as a residence for 'coast security officers'. Nearly two centuries later it was bought in a derelict condition, reconstructed, and then opened as a tea room and gardens in 1981. In second generation ownership since 2009, the delightful stone restaurant and gardens seem to become more charming with each passing year. In fine weather the beautiful back garden or the conservatory can be idyllic and - while lunch specials are also available - even something as simple as a cuppa with a freshly baked scone and home-made jam tastes even more delicious in such charming surroundings.... Just the ticket, rain or shine."
Wine of the Year Award
ely, Ely Place & IFSC, Dublin
Ely: Where wine is king
"Dedicated to providing the best possible wine experience in Ireland since the late ‘90s, these people have been through the mill in recent years, like many other businesses - and come up smiling.
"Today, as always, Erik and Michelle Robson are focused on providing the very best of everything at their two magnificent Dublin venues. Their philosophy is holistic and, from the start, provenance, seasonality and sustainability of food - much of which has always come from the family’s organic West of Ireland farm - was equal to that of the wines that they so lovingly curate, along with other drinks worthy of taking a place on their lists....
"Perhaps Ireland’s most innovative restaurateurs - they offer an unequalled range of experiences in various areas of their brace of atmospheric venues..."
Pub of the Year
O’Dowd’s, Roundstone, Co Galway
"O'Dowd's is a classic of its type, not just delighting summer visitors but serving the local community all year - and, importantly, we are told on the menu, ‘supporting directly up to 20 jobs in a small village’...
"The old bar is thankfully unreconstructed but, while much loved, more than a nod to the modern world is allowed here too: the Wifi password, for example, is prominently displayed at the bottom of a wide ranging Specials menu ranging from Seaweed hummus (‘home-made using locally supplied dillisk, served with nori bread & olive oil) and the Vegan friendly Savoury Rice with Sea Veg (local dillisk, nori sea lettuce, with red peppers & mushrooms).
"O’Dowds also supplied the best seafood platter we had this season - so good in fact that nobody remembered to photograph it! An evolving classic."
Newcomer of the Year
Nook Café and Restaurant, Collooney, Co. Sligo
"Small but with a perfectly formed culinary ethos, this little gem of a café only opened in May but it soon earned a following for its seriously impressive menu and good cooking. Oilcloth-lined tables, jugs of fresh flowers and a large kitchen dresser filled with cookbooks and mismatched teacups give it a homey feel, almost like being in a friend’s kitchen, but don’t be fooled by the relaxed ambience...
"Dishes that could be ordinary in lesser hands take on special character here: a burger served on a brioche bun with Gubbeen cheese and the house burger sauce, for example, or Jordan’s Atlantic Seaweed sea salt and herb crusted fish of the day with house fries, slaw and chunky Markree herb tartar sauce. A delightful addition to the area, this charming spot is already becoming a destination in its own right."
Brigit’s Garden, Rosscahill, Co Galway
Garden delights in Galway
"Brigit’s Garden is an unusual destination with true multi-generational appeal that includes good food but is about much more. As one of our team said, 'It reminds me of old books like Swallows and Amazons, or The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. It’s a place where fairy tales are real, a space for children who never grew up.'
"Just the spot for anyone who wants to re-acquaint themselves with their inner child then, these beautiful themed gardens have long been a favourite destination for families, school outings and everyone who finds a unique mix of history, legend and delightful garden design appealing... A magical spot."
Pet-friendly Hotel of the Year
The Salty Dog, Bangor, Co. Down
"In Ireland we lag way behind our UK neighbours when it comes to pet friendliness, but we are making progress. The harbourside Salty Dog was selected by our own four-legged travelling companion, Pippa, as one of her favourite destinations in all of Ireland, because its genuine pet friendliness makes it a home from home.
"It’s popular with local dog owners, as well as resident guests. A pavement board invites people out walking with their dogs to come in for a bite in the pet-friendly bar, where welcoming mats and water bowls are laid out and the simple house rules (keep dogs on the floor and on leads etc) set out clearly on a blackboard. It's a happy arrangement for both owners and their contented pets - and dogs are also allowed in rooms, by arrangement, at no extra charge. An excellent model for others to consider."
Atmospheric Restaurant of the Year
The Duck Terrace Restaurant, Marlfield House
Photo: Marlfield House / Ireland's Blue Book
"Some really lovely restored buildings beside Marlfield House took on a new lease of life in 2015, when a series of disused areas - including a coach house, potting shed and gardener’s tool shed - were very attractively developed by Margaret and Laura Bowe to create a stylishly informal restaurant and café-bar, named ‘The Duck’ after their mother Mary’s fondness for the ducks in their garden.
"The terrace is right alongside the kitchen garden... It's a magic spot, especially on a fine day - and, although it may be a more obvious choice in summer, this relaxed restaurant is an atmospheric all-year destination and there’s always a cheering open fire to make it a cosy place to enjoy the good modern, broadly Italian, cooking in the colder months."
Details: Gorey, Co. Wexford; marlfieldhouse.com.
Ethnic Restaurant of the Year
Pickle, Dublin 2
Photo: Steve Humphreys
"At Ireland’s first regional Indian restaurant, a multi-award-winning chef (and arguably Ireland’s finest Indian chef) has chosen to cook the dishes of his childhood and those from the Northern provinces of the spicy sub-continent, in an attractive casual ‘eating house and bar’ where he serves beautifully finessed traditional food.
"Breaking down stereotypes amongst Indian food in a brilliant way, Sunil Ghai and his restaurant bring immense finesse and vibrancy to Indian dining and has introduced a whole city to authentic Northern food, including unlikely hits like goat mince curry."
Details: 43 Camden St. Lower; picklerestaurant.com.
Casual Dining Restaurant or the Year
4 Vicars, Armagh, Co. Armagh
"In the summer of 2015 Gareth and Kasia Reid told us: “Our small restaurant is focused on serving the best local produce in a simple and elegant way. We source all our fish from Kilkeel, our beef from a butcher/farmer on the outskirts of the City, our salad comes from Loughgall and our apples and juice from the surrounding orchards.”
Who could resist? So we went, drank in the pleasingly modern ambience that’s been created in an old house up beside St Patrick’s the cathedral, liked the smart and friendly staff - and tasted the simple yet deliciously different food. They are a talented and experienced team and, understated yet impressive, this is a place with a quietly consistent message of creative cooking and customer-focused service enhanced by relaxed surroundings and a sense of place. Well worth noting."
Details: 4 Vicars Hill; 4vicars.com.
Natural Food Award
Burren Glamping, Kilfenora, Co. Clare
Breakfast of kings in The Burren
"Already well known for their wonderful free range pork, in 2015 Eva Hegarty and her husband Stephen (a Burren guide) embarked on a new enterprise, Burren Glamping, and they now offer cosy accommodation in an imaginatively converted vintage horse truck on this small farm.
"But, although the facilities in the horse truck are excellent, it’s not just a self catering arrangement. Eva is also happy to cook for her glampers, and her meals often feature the pork produced by the happy, naturally fed Burren pigs - Saddlebacks and Saddleback/Tamworth cross - that Eva also sells at local markets (Ennis & Ennistymon).
"Quirky and simply gorgeous, Burren Glamping is a total one-off and simply has to be seen to be believed. - it's open all year too, and so well insulated that you'll be warmer here than in many a B&B."
Special Award 2017
Country Choice, Nenagh, Co Tipperary
"For nearly 35 years, food lovers have planned their journeys across Ireland with care to take in a visit to that treasure trove of the very best foods, the independent food shop and café, Country Choice, in Nenagh. Since establishing their business in 200 year old premises in this traditional market town in 1982, Peter and Mary Ward have never wavered from their stated principles of local sourcing of foods and promoting the work of the best of Irish artisan producers both in the region and nationally...
"Now joined by daughters Eliza and Evie (who have their own high individual contributions to make), Mary continues to make brilliant traditional and seasonal foods and Peter - one of the most energetic and dedicated movers and shakers in the wonderful world of artisan foods - still likes nothing better than shouting about good Tipperary produce. We all have many reason to be grateful to them."
Details: 64 Kenyan St.; countrychoice.ie.
More from Georgina Campbell at ireland-guide.com.