The Fab 50
Ireland’s 50 best places to stay in 2019
The 2019 tourism season kicks off this weekend, and with it our Fab 50 — the Irish Independent’s annual list of Ireland’s best places to stay, in association with Fáilte Ireland.
Why is this list different? Firstly, you can trust it. It’s not gathered via Google. We’ve travelled from Horn Head to Hook Head to vet and visit inclusions. We’ve spoken with owners and staff. We’ve listened to our readers.
The Fab 50 isn’t about the usual suspects. It’s about places that are at the top of their game now — rather than trading on former glories. It favours award-winners, exciting new arrivals and properties that continue to evolve and improve (be it a clever refurb, or a cool new menu). It changes from year to year, and purposefully leaves room for the unsung heroes of Irish hospitality. These are places we believe will define and inspire the Irish short break in 2019 — from Ireland’s sole carbon-neutral hotel to its next-gen B&Bs, stunning city penthouses and cosy cabins in the woods.
Trends? We’re seeing a growing niche for adult-only getaways, and hotel lobbies evolving into all-day eating, working and social spaces. Oh, and fire pits. Lots of ’em. On the downside, too many Irish properties continue to make token environmental gestures (towel notes or optional plastic straws, for example), while showering us with single-use plastics — from mini-toiletries to water bottles and wrappings. That has to change.
Finally, the Fab 50 is a distinctly Irish list. We love properties that invest creatively in Irish design, art, food, producers and their local communities. The world is full of generic hotels. We’re celebrating those you could only find on this island.
What do you think of our picks? Our list is in no particular order; let us know what you think on social media using the hashtag, #IndoFab50.
SMALL BUT PERFECTLY FORMED
1. Dunbrody’s ‘Cosy Cabin’
Where: Dunbrody House, Co Wexford.
Why: Great hotels never stand still. They keep innovating, keep reinvesting — not just to keep properties in tip-top condition, but to stay a step ahead, build return business and stay in the news. Case in point? When I dropped by Dunbrody House last week, I found Catherine Dundon supervising the re-landscaping of its terrace and sunken garden. Since buying Dunbrody in the 1990s, she and Kevin have not only turned it into one of the Blue Book’s best stays, but added a spa, cookery school and pub (‘The Local’). Most recent is the addition of a Sunday market (12-4pm), and the runaway success of their ‘Cosy Cabin’ — a wooden hideaway set a stone’s throw from the country house. Decorated in New England style with one double and two singles, perfectly pitched for couples or a small posse of friends looking to escape (with creature comforts) in Ireland’s Ancient East. — PÓC
Insider Tip: You can order room service into the woods.
Details: Rates from €175, sleeping four. 051 389600; dunbrodyhouse.com.
2. MacNean House & Restaurant
Where: Blacklion, Co Cavan
Why: Neven and Amelda Maguire’s MacNean House celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2019, and it’s testament to one of the hardest working couples in Irish hospitality that a trip still feels as fresh and exciting as ever. It’s one thing being a celeb chef. It’s another cultivating a small business that not only supports some of the best local producers and suppliers in the area, but also some 80 jobs in a tiny border town. Rooms are famously hard to come by, but worth the wait — as is the three-hour ‘Prestige’ menu ( this year served in a refurbished dining room). Leave room for the morning, too — MacNean’s won ‘Best Irish Breakfast’ in our 2019 Reader Travel Awards. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Can’t get a room in the main house? Ask about the MacNean Townhouse, a stone’s throw away.
Details: B&B from €67pp midweek. The ‘Prestige’ tasting menu costs €89pp or €139pp with wine pairings. 071 9853022; nevenmaguire.com.
3. Blackwell house
Where: Scarva, Co Down.
Why: "You know Northern Irish hospitality," says Joyce Brownless. "As soon as someone’s in the door the kettle is on. I can’t help it. I know it sounds twee, but I almost think of them as friends." The warm welcome is just the beginning. Stashed away down country roads near Scarva, the three-bed guesthouse Joyce runs with her husband Steve specialises in exceeding expectations. Check out the fire pit and hot tub out back, or the big Aga and 100-year-old griddle from which Joyce conjures up her dinners and Saturday afternoon cream teas (£25). Thick timber ceiling beams combine with a French oak table and huge fireplace to give a sort of ‘My home is my castle’ feel, and a sun-trap conservatory is laid out with books and mementoes from the couple’s African travels. Blackwell House was named Georgina Campbell’s ‘Guesthouse of the Year’ for 2019, but they’re not resting on their laurels. More rooms and a small treatment space are coming this year. — PÓC
Insider Tip: We love the Blue Room, with its big bathroom and bathe-in-me-this-instant claw-footed tub.
Details: B&B from £130 per night. Three-course dinners from £39pp. +44 2838 832752; blackwellhouse.co.uk.
4. Hook Lodge
Where: Fethard, Hook Peninsula, Co Wexford.
Why: Not long ago, Tristan Fahy and Emma King were living a stressed-out city life in London. Now, they have business meetings on the beach. That was one of the images that stuck with me on a visit to this next-gen B&B, which opened last May on the Hook Peninsula. There were many others. Here’s a dormer-with-a-difference — with a dining room blasted with slogans and street art, rooms themed on cities (Sydney, Tokyo, New York) and a breakfast menu that eschews the Full Irish for dishes like homemade brown bread, cream cheese, fluffy organic scrambled eggs and local smoked salmon. The idea is a "non-traditional B&B", Tristan says. "We both hit a brick wall one day and said, ‘Enough!’". London’s loss is Wexford’s gain. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Tristan could be persuaded to offer personal coaching tips in the mini-fitness studio. Oh, and Templars Inn is just a short stroll from the front door.
Details: B&B from €110 for a double (adults only). 087 1135561; hooklodge.com.
5. The Old Convent
Where: Clogheen, Co Tipperary.
Why: Guests of Dermot and Christine Gannon’s hideaway will be tempted to keep it hush-hush. Matching Dermot’s eight-course tasting menus (€75pp) with several individually decorated rooms (try the Crow’s Nest, or the Loft Room for its legged slipper tub), it’s a zinger for couples tucked away at the foot of the Knockmealdown Mountains. "I’m really trying to work on the romance," says Christine, who likes to surprise repeat guests with new touches each year — from homemade cookies to fresh colour schemes. Tasteful conservations and upgrades are ongoing, this year including "a small facelift" to its chapel dining room. A little world unto itself. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Don’t fancy the tasting menu? Ask for the ‘OC Bento Box’, a lighter option full of treats like pistachio-crusted salmon at €25pp.
Details: B&B from €175. 052 7465565; theoldconvent.ie .
6. Roseville B&B
Where: Youghal, Co Cork.
Why: Nestled within a secret walled garden in the heart of medieval Youghal, Georgian-era Roseville B&B is the perfect romantic refuge. The property offers two garden rooms with private access from the host’s main residence; interiors are a mix of luxe inn touches (think wingback chairs and stand-alone bathtub), paired with homely accents of local pottery and artwork. Salvaged native antiques include a period dresser made from yew wood, from which the name ‘Youghal’ derives and, come morning, guests can buffet from their own larder stocked with Roseville brown bread and small-batch Déise coffee, before enjoying a room-service hot breakfast. Enjoy fruit-smoothies and eggs al pomodoro while breathing in the camellias. — Thomas Breathnach
Insider Tip: The garden suite has its own fireplace.
Details: B&B from €59pp. rosevilleyoughal.com.
7. Castlewood House
Where: Dingle, Co Kerry.
Why: You’ll have seen the name pop up multiple times in our Reader Travel Awards, and this year it scooped ‘Best Irish Welcome’. Whatever they’re doing down on this stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way, they’re doing it right — repeat custom is huge, and loyal fans glow with praise. It all boils down to the owners, Helen and Brian Heaton, who go above and beyond to make sure their guests have the perfect trip. And there’s plenty on the horizon for 2019 — following the success of an inaugural Food Styling & Photography weekend, there are plans afoot for another, and a ‘Blasket Basket’ package includes a guided tour of the Great Blasket Island and a gourmet picnic basket. — Nicola Brady
Insider Tip: Make sure you’re good and hungry for breakfast — the menu is the stuff of fantasy, and their pancakes have an almost cult following.
Details: B&B from €118 per room. 066 9152788; castlewooddingle.com.
8. Clonganny House
Where: Ballygarrett, Co Wexford.
Why: "I actually think the house found us," says Brona Brillant of Clonganny House, the North Wexford pile she and partner Philippe have tastefully transformed into one of Ireland’s hottest heritage guesthouses. Philippe, a chef who has worked with Joel Robuchon, serves signature French dishes from a hi-spec kitchen next to the old Georgian hearth (there are fresh croissants and pain au chocolats for breakfast, too) and Brona’s flair comes to life in four, individually decorated rooms in the old stables and sheds. Think hand-carved mahogany bed frames with six-foot king-coil mattresses or French Algotherm bathroom products using Irish seaweed. How does she describe Clonganny? "Well, homely, but with amazing food," Brona says. "Too many people over-commercialise and lose the intimacy that makes them special." Touché. — PÓC
Insider Tip: There’s a little treatment room upstairs in the main house... book ahead for a bit of pampering.
Details: B&B from €195 per room (adults only). Dinner from €55pp (non-residents are welcome, but must book in advance). 053 9482111; clonganny.com.
9. The Stables
Where: Ballymahon, Co Longford.
Why: You’ll find The Stables on the thickly forested grounds of Newcastle Demesne estate. It’s a self-catering property that’s part 18th century stone courtyard, part modernist wooden wonderland. The juxtaposition could be jarring but it works, and continues inside, where ramshackle stone walls are dotted with cool modern art and bright pops of colour. It welcomes a good mix of guests — big family breaks, corporate affairs and the odd hen party — and keeps everyone happy with sleek interiors and the blissful serenity of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands. Underfloor heating of the concrete floors is a nice touch, the bookcase is stacked with titles you’d actually want to read, and there’s a fire pit and deck for those languid summer nights. — NB
Insider Tip: Don’t bother drawing your curtains — you might spot grazing deer right by the windows.
Details: Two nights’ rental (sleeping up to 22) costs €1,890. 089 824941; stablesselfcatering.com.
10. Walden Lakehouse
Where: Glasson, Co Westmeath.
Why: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what I love so much about the Walden Lakehouse. Is it the enviably slick interiors, with perfectly folded blankets, Farrow and Ball walls and 1960s pendant lights? Is it the kitchen, with pristine marble counters and a drawer filled with perfectly labelled spice jars? Perhaps… but it’s the lakeside setting that makes me positively swoon. Walk in the door and you’re met with an incredible view of Lough Ree, the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the still, reed-lined waters. You’ll see it from the bathtub, the living room and, best of all, the master bedroom. Sit on the deck and enjoy it with a glass of whiskey from the decanter, or a martini whizzed up in the copper cocktail shaker. Interior designer Egon Walesch’s house won RTÉ’s Home of the Year in 2016. — NB
Insider Tip: Give yourself a night off from cooking and wander next door to the Killinure Chalets for dinner.
Details: The two-bedroom house sleeps four, with weekend rates from €1,040. uniquehomestays.com.
11. Killary Lodge
Where: Connemara, Co Galway.
Why: Smack bang in the middle of the Connemara dreamscape, Killary Lodge is a newly built custom country lodge where smart, cool design meets lust-worthy scenery. The 10-bedroom lodge has the kind of aesthetic that wouldn’t look out of place in a Nordic boutique hotel, with deep, weathered leather couches, copper light fittings and plenty of dark, painted wood. Little details include nooks cut out of the bed frames to access the plug sockets, cool net hammocks instead of drawers, and beds draped with Foxford woollen blankets. The lodge is an offshoot of the Killary Adventure Company, so there’s kayaking, archery and waterskiing on your doorstep… but the views are just as striking even if you just fancy a lazy stroll. — NB
Insider Tip: Wander up to the Misunderstood Heron food truck, where you can pick up things like pasties, smoked salmon and mussels — they can also cater in the lodge.
Details: Self-catering from €2,550 for two nights (sleeping up to 20), plus €350 cleaning fee. killaryadventure.com.
12. Waterfall Caves
Where: Limavady, Co Derry.
Why: Welcome to Westeros. "Game of Thrones was filmed behind the trees over there," says Paula Canning, who recently added three subterranean, cottage-style self-catering hideaways to her and husband George’s property around the Duncrun fishing lakes. It’s a simple idea, with double beds, bathrooms and small kitchenettes nicely fitted into each ‘cave’, and a hot tub and fire pit for use nearby. Beautiful Binevenagh Mountain looms overhead, you can borrow GoT walking location maps, and the Causeway Coast is a short drive away. What’s next? Two hexagonal ‘turnaround’ houses that guests can rotate to face the way they please. — PÓC
Insider Tip: The caves are pet-friendly.
Details: From £110 per night, sleeping four if you use a sofa bed. +447717592301; waterfallcaves.com.
13. Blasket Island Experience
Where: Great Blasket Island, Co Kerry.
Why: If time travel is your thing, here’s the place to do it - a wild, windswept island strewn with the broken husks of Irish history. Most visitors are daytrippers, but it’s possible to overnight in one of three cottages run by Billy O’Connor and Alice Hayes. Don’t expect a luxury stay - Great Blasket Island has no electricity, shop or pub, and running water is cold. But cosy stoves and self-catering kitchens provide comfort, and the atmosphere is richly authentic (Peig herself lived in one of the cottages). The season starts April 1, and a fourth cottage is coming soon. — PÓC
Insider Tip: ‘Peig’s Breakfast’, with porridge, fruit, yoghurt and hot drinks, is available from just €6pp.
Details: Houses from €140 for two (€40pp thereafter); rooms from €100 (sleeping two). Billy also runs boat trips from Dingle. 086 3135098; greatblasketisland.net.
ROOMS WITH A VIEW
14. The Fitzwilliam Penthouse
Where: Belfast, Co Antrim.
Why: Rihanna has checked in. So has Katy Perry. And Jon Snow (AKA Kit Harrington). Ten years since it opened, The Fitzwilliam is upping its game, splashing a cool £5m on its Great Victoria Street hotel to add 16 luxury bedrooms and a penthouse with 180-degree views over the Belfast skyline. Designed by Christopher Ash and Project Orange, the 9th Floor space comes with a baby grand piano (self-playing, no less), wraparound balcony, and splashes of green and gold brighten up cool cream and rose pink backgrounds. It’s a slick, polished 1,250sqft space that feels opulent without being blindingly bling — not an easy balance. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Have a bath. A spanking standalone tub sits right next to a floor-to-ceiling window.
Details: The Penthouse costs £2,500 per night including breakfast and an interconnecting bedroom, sleeping four in total. +44 28 90442080; fitzwilliambelfast.com.
15. The Dunloe
Where: Killarney, Co Kerry.
Why: Is this the best restaurant view in Ireland? Who knows, but it’s a great place to debate the question. The Dunloe re-opened last year after an €18m refurb of its restaurant, bar, lobby, lounge and gardens — and the results are a big step forward for the five-star. Highlights include those picture-window views over the Gap of Dunloe (look out for the Hefflinger ponies chomping outside), Instagram-friendly bookshelves soaring into the lobby towers, and gardens that offer lovely, gravel paths (with a new fairy trail) and rougher wanders near the River Laune. The Dunloe is owned by the Liebherr Family, who also own The Europe and Ard na Sidhe. We hope room refurbs will follow. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Killarney is a 15-minute drive away. It will cost you €20-25 in a cab, or take the free shuttle bus.
Details: The hotel closes for winter (it re-opens April 18). B&B with dinner from €185pp. 064 6644111; thedunloe.com.
16. The Lighthouse
Where: Enniscrone, Co Sligo.
Why: It’s not an actual lighthouse... but there’s no arguing with the views. The jewel in the crown of this 3,000 square-foot, self-catering penthouse is its circular sitting room, with (by my calculation) 270-degree views over Enniscrone beach. In winter, you could storm-watch. In summer, you can gaze over the surfers and across Killala Bay. It’s several years old, but is regularly repainted and spruced up, with an Italian porcelain floor and maritime touches — a little lighthouse here, a model ship there — giving a fresh, airy feel to the opulence. All bar one of the bedrooms are en-suite, but the master is the one to bag. — PÓC
Insider Tip: There’s no lift, so this apartment won’t suit wheelchair users or mobility-impaired visitors.
Details: Rates start from €300 for three nights midweek or €450 for a weekend off-season, rising to €1,200 per week in high season. 096 36634; thelighthouse.ie.
17. Grand Central Hotel
Where: 9-12 Bedford Street, Belfast.
Why: ‘Belfast’s long been a byword for hospitality...’ reads a line from a poem by Paul Muldoon on the revolving door. Step inside, and you enter an Art Deco-inspired space that evokes both Manhattan lobbies and the city’s industrial heritage. Copious mirrors and marble may sacrifice warmth and intimacy for drama and scale (with 300 rooms, it’s the largest hotel in Northern Ireland), but you can’t argue with the views… from upper storey bedrooms to the 22nd floor Observatory. Reached via its own lift, this is the home of the £9 pint and £17 G&T, but offers unparalleled views over City Hall, the Harland & Wolff cranes and Black Mountain. If you don’t fancy an overnight, afternoon tea at these heady heights is our latest Belfast travel hack. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Request a room above the 14th or 15th floors, and book a ‘bespoke soak’. You can thank us later.
Details: Doubles from €147; +44 208 90231066; grandcentralhotelbelfast.com .
18. Shandon Hotel & Spa
Where: Dunfanaghy, Co Donegal.
Why: Re-opened in 2016, this family-run four-star has stepped up its game, adding 18 new bedrooms and a design spruce-up over the past year. Set 5km outside Dunfanaghy near the magical Marble Hill beach, it’s a peachy spot for families to take a hotel break — with decent bar food, a spa for adults, a 17.5m pool and stonking picture-window views over Sheephaven Bay. Using it as a base, venture forth for surf lessons, adventures in Ards Forest or explore Wild Atlantic Way wonders like Horn head or Trá Mór. It’s a basic, unshowy four-star, but small touches show an eye for detail — a bag of O’Donnell’s crisps and a small French Press in my room, for example, and a Canadian Hot Tub with ace views of the coast. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Most of the 68 rooms have a coastal view… but call ahead to make doubly sure one of them is yours.
Details: A ‘Love to Spa’ special has B&B, dinner and a spa package from €155pp. 074 9136137; shandonhotelspa.com.
19. The Bedford Townhouse
Where: Bedford Street, Limerick.
Why: If you build it, they will come. That’s our motto for Denise and Peter Brazil’s Bedford Townhouse, a polished new arrival to Limerick’s accommodation scene. Think of a spiritual little sister to One Pery Square... the building dates from 1830 and, after an unusually laid-out ground floor — where a café, reception and Limerick Travel share space — you’ll find all sorts of thoughtful touches showcasing the city heritage. Twelve rooms are named after local landmarks, a needle -and-thread logo recalls the building’s former life as the Limerick Clothing Factory. Chic, clever rooms are designed by local Italian-Irish designer Tullio Orlandi — with big, movie set-style lights, old phones and Anyah toiletries among the details. A breakout ‘parlour room’ makes an unusual lounge space, and it’s great to see local Ponaire coffee served too. Lucky Limerick. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Browse the 2019/2020 Munster rugby calendar now. This is the perfect bolthole for a rugby break.
Details: Rooms from €99. 061 204400; thebedford.ie.
20. The Morgan Hotel
Where: Temple Bar, Dublin.
Why: After a €15m renovation, The Morgan reopened its doors in July 2018. All of the bedrooms were given a full refurb, 39 new ones were added, and the ground floor was completely renovated, adding the new 10 Fleet Street Restaurant, The Lobby Lounge and 10 Fleet Street Bar. The bar is a stonker, particularly if you’re a fan of cocktails — bartenders whip up eye-catching numbers with cherry wood smoke, citrus mist and smouldering fronds of thyme. Even the G&T is full of pizazz, with edible flowers and slivers of dragonfruit. The new bedrooms are a dream, with marble tabletops, theatrical padded headboards and SuitePads, from which you can order drinks, room service or simply ask reception a question. — NB
Insider Tip: There’s a full, à la carte vegan menu — think confit artichoke hearts and caramelised celeriac with a dark chocolate torte for dessert.
Details: From €150 per room. 01 643-7000; themorgan.com.
21. The Wilder Townhouse
Where: 22 Adelaide Road, Dublin.
Why: A great townhouse needs to be several things. It needs to be close to the action. It needs to be small enough to feel intimate and characterful, yet big enough to give you anonymity and space. It needs a serious breakfast, smart design, and staff who know what they’re doing. Welcome to the club, Wilder. From its sunset-red wall of Victorian brickwork to the 42 city chic rooms that see designer Gráinne Webber combine old and new features to the mustard yellow chairs, parquet flooring and botanical wallpapers of the ‘Gin and Tea Rooms’, it’s a slick blend of business and pleasure. The original building dates from 1839; the €9.5m reboot opened last year as a sister to Cork’s Montenotte Hotel. — PÓC
Insider Tip: ‘Shoebox’ and ‘Small’ rooms are tight (though not claustrophobic). Consider upgrading to a ‘Popular’ for a little extra space, or a corner suite for a splurge.
Details: Room-only rates from €130 for a ‘Shoebox’ to €275 for a suite in low season. 01 9696598; thewilder.ie.
22. The River Lee Hotel
Where: Western Road, Cork.
Why: The River Lee Hotel has always been a reliably excellent hotel, with great food, comfy rooms and genuinely friendly, cheery staff. But it’s The River Club Bar, Terrace & Grill Room (the newly revamped riverside restaurant and bar area) that really shines. With deep turquoise walls, curved leather booths and giant ferns dangling from the ceiling, the Grill Room is one of the sultriest restaurants in the city, if not the country. And the food coming out of the kitchen is stellar — think gamey slabs of organic venison, juicy wagyu burgers and truffle fries piled high with fine tendrils of parmesan. Things are a little brighter in the bar, which leads onto the riverside terrace, decked out in twinkling fairy lights, thick blankets and space heaters, for a deliciously après ski vibe in the winter, or al fresco cocktails in the summer. A Doyle Collection delight. — NB
Insider Tip: Book a deluxe room if you can — that swings you access to the executive lounge, with great coffee, drinks and snacks on tap all day, and pastries in the morning.
Details: Rooms from €146. 021 4252700; doylecollection.com.
23. The Devlin
Where: Ranelagh, Dublin.
Why: Irish neighbourhood hotels just went up a gear. Opened last November, with design by O’Donnell O’Neill (check out those bedroom corridors ending in floor-to-ceiling picture windows), the Devlin is a Ranelagh rock star. Punters are drawn to its suburban cinema (a sister of the Stella in Rathmines), Layla’s restaurant (overlooking the redbrick ’burbs) and a deceptively large downstairs bar doing killer cocktails (though we hope the door staff don’t get too clipboardy). Guests of its 40 rooms will find compact spaces smartly assembled — with little extras like Dyson hairdryers, Smeg fridges and mini-Marshall speakers. Think of it as a sophisticated little sister to The Dean on Harcourt Street… our one quibble is the lack of wardrobe space. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Take time to browse the art. Over 160 pieces celebrate contemporary Irish artists ranging from Leah Hewson to James Earley, with a 50/50 male-female split.
Details: Rooms from €120. 01 4066550; thedevlin.ie.
24. The Montenotte
Where: Middle Glanmire Rd, Tivoli, Cork.
Why: Since its rebrand and revamp, the Montenotte has secured its place as one of Cork’s best hotels. In a world where hotel interiors seem to blend into one, the décor has a cool individuality — yes, there’s a fair whack of navy velvet, but there are also giant statues of dogs dripping in paint, green glass jelly babies lining the hallways, and a sleek Mad Men feel to the restaurant and bar. The brand new Bellevue Spa is a blush pink paradise, and offers treatments using bespoke products influenced by flowers grown in its Victorian sunken garden. Coming this summer is a terrace bar, with drinks served from a vintage Citroën van. I’ll see you there for an ice cold beer in the sunshine. — NB
Insider Tip: Time your dinner around 8pm movie screenings in the plush in-house cinema — seats are huge, popcorn is plentiful and you can snuggle under a fleecy blanket. Score!
Details: B&B from €139 per room. 021 4530050; themontenottehotel.com.
25. The Address
Where: 1 Amiens Street, Dublin.
Why: Sometimes the best things in life are unexpected. Take The Address, for example. Its location, next to Connolly Station, isn’t exactly exciting. It doesn’t look special from outside. But a recent renovation (it was formerly part of the newly refurbished North Star Hotel) is really rather impressive, with cool, airy rooms decked out with copper lamps and woven blankets, and neat design notes in the hallways (think typewriters, bird cages and the like). The reception area is visually stunning, with the desk tucked into exposed brick arches of the original train station, and leather couches to unwind with a glass of wine. — NB
Insider Tip: All guests have access to the Club Lounge, with complimentary snacks, drinks and a little rooftop bar with gorgeous views over Connolly Station. There’s even wine and nibbles from 6.30-7.30pm each day.
Details: B&B from €229. 01 7040770; theaddressatdublin1.ie.
26. The Grafton Guesthouse
Where: South Great George’s St, Dublin.
Why: I’m loath to include this one… the Grafton Guesthouse has long been my Dublin go-to, and my inclination is to keep it secret. But I’m far too professional for that, so here you go — in the eaves of the George’s Street Arcade you’ll find rooms that wouldn’t look out of place in a Williamsburg loft, with exposed brick, wooden beams and subway-tiled bathrooms. In 2018, new loft rooms were added that are even cooler, with sloping ceilings, tall gothic windows and one with a giant sunken bathtub. You can get a room for under €100, and I’ve gotten a single for €69 in the past. The only downside? That great location on George’s Street is hardly peaceful, and the windows in this listed building aren’t the best at keeping the noise at bay. — NB
Insider Tip: Ask when booking if there is a quieter room available — though there are no guarantees.
Details: B&B from €99. graftonguesthouse.com.
CASTLE & CHARACTER STAYS
27. Waterford Castle
Where: The Island, Waterford.
Why: Is this the prettiest approach to a hotel in Ireland? Two minutes is all the ferry crossing takes to whisk you to a private island in the River Suir, but it feels like a clean break with the real world. Under new ownership since 2015, Waterford Castle has come on leaps and bounds — from behind-the-scenes stabilisation works to eye-catching details like the beautiful bar ceiling (with splashes of mint green and gold leaf) to Carrera marble floors in suite bathrooms. The Great Hall is a standout space, with a huge fireplace anchoring the Elizabethan oak paneling. Proceed from there to sip a local Blackwater Gin and tonic in the bar, before treating yourself to Tom Spruce’s cooking in the Munster Room (his riffs on Comeragh lamb are a highlight). There are dozens of lodges and a golf course on the island too, but the 19-bed castle is our first choice. — PÓC
Insider Tip: The castle can be exclusively booked (Kodaline’s Jason Boland married Etain Corr there in ’17).
Details: A two-night B&B stay with one dinner is available from €298. 051 878203; waterfordcastleresort.com.
28. Bushmills Inn
Where: Bushmills, Co Antrim.
Why: Am I alone in relishing a bit of bad weather on a hotel break? A dash of rain and gloom grants you permission to hide away in your room and do precisely nothing. And Bushmills Inn is absolutely perfect for that job. This Antrim hotel — a Blue book bolthole — is the epitome of cosiness, with an inglenook next to smouldering turf fire, real gas lamps lit in the bar and, unsurprisingly, a hefty amount of whiskey to hand. Last year saw several areas get a refresh, from bedroom upgrades to the refurb of its super-cosy loft space, where you can take afternoon tea. — NB
Insider Tip: If you’re a fan of a good soak, book one of the suites — the clawfoot bathtubs are massive.
Details: B&B from £130 per room. +44 28 20733000; bushmillsinn.com.
29. Belleek Castle
Where: Ballina, Co Mayo.
Why: It’s not the finished product, but Belleek Castle is on a hell of a journey. A Victorian, neo-gothic manor set just outside Ballina, the modern history of this building is inextricably tied up with its wayfaring former owner, Marshall Doran — whose museum collection you’ll find the basement, and whose antiques include a bar built from a reclaimed Spanish Armada galleon. While it sometimes strays into the eccentric, Marshall’s son Paul and his team have been pulling Belleek in a more polished direction — joining the Blue Book, adding a super new café in the old coach house (Jack Fenn’s), refurbishing several rooms (we love the Sanderson Caverley wallpapers surrounding the four-posters) and full of forward planning, including a possible gin distillery. The future is bright. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Ask for one of the refurbished rooms, overlooking Belleek Woods with fab four-poster beds.
Details: Midweek B&B with dinner and a castle tour are available from €105pp. 096 22400; belleekcastle.com.
30. Elizabeth Fort
Where: Barrack St, The Lough, Cork.
Why: Fancy a night in a fort? Cork’s 17th century Elizabeth Fort is just off Barrack Street and, from the top of the walkable walls, has amazing views of Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral and the city. It played a pivotal role in Cork’s history, but was most recently home to a Garda station, alongside houses for gardaí and their families. It’s in these homes you can stay, thanks to the Irish Landmark Trust, which has just completed a restoration in partnership with Cork City Council. The two homes — Parade and Garrison House — were extensively renovated and are now gorgeously cosy and just the right side of quaint. When night falls and the gates are closed, the fort is yours and yours alone. — NB
Insider Tip: Pick up a Japanese takeaway from Miyazaki around the corner and luxuriate in delicious solitude.
Details: Two nights from €346 (the homes sleep three). 01 6704733; irishlandmark.com.
31. Ballynahinch Castle
Where: Recess, Connemara, Co Galway.
Why: Is this the perfect countryside hotel? Inside, fireplaces roar throughout the day, with giant armchairs in the perfect position for coffee or a game of Scrabble. There’s a room filled with Dubarry and Hunter wellies, which guests can borrow to stomp around lake and riverside trails. The rooms are a sweet balance of country manor cosiness without being too kitschy, and 2019 has already seen a complete refurb of 20 bedrooms in the old house, now kitted out with William Morris wallpaper and spanking new bathrooms. But really, the location will always be its USP — the view of the castle reflected in the waters of the Owenmore River will never fail to blow you away. — NB
Insider Tip: Borrow a couple of the hotel’s bikes and hit the first completed stretch of the Connemara Greenway — the 6km route practically starts at the hotel gates.
Details: B&B from €205. 095 31006; ballynahinchcastle.com.
32. The Lodge at Castle Leslie
Where: Glaslough, Co Monaghan.
Why: Set at the entrance to the magical 1,000-acre Castle Leslie estate, the Lodge is a home away from home — that is, if your home was a beautifully restored period property with a first-rate restaurant and its own state-of-the-art stables. The atmosphere is chic but comfortable, so you won’t feel out of place if you forget to change out of your jodhpurs before relaxing by the fire with a G&T (the estate makes its own gin). If you’re a horse-lover, you’re already in heaven, but there’s plenty to enjoy if you’re not: treatments at the Victorian spa, pike fishing in the lake, or afternoon tea across the lawn at the captivating old castle. 21 smart new bedrooms are currently nearing completion at the Lodge, making this the perfect time to visit. — Liz Kearney
Insider Tip: A gentle hack — or something more adventurous — around the estate’s shimmering lakes and forest paths is not to be missed. If you can’t ride, grab wellies from the well-stocked boot-room and discover the trails on foot.
Details: B&B from €150. 047 88100; castleleslie.com.
CAMPING, GLAMPING & QUIRKY
33. Hidden Valley Holiday Park
Where: Rathdrum, Co Wicklow.
Why: Another winner in our Reader Travel Awards, Hidden Valley offers the kind of wholesome, activity-packed holiday that might just tempt your kids away from their screens. You can pitch a tent or park your van, or book into a basic glamping lodge, then go wild in the Outdoor Adventure Park, kayak on the private lake or try Laser Tag. The big news for 2019 is the Splash Valley Aqua Park, currently slated for May (or possibly Easter, if the weather plays ball). This will be Ireland’s newest and largest Aquaglide Aqua Park, with tons of inflatable slides, swings and towers to clamber over. Our prediction? Kids (and grown-ups) are going to go wild for this one. — NB
Insider Tip: Day visitors are welcome. Rates are €5pp, and visiting hours are 10am-4pm (activities extra). For more in the area, see irelandsancienteast.com.
Details: Pitches from €32 to €38, glamping mini-lodges from €60. 086 7272872; irelandholidaypark.com.
34. Teapot Lane
Where: Castlegal, Co Sligo.
Why: Surprisingly cosy yurts insulated with sheep’s wool. A treehouse with stove and record player. A vintage caravan, cute cottage and common area kitted out with rugs, hot-water bottles, tasselled lamps and bar areas built from scrap wood. Teapot Lane is not what you’d expect to find in the wilds of Sligo. Kevin Haughey and Derval McGovern’s little glamping village has grown over nine years into a cute rustic retreat. Midweek is best for families; weekends exclusively (March-Oct) for hen parties. Come prepared! A ‘no high heels’ sign is only half in jest. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Hen parties of up to 35 can be accommodated, with BBQ buffet, activities, DJ and a return bus to Sligo or Bundoran on one night from €229pp. Teapot Lane is BYOB.
Details: Yurts from €220; treehouses from €280 for a two-night stay. glampingireland.ie.
35. Legan Castle Farmhouse
Where: Thomastown, Co Kilkenny.
Why: "People get very emotional if they come in and there’s no pavlova left," laughs Caroline Sweeney, dishing up a death row dessert at her kitchen table. Hers is a warm, homely welcome that encapsulates an intimate business built around a castle ruin and 200-year-old farmhouse in Ireland's Ancient East. There’s serious polish to it too, however. Caroline has worked at London’s Grosvenor House, and attention to detail shines through in her cosy glamping tents, breakfast hampers, evening BBQs, hi-spec shower blocks and the cool little café in a former cowshed (that’s where you’ll find the pavlova). A fifth tent is on the way this year for this little tone poem in the countryside… complete with Connemara ponies, lanterns and a one-bed cottage stay. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Visit in April and May, when apple and cherry blossoms are in full bloom next to the cottage.
Details: B&B from €79pp. Glamping with two nights’ B&B and BBQ costs €189pp. 056 7811024; legancastle.ie.
36. Shepherds’ Huts
Where: Blackstairs Eco Trails, Co Carlow.
Why: "People arrive on Friday night and they are exhausted," says Robert White. "You need to be careful what you say, because they’re up to 90. But the next day, they might talk to you for two hours." Such are the powers of a restorative night’s sleep. Push open the half-door to one of the small, Irish-made shepherds’ huts at Blackstairs Eco Trails, the eco-tourism business built by Robert and his wife Mary around their gorgeous former rectory home, and you’ll find a cutesy stay that packs a cosy punch. Farrow & Ball colours, torches and snacks in Kilner Jars ("to prevent night starvation") are just some of the thoughtful touches, and breakfast, catering facilities and bathrooms are 50 yards away in a converted Eco-Barn. People arrive stressed. But they don’t leave that way. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Native wood stargazing chairs are coming this year... lean back with rugs and cocoa to soak up the night skies.
Details: Huts from €75 per night. Walks and foraging workshops are also available. 087 2707189; blackstairsecotrails.ie.
LAP OF LUXURY
37. Gregans Castle
Where: Ballyvaughan, Co Clare.
Why: Last year, the Good Hotel Guide named Simon Haden and Frederieke McMurray’s gorgeous country house as its Irish hotel of the year. We weren’t one bit surprised. "The elegant, antique-filled interior gleams with modern art and fresh flowers, and a friendly cat may be curled up on one of the armchairs," it wrote. I’d go further, pointing out the lack of TVs, add-ons like guided walks in the Burren, and chef Robbie McCauley continuing predecessor David Hurley’s cutting-edge fine dining menus using top local ingredients. Gregans is about tone. From the moment your feet crunch on the gravel and you step in towards the open fires, cosy Corkscrew bar and warm embrace of an 18th century country manor with exquisite attention to detail, you’ll know they’ve struck the right note. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Best value lies in the bundles — two nights’ B&B with an eco-walk and dinner from €259 per night midweek, for example. There’s tea and cake by the fire too.
Details: Early booking B&B rates start from €199 per night. 065 7077005; gregans.ie.
Where: Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.
Why: When it comes to spas in Ireland, Monart is the one to beat. It’s taken the top spot in our Reader Travel Awards for three years running, and with good reason. This is a spot wholly committed to the art of wellness — there are no kids running around, no phones, and no distractions. You simply waft about in your dressing gown, flitting between treatment rooms, yoga classes and the excellent thermal spa. They don’t rest on their laurels, either — this year the treatment rooms were all fully renovated (with two new rooms added), as well as the lounge. They also created a fully vegan seasonal à la carte menu... but you’ll still find dishes like Slaney lamb and venison too, along with a stonker of a wine list. Now that’s my kind of spa. — NB
Insider Tip: Keep an eye out for periodic residencies from visiting Shaolin Masters — the Shaolin Warrior Massage I had from Master Zheng was one of the best of my life.
Details: B&B from €129pps. 053 9238999; monart.ie.
39. The Shelbourne
Where: St Stephen’s Green, Dublin.
Why: Why does The Shelbourne retain a special place in our hearts, even after 195 years? Because it continues to grow, evolve and adapt to our changing needs, while preserving a strong sense of heritage. Since 2015, when its façade was painstakingly restored, refurbishments have been ongoing, and now it’s the turn of the lobby, reception and entrance. When the doormen in top hats open the main doors once more on April 5, the final stage of a multi-million euro refurbishment will be complete. And hey, the five-star was voted the No.1 hotel in Ireland in our Reader Travel Awards 2019, so who are we to argue? — NB
Insider Tip: Take a cocktail out to the new outdoor terrace, to the right of the 1824 bar (which used to be the library). It’s open for residents only and is lovely.
Details: A ‘Pardon Our Appearance’ package is available until April 5, and includes parking, breakfast and a bottle of house wine from €289. 01 6634500; theshelbourne.ie.
40. The Park Kenmare
Where: Kenmare, Co Kerry.
Why: There are moments when John and Francis Brennan’s Victorian manor looks like it hasn’t changed in over 120 years. Stepping through the door, a man in a tweed jacket takes your bag, and you pass into a world of objets d’art and suits of armour. But looks are deceiving. Push on, and you start to notice the movement and change beneath the swan-smooth surface details. Chef James Coffey’s tasting menus have breathed new life into the dining room. Eleven bedrooms have been totally refurbished with J&B Gainsborough fabrics and monogrammed PHK bed linen, among other touches, and the SÁMAS Spa epitomises the contemporary elements threaded through this elegant old five-star. Best of all? They’re installing a Lego Room. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Down the road in Dromquinna, John Brennan is opening two ‘Potting Sheds’ this year — new houses within the glamping grounds. €190; dromquinnamanor.com.
Details: B&B from €198pp. Book a two-night break, and get a third free on select dates. 01 6641200; parkkenmare.com.
41. Druid’s Glen
Where: Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow.
Why: Stashed away in Co Wicklow, Druid’s Glen doesn’t enjoy as high a PR profile as other five-star resorts, but it’s been quietly setting a benchmark. Step past the fairly generic façades, and it feels almost like an Alpine lodge — bedecked with heathery hues, fresh flowers, double-sided quartzite fireplace and bold art choices. A €9m investment over five years has included revamps to Hugo’s Restaurant and, most recently, a doubling in size of the Garden Rooms, bar and terrace that amplifies views over the golf course. Book a superior facing the rear — colours are thrilling in early summer or autumn. — PÓC
Insider Tip: A new, creative collaboration with Wicklow neighbours The Happy Pear add vegan dishes like Buddha Bowls and cauliflower wings to the bar menu.
Details: B&B from €165 midweek, including Prosecco and a €20 dining credit. 01 2870800; druidsglenresort.ie.
42. Mount Juliet
Where: Thomastown, Co Kilkenny.
Why: Mount Juliet is one of just two properties to make the Fab 50 for a second year (Harvey’s Point is the other). Why? In 2018, we listed it as a four-star. In 2019, it’s a five-star. Securing Fáilte Ireland’s top rating this December is the ultimate seal of approval for a refurbishment journey begun after its acquisition by Tetrarch in 2014. There’s a new, 77-bed Hunter’s Yard hotel on site. The Hound is attracting growing kudos as a younger sister restaurant to the Michelin Starred Lady Helen (where seven-course tasting menus cost €97pp, with wine pairings from €48), and we hear whispers of a cookery school and café to come later this year. That’s not even starting on the classy equestrian centre or the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course... truth be told, many guests thought it was a five-star all along. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Want a corner of this Kilkenny estate to yourself? Book the Chauffeur’s Lodge, a two-bed cottage and former home to the estate chauffeur. Rates from €1,200.
Details: Spring breaks including B&B and dinner from €99pp. 056 7773000; mountjuliet.ie.
FAB FOUR-STARS & FAMILY HOTELS
43. Center Parcs Longford Forest
Where: Ballymahon, Co Longford.
Why: It hasn’t opened yet, but we include Center Parcs on our list because, once it does, Irish family holidays will never be the same again. I’ve done a reccie at Center Parcs Woburn Forest, and this 355-acre, €233m piece of middle-class magic is going to have a similar impact on Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands. They’ve even put a roof over 3,500m2 of it — a ‘Subtropical Swimming Paradise’ that will, with its wonderland of waterslides, wave pools and wild rivers, be Ireland’s largest water park... heated to 29.5 degrees, to boot. Throw in 100+ activities, hi-spec lodges, a huge spa and a staff every bit as well-trained and invested as Disney ‘castmembers’, and you have the makings of a family adventure to remember. At a hefty price, of course — the pool is free, but everything from bike hire to mini-tennis and aerial adventure courses are extra. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Book activities and restaurants in advance, especially in peak times. It both forgoes disappointment and spreads the (considerable) holiday cost.
Details: From €429 for a midweek stay at a Woodland Lodge sleeping six in October. 1890 995030; centerparcs.ie.
44. The Osprey Hotel & Spa
Where: Naas, Co Kildare.
Why: This four-star urban retreat boasts friendly staff — its other shining star is the refurbished spa area. Following a €1.4m investment, this beautiful spot — designed by architect Hugh Wallace of RTÉ’s Home of the Year fame — offers treatments including massages, facials, wraps, scrubs and manicures. You can also indulge in the salt grotto, sauna and rasul chamber and access the 20m pool and leisure centre. My therapist used organic Irish brand Voya for my two-hour spa journey — a Swedish massage and indulgent facial. Bliss! Finish off your evening with dinner in Herald & Devoy restaurant (all sauces and soups are gluten-free). — Rebecca Fiederer
Insider Tip: The Detox Seaweed bath (30 minutes, €45) uses hand-harvested Atlantic seaweed to remove toxins and alleviate aches and pains — known as ‘sailor’s cure’.
Details: 045 881111; ospreyhotel.ie; overnight break for two sharing with breakfast, two-course dinner, cocktail or beer and choice of 30-minute spa treatment, from €238.
45. Harvey’s Point
Where: Lough Eske, Co Donegal.
Why: This is the second year running that Harvey’s Point has featured on our Fab 50. That, in large part, is due to its army of fiercely loyal fans. The warmth of welcome is something that’s talked about a lot in the world of Irish tourism, but Harvey’s Point has it down to a T. Deirdre McGlone takes the helm and can often be seen chatting to guests at reception or dinner. I also have a soft spot for Seán Murphy, the amiable and twinkly-eyed concierge who shows guests to the door and says "Welcome to Heaven" as he reveals their room. There are plans in place for 11 new bedrooms with balconies overlooking Lough Eske or the Bluestack Mountains, and whisperings of a possible spa on the horizon… 2019 is its 30th birthday, too. — NB
Insider Tip: Take a map from reception and walk the loop alongside Lough Eske — it’s an absolute beaut.
Details: B&B from €198. 074 9722208; harveyspoint.com.
46. Aloft Dublin City
Where: 1 Mill St, The Liberties.
Why: The newest hotel on our list, Ireland’s first Aloft hotel opened in the Liberties this January. And boy, is it a looker. Reception is on the seventh floor, so you’re met with a stonker of a view from the get-go, spanning from the spires of nearby St Patrick’s Cathedral to the Dublin Mountains. And things are fairly nifty inside too, with a bright, open-plan public space decked out with a swish red pool table, giant sofas and neon signs. This is where you’ll find the main restaurant area, complete with sleek leather booths and a line of Pixar lamps. There’s even a dinky terrace off the bar, which will be prime sundowner territory, mark my words. The bedrooms are filled with light, thanks to the (almost) floor-to-ceiling windows — if you don’t want to embrace your exhibitionist side, the delicate blinds hide your shame without plunging you into darkness. — NB
Insider Tip: If you’re pernickety about TV positioning, the screens in the bedrooms pull out a surprisingly long way and twist to suit any slovenly angle you want to lounge in.
Details: Rooms from €159. alofthotels.com.
47. Celtic Ross Hotel
Where: Rosscarbery, Co Cork.
Why: With a fabulous spot right on the water, a solid selection of decently sized rooms and an excellent restaurant, this is a hotel that punches way above its weight. Though voted the best three-star hotel in last year’s Gold Medal Awards, the Celtic Ross could comfortably sit in the four-star category. When it comes to food, it really shines. Using 25 local suppliers on the menu, including fabulous ingredients like Woodcock Smokery haddock, Skeaghanore duck and pudding from Rosscarbery, it’s also launching Farm-to-Fork weekends this year, with meals celebrating local produce as well as a local farm tour. The hotel’s superior rooms are being given a makeover as we speak, adding new furnishings from local companies to complement those gorgeous sea views. — NB
Insider Tip: Stay during the school holidays and make the most of the free kids club in the evenings — they’ll be entertained while you eat your dinner in peace.
Details: B&B from € 95. 023 8848722; celticrosshotel.com.
48. Hotel Doolin
Where: Doolin, Co Clare.
Why: A solid hotel in this corner of Co Clare could easily sit back and lap up the seasonal trade, challenging itself as little as possible. But that’s not the Hotel Doolin way. Recently named Ireland’s only carbon-neutral hotel by the Green Hospitality Programme, eco-credentials go way beyond nods to paper straws or annoying notes by your towels… check the lampshades made from eel fishermen’s baskets, for example, or the elimination of free plastic bottles, or the A-rated Eco-Barn built to replace its wedding marquee. A refurbishment of bedrooms is complete, a revamped ‘Glas’ restaurant brings a new menu with 75pc of ingredients sourced within a 30-mile radius… and that’s not even starting on its own Doolin Writers’ Weekend (January) or Surf Fest (March 22-24) — all helping to spread business into the community’s slow season. — PÓC
Insider Tip: Grab a pint of the hotel’s own Dooliner red ale or lager. Guests get a complimentary loaf of its Dooliner and treacle brown bread, too.
Details: B&B from €55pp. 065 7074111; hoteldoolin.ie.
49. Mulranny Park Hotel
Where: Mulranny, Co Mayo.
Why: It’s got Clew Bay views. It’s got Victorian charm — the old railway hotel counted John Lennon among its guests. It sits on both the Wild Atlantic Way and Great Western Greenway. So the Mulranny Park Hotel can sit back and lap up the business, right? Maybe so. But that wouldn’t make our Fab 50. What gives it a place on this list is it’s ongoing commitment to evolve and improve. Suites and seaview rooms have been refurbed. It’s just won Best Tourism Experience 2019 — Wild Atlantic Way at the Irish Enterprise Awards. It’s also got a new range of activities for guests, including complimentary guided walks, baking classes and stargazing. Long may it continue. — PÓC
Insider Tip: As well as hotel rooms and lodges, there’s a third accommodation option in the Mulranny Suites.
Details: A ‘luxury for less’ package sees B&B with dinner from €70pp. 098 36000; mulrannyparkhotel.ie.
50. Dunraven Arms
Where: Adare, Co Limerick.
Why: There’s more to this postcard-pretty Limerick town than a certain manor, you know. The beauty of Louis and Hugh Murphy’s hotel is the fact that it still feels like a country inn... despite hiding away all the trappings of a town centre four-star (there’s even a 17m pool). We love the silver trolley of glazed Limerick ham carved next to your table at breakfast, an oak-panelled conservatory looks over the garden, and concerns about tiring decor have been put to bed with a revamp of all rooms, including Junior Suites which now include new leather sofas and walk-in showers. Bonus point: The hotel was included in the first ever Michelin Guide to the UK and Ireland in 1911. — PÓC
Insider Tip: There are twin baths in the Dunraven Suite. Best rates are midweek (you can nab it from €350).
Details: B&B from €110. 061 605900; dunravenhotel.com .
The Fab 50 is in association with Fáilte Ireland. All prices subject to availability/change.
What trends did we find on the road this year? From fire pits to adult-only breaks, read our seven top trends for 2019 here.
Read last year's Fab 50, the best places to stay in Ireland in 2018, here.