Eat, sleep and retreat in some of Ireland's most individual hotels.
Simon Haden's family has been running Gregans, located in the heart of The Burren, since the 1970s. The rooms are tasteful and luxurious, the staff delightful, and the surroundings unbeatable in terms of views, flora and fauna. Gregans has a reputation for exciting food, and guests can expect menus that draw on an abundance of fantastic local ingredients and offer something a little out of the ordinary. Walkers and nature enthusiasts are well catered for, as are those who would prefer simply to sit by the fire, read a book, and soak up the loveliness of it all.
Where: Corkscrew Hill, Ballyvaughan, Co Clare
Details: (065) 7077005, gregans.ie
Price: From €199 per room per night for B&B
Even though it has 145 bedrooms and is now operated by Hilton Doubletree, The Morrison still feels like a boutique hotel. Redesigned in 2013 by Irish architect Nikki O'Donnell, and incorporating the work of Irish artists and designers, the city centre location on Ormond Quay, plus the rock and roll theme, make this a good choice for visitors to the capital who want to be right in the thick of things: the website lists 25 Dublin attractions that are within walking distance. The in-house Morrison Grill has a Josper grill and serves a mean steak.
Where: Ormond Quay, Dublin 1
Details: (01) 8872400, morrisonhotel.ie
Price: Room rates from €204
Located in the pretty village of Borris, the Step House is a family-run boutique hotel occupying a handsome Georgian manor house with year-round open fires and a friendly ambience. The Step House has a reputation for good food from chef Alan Foley, and for luxurious bedrooms, as well as for offering excellent value.
Where: Borris, Co Carlow
Details: (059) 9773209, stephousehotel.ie
Price: Currently there's an offer of two glasses of prosecco on arrival, dinner in the 1808 Bar, and breakfast the following morning, plus a late check out for €85pps
For a small hotel, The Twelve has a lot going on. Located just 10 minutes outside of Galway city centre, there's an in-house bakery, an excellent restaurant, West, and a wine cellar crammed with the kind of treasures that you'd expect to find in a far more snooty establishment altogether. The Twelve has won the Wine Spectator Award for eight years running and numerous other awards for the calibre of both food and wine. There's also a mini-spa with treatments using the seaweed-based Voya products.
Where: The Twelve, Bearna, Co Galway
Details: (091) 597000, thetwelvehotel.ie
Price: A two-night 'Couples Love Retreat' costs from €190pps
Paul and Máire Flynn's Tannery restaurant in Dungarvan is one of Ireland's best restaurants, serving the Flynns' trademark big flavours in a smart upstairs dining room and a more casual wine bar on the ground floor. Around the corner, the Flynns also have a cookery school, and the Townhouse, with 14 super-comfortable panelled rooms painted in on-trend Farrow & Ball shades. A continental breakfast is delivered to each room and hung on the door, so there's no pressure to get up early, or endure the torture of breakfast with strangers, and everybody talking in hushed voices. Book in either for a meal or a course, such as the Three-Day Intensive aimed at proficient cooks who want to be challenged, being held from September 14 to 16, with instruction from Paul Flynn himself and local legend Michael Quinn.
Where: Church Street, Dungarvan, Co Waterford
Details: (058) 45420, tannery.ie
Price: On Friday and Saturday nights, you can stay at The Townhouse, enjoy a free bottle of prosecco in room on arrival, and a six-course tasting menu in The Tannery, for €135pps
Until the opening of 1 Pery Square, Patricia Roberts' stylish boutique hotel, there weren't many unique hostelries in Limerick City. Located in the heart of the Georgian Quarter, close to the shops, culture, and the famous Milk Market, with stylish rooms, a more than decent restaurant, a great spa and convivial rooms for the taking of tea and the drinking of pre-prandial cocktails, this is a gem. The staff are local and lovely too.
Where: One Pery Square, Georgian Quarter, Limerick
Details: (061) 402402, oneperysquare.com
Price: A one-night stay with dinner, bed and breakfast, a glass of bubbles, and access to the thermal suite costs from €109pps
With more than a touch of the boudoir to its rooms, The Merchant has an undeniable glamour. The bar has long been famous for its cocktails, and now boasts water butlers and a water menu that includes one option sourced from a glacier in the Canadian Arctic priced at £26.45 for a 750ml bottle. If you can put the ridiculousness of that to one side, The Merchant is well located for exploring the hip Cathedral Quarter, with its numerous bars and restaurants and The MAC arts venue.
Where: 16 Skipper Street, Belfast, Co Antrim
Details: +44 28 9023488, themerchanthotel.com
Price: B&B averages €232 per room in October
While Ashford Castle itself is undeniably grand, The Lodge at Ashford Castle next door, originally built for the estate manager in 1865, is a smaller and less formal proposition with individually designed rooms all with deep-pile carpets, super king beds with goose down duvets and pillows and up-to-the-minute technology. The Lodge's new restaurant, Wilde's, is garnering positive feedback and offers chocoholics a special chocolate-focused afternoon tea - Tumbling through Truffles - featuring a dramatic chocolate bomb, broken open at the table to reveal a secret stash of sweets (mini-brownies, chocolate ice-cream, macaroons and truffles), accompanied by a chocolate shooter - either virgin chocolate or with Frangelico.
Where: Cong, Co Mayo
Details: (094) 9545400, thelodgeac.com
Price: Room rates average €195 in October
If Ballynahinch is associated with one thing, it's fishing. Keen anglers return year after year in the hope of catching the elusive salmon. Recently refurbished, the hotel smacks of low-key luxury, and attracts the great and the good of Irish society. You never know who you might find nursing a pint and swapping tales from the riverbank in the wood-panelled Fisherman's Bar, with its record books of fish landed going back hundreds of years. Some of the rooms have extraordinary views over the water, and they are comfortable and plush in a way that would encourage you to stay for more than a night.
Where: Recess, Connemara, Co Galway
Details: (095) 31006, ballynahinch-castle.com
Price: Two nights B&B with dinner on one night from €215pps in autumn
Ballyvolane is one of the coolest wedding venues in the country, but don't let that put you off visiting. Neither should you be deterred by the notion of glamping, because Justin and Jenny Green run a superior class of operation here, and their tents and yurts are almost as comfortable as the bedrooms in their very lovely house. If you can, though, snag an indoor bedroom and prepare to spend a couple of days relaxing on the oversized sofas in front of proper log fires, reaching for tea and home-made bakes if you get a little peckish, and one of Justin's signature rhubarb martinis when the sun is over the yardarm. Dinner is served at a communal table in a proper dining room, and it's very good country house fare.
Where: Castlelyons, Fermoy, Co Cork
Details: (025) 36349, ballyvolanehouse.ie
Price: A two-night romantic escape with B&B, half a bottle of champagne and dinner on one night costs from €255pps
It's hard to conceive of a better location for a smart Dublin city centre boutique hotel than that of The Cliff Townhouse, a sister property to The Cliff House in Ardmore. Upstairs there is a handful of newly updated bedrooms, while downstairs is a fine seafood restaurant and oyster bar, all just steps away from St Stephen's Green and the shops on Grafton Street.
Where: The Cliff Townhouse, 22 St Stephens Green, Dublin 2
Details: (01) 638 3939, theclifftownhouse.com
Price: From October, B&B is from €165pp based on two people sharing
There's something glamorous about the Dylan, Dublin's only five-star boutique hotel. The location, just off Baggot Street and within walking distance of the city centre, is terrific and its bar is home to a stylish local crew. Baggot Street itself has plenty of good pubs and restaurants, and the Aviva is a short stroll away too, making the Dylan a great choice for matches. All the rooms are pretty swanky, but the Signature features a hand-carved Italian wooden bed that looks as if it might have served time on the set of a Tim Burton movie.
Where: Eastmoreland Place, Dublin 4
Details: (01) 660300, dylan.ie
Price: Rooms from €189 including breakfast
A sister property to nearby Tankardstown, The Conyngham Arms is a chic little hotel in the village of Slane. With an on-site restaurant and charming rooms, and a location close enough to Dublin to make a one-night stay a feasible option, it's a perfect base for exploring the cultural riches of the Boyne Valley.
Where: Slane, Co Meath
Details: (041) 9884444, conynghamarms.ie
Price: B&B from €40
The hip Ten Square is located in the thick of it in Belfast city centre, within walking distance of City Hall, the Waterfront Hall and the Victoria Square shopping centre. With just 22 rooms in a Grade 1 listed building, Ten Square is small enough to maintain the personal touch, and big enough to be a proper hotel. The interior design is a happy mix of the baroque and the colonial, and the in-house steakhouse and bar are as popular with locals as they are with residents.
Where: 10 Donegall square South, Belfast
Details: + (44) (0) 2890241001, tensquare.co.uk
Price: Dinner and B&B from £55 pps.
Like its sister, The Conyngham Arms in Slane, Tankardstown is ideally located as a base for exploring the World Heritage Site of Newgrange. And after a day of culture, guests can relax in the ultra-luxurious bedrooms, take a yoga lesson or a dip in the hot tub, before skipping across the courtyard to The Brabazon restaurant for an innovative, seasonal tasting menu that's much admired.
Where: Rathkenny, Slane, Co Meath.
Details: (041) 9824621, tankardstown.ie
Price: B&B from €249pps
Ballyfin is the most expensive hotel in Ireland, and probably not somewhere that you are going to run off to for a weekend on a whim. That said, the rooms are so lavish, the grounds so magnificent, and the experience so utterly cosseting, with guests pampered to within an inch of their lives, that it may just be worth it. Start saving for a special birthday or anniversary now.
Where: Ballyfin, Co Laois
Details: (057) 8755866, ballyfin.com
Price: Between Christmas and New Year, full-board costs from €915 per night
Located on the banks of Lough Ree, Wineport Lodge is a cedar-clad four-star hotel with good food and an award-winning spa. The dining room in particular will be familiar to fans of The Restaurant, as earlier series of the popular television show were filmed here. The staff have a reputation for great service and the rooms are luxurious and comfortable. Splash out on one with a lake view if you can.
Where: Glasson, Athlone, Co Westmeath
Details: (090) 6439010, wineport.ie
Price: Dinner, B&B from €239 in October
The Allen family probably doesn't think of Ballymaloe as a boutique hotel, but if a boutique hotel is small and perfectly-formed, with personal rather than anonymous service and something unique about the way in which it goes about its business, then Ballymaloe definitely qualifies. Hooray for the absence of televisions from the comfortable bedrooms, and hooray again for delicious, home-made food that epitomises the very essence of Irish country house cooking, with many of the ingredients coming from the Ballymaloe farm and local artisan producers. Be sure to bring elasticated-waist trousers.
Where: Midleton, Co Cork
Price: From October 1, B&B starts at €100pps
Located just a mile outside Skibbereen, the Liss Ard Estate extends across 200 acres of lush Cork countryside and includes a 50-acre lake. There are 25 bedrooms spread across the main Victorian Country House, the Garden Mews and the Lake Lodge, and a restaurant serving a menu based on local and seasonal ingredients. Guests can fish, kayak or explore the beautiful Irish Sky Garden designed by American artist James Turrell.
Where: Castletownshend Rd, Skibbereen, Co Cork
Details: (028) 40000, lissardestate.com
Price: From €150 per room B&B
A little bit contemporary, a little bit arty, a little bit heritage - the 32 rooms at the Ice House on the Wild Atlantic Way are an eclectic mix of the new and the old. The restaurant celebrates the abundance of local produce from Kelly's black pudding to Clare Island organic salmon, while the spa offers the opportunity to relax and indulge out wesht. Handy for Céide Fields and Foxford.
Where: The Quay, Ballina, Co Mayo
Details: (096) 23500, icehousehotel.ie
Price: B&B from €60pps
A relatively new entrant on to the Dublin boutique hotel scene, The Dean (main picture p49) has already established itself as a place to see and be seen. Funky, hi-tech rooms to suit a range of budgets, plus good business and meeting facilities, The Dean will appeal to those who want a smart boutique hotel base in the city centre for work and play.
Where: 33 Harcourt Street, Dublin 2
Details: (01) 6078110, deanhoteldublin.ie
Price: Rooms from €110
Located on the 'Hill of Fairies' overlooking Caragh Lake in Killorglin on the Ring of Kerry, Ard na Sidhe was built in 1913 for Lady Edith Gordon and is a fine example of the Arts & Craft style in Ireland, recently restored. There's a restaurant, a terrace with panoramic views over Caragh Lake and the Edwardian garden, along with the modern convenience of free Wi-Fi throughout. Ard na Sidhe closes for the season on October 4, so get down to Kerry sharpish if you want to try it before winter sets in.
Where: Caragh Lake, Killorglin, Co Kerry
Details: (066) 9769105, ardnasidhe.com
Price: Dinner, B&B from €140pps
Sammy Leslie's family bought the Castle Leslie estate in the 16th century and it has remained in the family ever since. With 1,000 acres and facilities for horse-riding and fishing, it's a boutique hotel that's as well suited to active types as it is to those whose idea of a good time is lolling around in front of a blazing fire with a good book and a glass of wine.
Where: Glaslough, Co Monaghan
Details: (047) 88100, castleleslie.com
Price: Midweek breaks from €85pps
Home to The Strawberry Tree (above), Ireland's only certified wild and organic restaurant, the BrookLodge is a boutique hotel with a difference, in that it comes with its own pub, village and spa. There's golf too, and it's within easy reach of Dublin for a 24-hour escape. Rooms range from standard to New York style mezzanine suites.
Where: Macreddin, Co Wicklow
Details: (0402) 36444, brooklodge.com
Price: B&B from €50pps
Killarney sometimes gets a bad rap, but it's hard to beat its killer location beside the breathtakingly beautiful Killarney National Park. Ciara Treacy's smart and quirky Ross Hotel is right in the centre of town, with some rooms overlooking the jarvey rank outside, and has 29 stylish rooms and suites. The Cellar One Restaurant and Lane Café Bar are on site, the latter producing some mean cocktails.
Where: Town centre, Killarney, Co Kerry
Details: (064) 6631855, theross.ie
Price: B&B from €65pps
Lovely Marlfield, long associated with the Bowe family, is a Wexford gem, and is such a favourite of its regular guests that for events such as the Opera Festival its rooms are booked out from year to year. With 40 acres of carefully tended gardens, and some photogenic ponies, peacocks, and hens, as well as friendly dogs, it is a place in which you can truly kick back and relax. New restaurant, The Duck, is garnering favourable reviews
Where: Courtown Road, Gorey, Co Wexford
Details: (053) 942 1124, marlfieldhouse.com
Price: An autumn offer of B&B plus five course dinner costs from €124 pps
Number 31 has 21 rooms with Hästens beds in a small boutique hotel spread between a Georgian townhouse and a modernist mews designed by the late great Sam Stevenson. The famous sunken lounge is furnished with modern classics and you'll get a fine breakfast, but there is no restaurant. Seeing as you're only a five-minute walk from the city centre and any number of eating and drinking establishments, that shouldn't be a problem.
Where: 31 Leeson Close, Dublin 2
Details: (01) 6765011, number31.ie
Price: On a selected midweek night in October, rooms were available from €220 for two including breakfast
More a country house than a hotel, Martinstown is a charming Strawberry Gothic-style ornée located in a small parkland on The Curragh. The house is luxurious and comfortable, the bedrooms are individually designed, and the Ballymaloe-trained cook serves dinner to guests in the original dining room.
Where: The Curragh, Co Kildare
Details: (045) 441269, martinstownhouse.com
Price: It's perfect for a romantic weekend. Room rates for B&B from €175
Bellinter occupies a fine Palladian-style house designed in 1750 by leading Irish architect Richard Castle. These days, it is a funky boutique hotel with a touch of rock and roll about it, with bedrooms located in the Main House, The Stables and Lean To, the East and West Pavilions and the worryingly-named Ruin, which actually looks rather smart. All the bedrooms have views over the surrounding countryside and there are seven treatment rooms in The Bathhouse. The Eden restaurant serves the Eden smokies made famous by chef Eleanor Walsh at the original Eden in Meeting House Square.
Where: Navan, Co Meath
Details: (046) 9030900, bellinterhouse.com
Price: Dinner, B&B from €99pps
With endorsements from former president Mary McAleese, and rock star Pink, Kevin and Catherine Dundon's boutique hotel has put Arthurstown on the map. Good food is a given, in both the restaurant and seafood bar, but the celebrity chef also has a highly-regarded cookery school on site, there's a spa and the rooms are super-comfortable. Irish country house hospitality at its best.
Where: Arthurstown, Co Wexford
Details: (051) 389600, dunbrodyhouse.com
Price: Room only rate from €75pps