Ever snapped a wedding photo with a wolfhound? Taken a bath in a copper tub? Or supped barista coffee by a living wall?
Forget extravagant welcomes that fade after you swipe the credit card. Many five-stars could learn from smaller hotels, guesthouses and campsites crafting a céad míle fáilte for the 2020s. The best of our Fab 50 best placs to stay in Ireland this year offer warm, personable greetings that understand exactly when to move in, and when to pull back. Places like the Foyle Hotel in Co Donegal, or River Valley Holiday Park in Co Wicklow, also know that involving your community both tells a story and helps create a sustainable tourism business.
While blue, rustic and jewel tones continue to dominate lobby furniture, copper is on the up. From the beautiful bath at Aurora North Coast's cedar cabins to light fittings, taps, strips of colour - or the sweeping, €40,000 copper-leaf ceiling of the newly-opened spa at Kilkea Castle - the warm-yet-decadent tone has taken root all over the island. Copper trended in fashion for years; in hospitality we think it works because it embellishes both modern and traditional settings. But less is definitely more.
Forget raised pinkies and fusty old drawing rooms. A new wave of Irish afternoon teas is putting local ingredients front and centre... at a decent price. Try the 'Limerick Afternoon Tea' at the Limerick Strand Hotel (€26pp), nab a window seat at Waterford's revamped Tower Hotel (€260pp), or book a weekend treat at Kileavy Castle (£25pp).
Sustainability has gone mainstream. Ireland's best properties are involving staff (many through 'Green Teams') in creative solutions, and we think consumers are increasingly favouring those that reflect their values... it just doesn't feel right to find a hotel bathroom decked out with single-use mini-toiletries, for example, or a welcome note beside plastic water bottles. Our Fab 50 are leading the way. The Falls Hotel in Ennistymon has installed its own hydro-powered turbine, Galway Coast Cottages offers a 10pc discount to guests travelling by train, and Doolin's Fiddle & Bow is sourcing as many upcycled materials as possible (they look good too).
In our social media age, it doesn't hurt to have novel features that get guests chatting... and snapping. Think of 'hammock hides' where you can curl up with a book at Coolbawn Quay, that gorgeous red door leading into Avalon House in Castlecomer, Phil Lynott's leather jacket at Dublin's new Hard Rock Hotel, and a proliferation of... erm, wolfhounds. The breed remains a rare sight in Ireland, but is multiplying at character hotels like Ashford Castle, Kileavy Estate and Markree Castle. Brides and grooms just love their wolfhound wedding photos, too.
As boundaries blur between work and play, hotel lobbies are evolving to reflect the way we live. You'll have noticed more open-plan areas on your trips, with bars, restaurants and check-in desks sharing spaces, but it doesn't stop there. Dublin's Mayson has a barber shop in its Bottle Boy pub; both it and The Connacht in Galway have 'living walls' and barista coffee bars, and smart hotels are featuring more retail shelves selling everything from their chef's cookery books to local artists' wares... telling the story of both neighbourhood and hotel.
Where space permits, we're seeing more and more properties invest in their gardens, polytunnels and composting, lowering food miles and cutting bills as they provide not just for their own kitchens, but in the case of Richard Corrigan's Virginia Park Lodge in Co Cavan, his London restaurants, too.