From B&Bs where they rear the bacon that's served at breakfast to hotels who know the real meaning of 'wellness', John McKenna reveals places to stay with that special touch.
BROOKS HOTEL, DUBLIN
Is there another concierge in Ireland who knows as much about music as Conor, the ever-helpful main man at Dublin's Brooks Hotel?
Whether Bruce and Bono are your bag, or it's Manu Katché and Christy Moore, Conor has been to the gig, met the band and is ready to regale you with stories about everyone from Philo to Philomena Begley.
He might even help you get tickets to the show.
Details: Brooks Hotel, Drury Street, Dublin City. Tel: 01-670 4000; www.brookshotel.ie.
THE HERITAGE, KILLENARD, CO LAOIS
You come back up to your room after dinner at The Heritage and, to the delight of your children, there is a tray of cookies and milk. But not just ordinary cookies. These ones have the your kids' names written on them in coloured icing.
Manager Donagh Davern learned this trick while working at the Park Hotel in Kenmare, but the personal touch is his own spin -- and one of the reasons why he is the best hotel manager in the land.
Details: The Heritage Golf and Spa Resort, Killenard, Co Laois. Tel: 057 864 5500 or see www.the heritage.com.
GREGANS CASTLE, THE BURREN, CO CLARE
Some people can make a silk purse from a sow's ear. Walk into Gregans Castle, on the Corkscrew Hill in The Burren, and Frederika McMurray will have an array of differently-sized, but identically navy blue, Hunter Wellington boots lined up in the hall. Wellies as a design object!
Such detail and ingenuity show why we think Ms McMurray is one of the most gifted interior designers in the country, and it's why Gregans has such a unique aesthetic. You can never look at a pair of wellies in quite the same way again.
Details: Gregans Castle Hotel, Ballyvaughan, Co Clare. Tel: 065 707 7005; www.gregans.ie.
LOUGH BISHOP HOUSE, DERRYNAGARRA, CO WESTMEATH
Helen and Chris Kelly did an heroic act when they restored Lough Bishop from a lumbering ruin into one of the most delightful farmhouses in the country.
Aside from their lovely property and their handsome Moilie cows, we love the fact that their orchards produce the apples that make the juice for the breakfast table. One of their varieties is called Sheep Snout. A glass of Sheep Snout! What a way to start the day...
Details: Lough Bishop House, Derrynagarra, Collinstown, Co Westmeath. Tel: 044 966 1313; www.derrynagarra.com.
KELLY'S HOTEL, ROSSLARE, CO WEXFORD
Good flower arrangements are as rare as cheap lobster. At Kelly's -- Rosslare's century-old resort hotel -- the floral displays are overseen by Sheelagh Kelly, who has been creating magic with her arrangements here for more than 40 years.
Restrained yet bounteous, lush but simple, her flowers chime with the pitch-perfect individualistic artistry of Kelly's. You could almost overlook them, but once they catch your eye, you see their beauty everywhere in the hotel.
Details: Kelly's Resort Hotel, Rosslare, Co Wexford. Tel: 053 913 2114; www.kellys.ie.
SHEEDY'S, LISDOONVARNA, CO CLARE
Anyone can do a breakfast buffet, even if it's just cereals and fruit. You help yourself to begin with, then order the Full Catastrophe to set you up for the day.
Many hotels abrogate responsibility entirely by using a bain-marie, and expect you to help yourself to food that has been cooked a few hours earlier. But in John and Martina Sheedy's fine hotel, there is no buffet. If you want a bowl of Rice Krispies, they will fetch it for you from the kitchen, just as they serve every detail of every order: prepared on the spot and served with charm. Don't miss the local St Tola goats' cheese with pickled cucumber and pesto, freshly caught hake, fresh crêpes with organic raspberries and maple syrup, fruit compote and fresh banana breads.
Details: Sheedy's Country House Hotel, Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare. Tel: 065 707 4026; www.sheedys.com.
THE GOUGANE BARRA HOTEL, GOUGANE BARRA, CO CORK
The last time we stayed in Neil and Katy Lucey's hotel, we had a wonderful time. Great food, great hospitality, beautiful walks through the woods and one of our favourite little hotel bars in which to enjoy a drink.
Oh, and we also saw an incredible performance of Tom Crean -- Antartic Explorer by Aidan Dooley. Just us and 50 or more happy souls in the little makeshift Theatre by The Lake. We could have reached out and wiped the (copious) sweat from Mr Dooley's brow as he tore through this unbelievable story. For us, like so many others, an annual trip to Gougane for the hospitality -- and the theatre -- is a must.
Details: Gougane Barra Hotel, Gougane Barra, Ballingeary, Co Cork. Tel: 026 47069; www.gouganebarrahotel.com
TEMPLE COUNTRY RETREAT AND SPA, HORSELEAP, MOATE, CO WESTMEATH
Ireland is awash with hotels with spas, and most of those spas aren't proper ones at all. A proper spa is found in a place where wellness -- complete, holistic wellness -- is understood, venerated and effectively worshipped. Temple is the place in which to worship wellness.
We have seen Declan and Bernadette Fagan's spa develop from the original house into a place with dedicated treatment rooms, then on to a small boutique hotel with 23 rooms and a superb spa. Even when the set-up was simple in the early days, the focus on wellness was always paramount for this most singular couple. It permeates everything they do, from the treatments and the cookery to the beatific composure they bring to Temple.
You turn no more than a couple of hundred metres off the N6 to get to Temple, but in doing so you enter another world.
Details: Temple Country Retreat and Spa, Horseleap, Moate, Co Westmeath. Tel: 057 933 5118; www.templespa.ie.
RIGNEY'S FARMHOUSE, CURRAGHCHASE, CO LIMERICK
Some B&Bs go to great lengths to source great rashers, sausages and puddings for your breakfast. But no one goes to the lengths that Caroline Rigney goes to. Ms Rigney raises the rare-breed pigs out back on the farm -- just look at those big, handsome saddlebacks lolling around the place. Then she makes some of the finest bacon, sausages and puddings you can find anywhere in Ireland -- and the Curraghchase products do take some finding, as Ms Rigney sells most of her produce from her own farm shop.
So, that breakfast rasher and blissful pork banger you are relishing at breakfast time have been reared, crafted and cooked by the lady of the house. The good news is that you can buy them all to take home when it's time to say goodbye.
Details: Rigney's Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast, Curraghchase, Kilcornan, Co Limerick. Tel: 061 393 988; www.rigneysfarm.com.
John McKenna's 100 Best Places to Stay in Ireland is available in all book shops nationwide or at www.bridgestoneguides.com