Sick of the same old surroundings when tucking into the turkey? Erin McCafferty discovers some hidden gems for a festive getaway
Does the thought of spending Christmas at home fill you with dread? Perhaps the same people, in the same house and the same festive traditions no longer appeal, and you’d relish a change of venue.
There’s always the option of a hotel, but you can forget about opening Christmas presents around the tree in your pyjamas, or cooking your own Christmas dinner with a glass of wine in hand, all of which is part of the festive fun.
Alternatively, you could rent a property over the Christmas period. Whether it’s a stately period home, a cosy cottage or an isolated rural retreat, there are plenty of options.
Many have been booked up for months in advance, but there are still some hidden gems dotted around the country. We’ve picked three of the best.
Christmas in a Castle
Lifting the iron latch and walking through the heavy wooden door into the ground floor of Rinn Chúil Uisce Castle, now known as Rincolisky Castle, in West Cork, feels like stepping back in time.
Surrounded by ancient white-washed walls, with polished flagstone flooring under foot, you’ll see 500-year-old wood beams above you and stairs leading to two mezzanine floors.
A roaring open fire in an antique stone fireplace, imported from France, will greet you, whilst winter light flows through a window, constructed around an arrow slit, one metre-deep in the castle wall.
There’s a long wooden kitchen table, overhung by a custom-made eight metre-long Occhio light — a nod to the contemporary — and pew-like seating.
The kitchen is fully equipped and ideal for Christmas-dinner preparation. You can almost smell the roast turkey that will take pride of place in the centre of the table, surrounded by holly and festive candles.
This rustic property is owned by Stephanie Jaax, who lives in Belgium and inherited it from her parents Marie-Theres and Joseph Schmitz. The German couple bought nearby Whitehall House in 1962, which included the ruins of the castle. Whilst the house has since passed to new owners, Stephanie retained ownership of the castle and began renovating it in 2003.
The transformation, which she describes as “a labour of love”, has retained the ethos of the building, whilst the interior marries medieval and contemporary style. But the task has been far from easy.
“There were cows grazing inside it originally,” says Stephanie. “It was one big ruin with a vaulted ceiling and a stone staircase leading up to the roof. That staircase is still there today.”
Built by the O’Driscoll clan, and later owned by the Townsend family, the castle dates back to 1495. Given its history, conservation architects, archaeologists, engineers and members of Dúchas had to be involved in the renovation and planning permission sought for the top floor.
“We encountered many problems along the way,” says Stephanie. “But I was passionate about the project. I’ve been coming to the area since I was a little girl.”
For four summers, she lived in a caravan with her three young boys in the grounds of the castle in order to oversee the work. The result was worth the effort. She now spends two months of the year in Rincolisky Castle with her family and rents it out the rest of the time.
The castle sleeps six and can accommodate only children over the age of eight due to the three sets of stairs. It has geothermal heating throughout and is warm even in winter. Outside, there’s a Jacuzzi, a barbeque and sunbathing area, and access to the beach.
But it’s biggest attraction is its isolated and beautiful location 12km outside Skibbereen on a hill overlooking Roaring Water Bay.
“At night when you’re standing on the rooftop terrace, all you can hear is the sound of the sea and the wind,” says Stephanie. “You can see the moon reflected in the water below. It’s breath-takingly beautiful and so peaceful. You feel at one with nature.”
Price: €350 per night approx.
Contact: Niav Greary, email@example.com or phone: 086 8036969
Christmas in a church
It may be a former church, but there’s nothing austere about Bookeen Hall in Kiltullagh, Co Galway. In fact, it makes a cosy and inviting venue for Christmas and would suit a family or group of friends.
This 200-year-old deconsecrated Church of Ireland structure has been lovingly restored by owners Chris Deakin and Orla McCloskey. They usually run it as a B&B, but it’s available to rent at Christmas.
Latice Gothic windows allow the light to flood the living and dining area on the ground floor, which has wooden floors and comfortable modern couches. Upstairs, there are two bedrooms and a bell tower where you can sit and survey the fields below.
Both Chris and Orla are keen runners. Although just 20 minutes from Galway city, Bookeen Hall is in the heart of the countryside with access to a number of woodland running and walking trails.
It’s ideal if you want to immerse yourself in nature and blow the cobwebs off over the festive season.
Price: €200 per night approx (minimum four nights).
Christmas in a country manor
If the concept of Christmas day in a luxurious country manor appeals to you, and you’re willing to push the boat out, Dunowen House in West Cork could be the answer.
This a lovely option for those spending Christmas with extended family. With six luxuriously decorated bedrooms, it can sleep up to 23 people, but can only accommodate 12 over the Christmas period. It has an elegant sitting room, a large dining room and a music and memorabilia room.
Built in 1771 by Captain George Sandes, it was once owned by Noel Redding, the bass guitarist with The Jimi Hendrix Experience. He lived there for more than 30 years and after his death in 2003, had his ashes scattered in the garden.
The interior has a modern and comfortable feel to it with carefully chosen furnishings and artwork in each room.
It’s easy to imagine a Christmas gathering in the warm and elegant sitting room, which has large sofas, polished wooden floors and an open fireplace.
Situated just 10 minutes from Clonakilty town, it’s close to a number of beautiful West Cork beaches — perfect if you want to escape the family and pop out for a windswept walk along the strand.
Price: €1,250 per night (Minimum four nights stay)
Contact: Dunowenhouse.ie, phone 023 8869099.