Weekend away: Breaffy House Resort, Co Mayo
Driveways always imbue an element of grandeur and anticipation. We gingerly crawl up the winding avenue to Breaffy Resort, shrouded under a misty canopy of woodland. A large pond mirroring a stone-arch bridge lies to our left, placards of bleach-toothed bridal couples to our right.
Near a pasture of grazing Connemara ponies, the Scottish gothic mansion that is Breaffy House emerges in all its baronial elegance, behind a signature mulberry tree. Anticipation met -- just a pity about those PVC windows.
Room to book
The resort's two hotels, Breaffy House and the recently built Breaffy
Woods, offer a choice between traditional or contemporary.
Breaffy Woods Hotel features 24 apart-hotels, which carry the cachet of Paul Costello design. Each spacious "Residence" includes kitchen and dining areas, and an earthy toned lounge area splashed with lime and purple cushions. It looks a little better than it functions, but the two en-suite bedrooms, cool in wheat and white, are sublimely snug.
What to do
Kids are king at Breaffy, and Captain Jack's Club, which offers a trove of activities from archery to dance classes, is a veritable breeding ground for the next generation of budding Olympians or Jedwardian wannabes. Be sure to check out the Soccer Camps run by FAI-qualified coaches. Daily passes start from €12.50 per child (camps run until end of August but come back for mid-term breaks).
Breaffy Woods is also Europe's first custom-built sports hotel, and
was inspired and designed by a hall of fame of Irish sporting legends including Keith Woods and DJ Carey. It includes an indoor sports
arena, IRFU/FAI-spec training facilities, and a fitness centre "of excellence". It's pitched at everyone from sporting enthusiasts seeking an active weekend retreat to athletes looking for a training base ahead of the London 2012 Olympics.
If you want to venture beyond the resort, day trips to Achill Island
and the Partry Mountains are easy. Don't miss the Ceide Fields -- the most extensive Stone Age site in the world. A visit here will teach you a thing or two about organic farming circa 5,000 years ago.
Although Castlebar is a bustling spot, the clerk in the tourist officewas at odds to recommend an attraction of note in Mayo's county town, so we hightailed it down the road to wonderful Westport, an explosion of petunias under the conical majesty of Croagh Patrick.
All roads in Westport lead to the renowned Matt Molloy's pub, where the music rooms treated us to an evening of trad.
The Mulberry Restaurant in Breaffy House is an affably-staffed, traditional dining room overlooking the hotel grounds. Our three-course meal (€19) got off to a poor start, with an under-ripe fantail of melon au coulis, but my main of braised pork chops with creamed carrots and parsnips, served alongside old-line stainless-steel gravy boats, was a nostalgic pleasure.
Breakfast the next morning was operation stations, where a lively maître d' directed a steady flow of families to their tables, in exchange for the breakfast vouchers received upon check-in. I opted for a full Irish from the hot buffet, which was standard fare but provided plenty of sustenance for our ascent up the Holy Mountain.
With its child-friendly deals and amenities, Breaffy's bread and butter is families, the rainbow of dads' GAA jerseys at breakfast suggesting a good national spread. Its 90-acre demesne also makes it a popular wedding venue, but we didn't hear a peep from the 400-strong party of nuptials during our stay.
If it's good enough for Oprah, it's good enough for me. Hydrotherapy
remains one of the most popular holistic treatments, and Breaffy's Kingfisher Spa offers their own rejuvenating underwater massages -- with the aid of 250 hydro-jets -- from €35. If that doesn't tickle your pores, how about an evening at the spa's Turkish mud chamber, where you'll receive an algae-based mud treatment amid a starry-lit grotto setting for €40 (€60 for couples)?
With such a high volume of little guests and grubby hands passing through, the hotel's earthy tones are bound to suffer: our suite had a couple of large stains, while the lift and corridor areas were a touch dirty. As for the food, we found the €7 supplement for an 8oz sirloin excessive for three-star dining.
If, however, the mark of a hotel is its reaction time to downsides rather than the flaws themselves, Breaffy scored well. Our reception
passed the litmus test of good service (sourcing extra teabags for us at 1am) with flying colours.
A weekend break start from €99pps for a two-night stay with one evening meal. Children aged 12 and under eat and stay for free. The Apart-Hotel has self-catering room-only rates from €119 per night.
Breaffy Resort, Castlebar, Co Mayo. Tel: 094 902 2033; breaffyhouse hotel.com.