Alastair Sawday’s new guide to Ireland has just hit the shelves. We asked him for a sneak preview of some of his favourite rural hideaways for romantic weekends or family escapes...
The Cottage, Co Tipperary
Bowl along a quiet country road, drive through an iron farm gate and be dazzled by a strumpet of a red front door. This little stone cottage began life as an animal shelter. Now, it's a fetching hideaway for two. Outside, it has its own pretty garden, while inside there's an open-plan sitting room, exposed stone walls, wooden floors and fresh flowers in jugs on deep window sills.
You can loll on the sofa with a book or plot outings. Your galley kitchen, with gleaming checkered tiles, has all that's needed to rustle up a meal, though the buzzing bars and restaurants in nearby Kilkenny might be a headier pull.
Beyond the kitchen is the bathroom -- not swish, but spotless and generously towelled up. Climb wooden spiral stairs to a loft-style mezzanine where you sleep.
Lovers or lazy lumps may want to stay put, but the adventurous can walk, visit castles, have picnics by rivers, go fishing or riding and have oodles of fun.
Details: The Cottage, Modeshill, Mullinahone, Co Tipperary. Tel: 086 336 7366; www.thecottage.ie. From €335-€385 per week.
Johnny's Cottage, Co Donegal
Standing on a hill in six acres of glorious gardens, this 1820s stone cottage is a gem. The exterior has been left deliberately low-key, but step inside for an unexpected treat. Space, colour, tradition and contemporary design blend deliciously in coral walls and slate floors, old pine and new oak, fine woven blankets, interesting books and paintings, and two open fires.
A wall of windows frames the spectacular view of the sandy arc of Culdaff Bay. There are four double bedrooms. Hear the sea in summer through open doors or the blatter of rain in winter, snug by a wood stove.
Details: Johnny's Cottage, Dunowen, Culdaff, Co Donegal. Tel: 074 937 9510; www.dunowen.net. From €1,400 per week.
Casino Cottage, Co Cork
A sunlit bay just down the hill, a charming restaurant a stroll up the road, Casino Cottage was once the gate lodge to Casino House, now a great place to dine. Kerrin is from the island of Sylt in Germany, which she says is remarkably similar to this delightful rural backwater. Michael is the chef, born in Croatia, brought up in Germany. They stumbled upon the 200-year-old farmhouse 13 years ago and decided to open a restaurant and to convert the cottage into a cosy little nest for two.
Done with flagstones, tiles and plain colours, the living area is rustic-modern. The kitchen has chunky wooden worktops, the bed is simple wrought iron and the blue shower room is done with shells. The restaurant is in the family's old farmhouse and Michael's food is sublime. Try the lobster risotto.
Details: Casino Cottage, Coolmain Bay, Kilbrittain, Co Cork. Tel: 023 884 9944. €85 per night, or from €210-€350 per week.
The Bervie, Co Mayo
This restored coastguard station sitting on a sandy beach is more like a terrace of interconnected cottages than a guest house. A fire burns in the hearth, there's local art on the walls, and spectacular cliff and ocean views stretch from the dining room windows. Bedrooms have big pine beds piled with fluffy blankets and those at the back look directly over the Atlantic -- it comes to within 30 metres of your window at high tide. The garden is that endless, fabulous beach, reached through a little wooden gate. This is a mecca for families, surfers, artists and writers; an unhurried place where humanity and delicious food nourish body and soul.
Details: The Bervie, The Strand, Keel, Achill Island, Co Mayo. Tel: 098 43114; www.bervieachill.com. From €110-€140, or singles from €60-€90.
Roosky Cottage, Co Leitrim
This pretty thatched cottage nestles amid bird-sung moorlands and peaceful Lough Melvin. The neighbour's cattle cross the lane, so look before you leap. Its stone walls have been left bare to reveal the memories of the farmers who lived here for 100 years. Rooms are cosy, mildly colourful and rustic, each with a turf fire, bathroom and simple holiday furniture.
The area is stuffed with things to do and see: the stunning Donegal coast, medieval monuments, mind-stretching walks, golf, riding and marvellous food to sample.
Details: Roosky Cottage, Rossinver, Co Leitrim. Tel: 001 773 528 1192 (USA); www.irish cottagerental.com. From €488-€660 per week (sleeps four).
The Cottage, Co Dublin
This is a perfect little bolthole for combining fabulous hill walking (the Wicklow Way is two miles away), golf (12 courses within five miles) and Dublin's buzzy nightlife. It has all the finish and fittings of modern life, yet is bright, cheerful and comfortable, with incredible views of the sea from its five acres of lush, green land.
Your host Hilary, a warm and caring sort, provides basic foodstuffs and all possible guidance to make your stay a complete success.
Inside, rooms are surprisingly bright, their low windows bigger than in most Irish cottages. You could happily read all day here in dimmer weather. Bedrooms are equally easy and comfortable, with excellent new bedding, and there's a little private garden for balmy days. Don't miss the ultimate Saturday morning Irish country market in Kilternan.
Details: The Cottage, Ballybetagh Hill, Kilternan, Co Dublin. Tel: 086 846 2450. €735 per week (sleeps three).
Old Parochial House Cottages, Co Clare
West Clare is steeped in culture, has fabulous countryside, deserted sandy beaches and friendly, easy-going people. None more so than Alyson and Seán in their 1872 former parish priest's house. The main house stands on four acres overlooking the sleepy village of Cooraclare. The old stables, coach house and shebeen have been converted and two stone cottages built in traditional style. All of the O'Neills' work is a labour of love expressed in turf fires, stone floors, exposed beams, old artefacts and bags of character.
It would be hard to pick a favourite but the open-plan living room in the stables is beautiful, with views over rolling countryside. Insects hum, birds sing and goats and pony graze -- and there are three pubs in the village with good beer and music within a five-minute stroll. The Cliffs of Moher and the magical Burren are not that far.
Details: Old Parochial House Cottages, Old Parochial House, Cooraclare, Kilrush, Co Clare. Tel: 065 905 9059; www.oldparochial house.com €350-€650 per week self-catering.
Ballyroon Mountain, Co Cork
Spectacularly remote, in one of the last inhabited spots before Europe sinks into the Atlantic, Ballyroon lives in the drama of plunging ocean and mountainous peninsulas. Roger and Sue Goss -- ex-cameraman and garden designer -- came to this rugged hillside to farm and breathe clearer air.
The little stone bothy beyond the main house is your cosy mountain cabin: one large bed/sitting room, simply furnished with stone, timber and a thick woolly rug, the bed raised to catch the view. In your own private garden, stylish recliners invite you to laze with a book from the well-stacked shelves in your room. Breakfast in the conservatory next door is a feast of home-produced bacon, sausages and honey. Take all day to explore their 36 varied acres, walk the Sheep's Head and Poet's Ways, and feel how every minute counts.
Details: Ballyroon Mountain, Kilcrohane, Bantry, Co Cork. Tel: 027 67940; www.ballyroon mountain.com. From €80-€100 for a double, B&B.
Cnoc Suain, Co Galway
While the rest of us plod along with pipe dreams, Charlie and Dearbhaill are busy smashing the paradigm on this remote, beautiful homestead. Their patch is vast and open skied; a silent slab of bog, heather and birdsong overlooking Spiddal's coastline.
Residential or half-day courses here range from herbal cures to painting and music; Dearbhaill is a professional musician. Or you could just come to rest and walk, explore the Aran Islands and the Burren. Wildlife is abundant and Charlie grows organic herbs and is starting a physic garden. You stay in tiny dry-stone wall cottages, fabulously unfussy and toasty, with underfloor heating and walk-in showers.
Brightly coloured kitchens have all you need to cook, beds are cosy and window sills deep and whitewashed. The main house is warmed with a wood fire, around which music rings, stories are told and evenings grow long. There's also a library and even a little pub for a warming tot before bed.
Details: Cnoc Suain, An Spidéal, Co Galway. Tel: 091 555703; www.cnocsuain.com. From €520-€1,200, self-catering.
Seal Rock Cottage, Co Kerry
If you're not inspired by this landscape, you have no soul. The new cottage is stone built and sturdy, with a large gravelled area at the front. The exterior is plain enough, but step inside to polished wooden floors and all the bleached beauty of the beach.
In the large sitting room there are stones, driftwood mirrors and lamps, heavy wooden table tops, sheepskins and shaggy pile rugs, and an open fireplace. Next is a sun room with wraparound windows and remote control blinds, which you operate from the comfort of two enormous sofas in tasteful grey. The state-of-the-art kitchen has a super table and black upright chairs.
Upstairs: more spotless wooden floors, big beds, clean white walls, stylish pieces of furniture and bathrooms that are beautifully tiled. A terrace to the rear has small lights set into wooden sleepers and leads to a stone platform with a grey slate table and benches... have your meals watching the sea and the sky.
Details: Seal Rock Cottage, Rossmore Island, Tahilla, Sneem, Co Kerry. Tel: 0044 7949 784016; www.kenmareirishcottages.com. From €1,200-€1,800 per week, self-catering.
Irish Independent readers can buy a copy of Alastair Sawday's Ireland for £7 (rrp £12.99) plus £2.99 p&p by telephoning 0044 127 539 5431 during office hours and quoting Irish Independent. Approximate all-in price in euro is €10.80. Offer ends April 30, 2009. See www.sawdays.co.uk.