The Getaway: The Step House Hotel, Borris, Co. Carlow
Short breaks in Ireland
Borris might not sound like the ideal location for a boutique hotel, but that's what makes the Step House special.
Set the mood
Jumping into the car straight after work late on a Friday afternoon may not sound like the best way to spend a rare sunny evening in Ireland.
But with the consolation that our night away was only 90 minutes door to door, the sunglasses and smiles were firmly on.
Before this weekend sojourn, Carlow wouldn't have been my first choice of weekend break, but my travelling companion and I soon realised that close proximity was only one of the draws of our hidden gem of a hotel.
The Step House Hotel, set in the picturesque little town of Borris, was our home for the night - and it truly felt like home as we were greeted like college kids returning home from the ‘Big Schmoke’ for the weekend.
The Step House foyer
The immediate ease and warmth of the reception doesn't distract from the absolute elegance of the lobby’s wrought iron staircase (above), or the wonder of the interconnected rooms with archways and vaulted ceilings.
Nor indeed, the sizeable Georgian rooms where we were bustled to freshen up ahead of delicious pre-dinner cocktails in the cosy-yet-chic cocktail bar.
What ultimately blew me away was the food. Dear God, the food…
Alan Foley (below) is the incredible head chef (formerly of Sheen Falls Lodge and Chapter One) who rustled up what I can only describe as pieces of heaven on a plate.
With a selection of grub sourced from local butchers and neighbouring farmers, there was a fair bit of fork swapping at the Cellar Restaurant, located in the kitchens of the original old house. But I was secretly delighted with my own choice of roast plum tomato soup with rabbit (rabbit!), oregano and main of lamb (three different cuts) and creamy mash.
Man of the hour, the amiable chef, came out to greet us while we sank a few digesters in Bar 1808, named after the year this building was established.
Alan Foley, head chef at the Step House
While you're there
Depending on your bedroom window view, you may be able to take in Borris House (borrishouse.com) from behind your curtains. Home to the MacMurrough Kavanaghs, the former Celtic Kings of Leinster still reside at the House which is located just across the road - guided tours run May to September.
After a hearty full breakfast and a belly-filling scone-cooking lesson from the hotel’s pastry chef, we hit the nearby River Barrow for a relaxed spot of sightseeing.
Aboard Larry’s barge (larrysbarge.com), we cruised towards Graiguenamanagh guided by the impressive Blackstairs Mountains and entertained by our informative and experienced skipper.
With canine captain Flint, we were wined and dined - yet again - as the Fionnuala Kay meandered through the green and golden Carlow/Kilkenny surroundings.
Louise and friend on the waterways
* For a more secluded, personal stay, there are self-catering two-bedroom cottages and apartments (including a penthouse suite) to let at the Step House.
* Blushing brides may fall in love all over again with the 180 person capacity ballroom complete with chandeliers, rich brocade, and enchanting garden that can be used for ceremonies.
* On street parking is available, but the right turn (coming from Dublin) before the hotel entrance will lead you to a smaller carpark area that holds about 20 vehicles and leads directly into the garden of the hotel.
Get me there
One night's B&B with a four-course meal at the Step House (059 977-3209; stephousehotel.ie) starts from €85pps.
A day trip on Larry's Barge (larrysbarge.com) costs €75 pp (incl. three-course lunch), or an overnight cruise of up to three days (max. four people) costs from €300pp (incl. breakfast and lunch).