Weekend Away: The Old Convent Co Tipperary
The last Bridgestone guide to the Top 100 places to stay in Ireland tipped The OC as the "hottest address in Ireland right now", so a visit to this gourmet hideaway comes with high expectations. I spent several months trying to get a table for two and a room for the night. A booking finally came up, timed perfectly to coincide with our wedding anniversary.
Nestling at the foot of the Knockmealdowns, this towering old country house was home to the Sisters of Mercy for more than 100 years. Since then, it's been a fishing lodge and a centre for holistic therapy, and three years ago it was bought by one of Galway's classiest chefs, Dermot Gannon, and his stylish American wife, Christine -- a passionate young couple who have transformed it into Tipperary's smartest retreat.
There are just seven, each a work of art and comfort portraying Christine's impeccable taste and attention to detail. We stayed in 'The Loft', a lovely room dressed in shades of purple and cream. It had an enormous bathroom with free-standing bath and dreamy mountain views. A staircase led to a mezzanine-style area with a single bed, making it a handy option for a family of three. 'Mother Superior's Rules' hanging on the door request no early rising. Breakfast is served until 10.30am, but if you feel like a lie-in, Dermot will oblige.
Seasoned foodies rave about Dermot's eight-course tasting menu, served in the romantic Chapel dining room. Remarkably, the menu changes every night, displaying his versatility as a chef. For starters -- and there were at least three -- we had Dunmore East lobster served with barbecue Dullahollow free range pork and sushi rice; white asparagus, corn and oyster veloute; and pan-fried Ardsallagh gnocchi with Connemara Mountain lamb. Each course was decadent and delicious.
Five courses later, the seared duck breast served with golden raisin and brioche stuffing and a peppermint-pea purée was mouth- watering, but we struggled to get through the three desserts that followed: blood orange and ice-cream Martini; chocolate fondue; and freshly baked cupcakes.
At €65 per person, dinner is the best-value gastronomic experience in the country.
The tasting menu is served on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. On those nights, Wednesdays and Sundays, the kitchen is serving up a new concept called 'OC Bento Boxes', a light dinner of Irish artisan ingredients served in a casual Japanese style in the drawing room. It costs €25.
Breakfast is served with equal passion: a feast of fruit Martinis, eggs Benedict, French toast, locally made juices and five different kinds of bread made in the gleaming basement kitchen.
The pamper factor
There's no spa here; just bracing country air, endless books to read and lots of tea served in proper cups.
A striking black-and- white-tiled hallway leads to a creaking staircase, which takes you to the first floor and a mini self-service kitchen area for guests.
Forgot your toothbrush? You'll find one here. Feel peckish in the middle of the night? Come down and grab some cookies. Want to curl up in front of an old movie or a board game? Take your pick from an eclectic selection.
The great outdoors
If The OC was stuck on a roundabout on the M50, it would still be worth a visit, but its magical mountainside setting is the icing on the cake. The house sits at the foot of The Vee, a winding heather-lined pass through the Knockmealdown mountains that links Clogheen with Lismore. Its breathtaking views stretch for miles and, on a clear day, you can see half a dozen counties.
If you're feeling energetic, nearby Slievenamon is a manageable climb that can be done in an afternoon, or head for the mysterious black corrie lakes of the Comeraghs.
Romantic couples who've left the kids at home, wealthy American outdoorsy types and small family groups with a date to celebrate.
If you plan to book, be prepared to wait. This place is nearly always booked out, but get your name on the waiting list and you never know your luck.
From €80 per person sharing per night, including breakfast, tea/coffee and cupcakes. A two-night Valentine's package with breakfast each day and one dinner costs €520 for two people. Expect lots of romantic surprises.
The Old Convent, Mount Anglesby, Clogheen, Co Tipperary. Tel: 052 65565; www.theoldconvent.ie.