One night stand: Gregan's Castle
This Blue Book Bolthole is one of the best country house breaks in Ireland. And the food is pretty tasty too...
Gregan's Castle, Co Clare
WHY: Wanna escape the rat race? Here's how. Drive via Ballyvaughan into the heart of the Burren. Watch your phone signal wobble as you wind deep into those swirling, lunar, flower-strewn rock formations. Turn off towards Gregan's Castle. Feel the gravel crunch under your tyres. Step into the 18th-Century manor house, drop your bags, and feel the stress dissolve like Disprin from your shoulders. Rat race? What rat race?
HIGHLIGHTS: David Hurley, Gregan's head chef, is doing wondrous things. Dishes like pan-glazed wild halibut with Jerusalem artichoke, buttered leek and lobster lasagne are presented like souvenir-sized Jackson Pollock paintings, anchoring a six-course dinner that must surely now be on Michelin's radar. But the restaurant is only the beginning. From elegant bedroom antiques to heritage colours, leafy garden views and nooks stuffed with books, Gregan's is one of those places that always feels reassuringly right.
LOWLIGHTS: Some guests may be bemused to find there are no TVs, and we found the Wi-Fi strength to vary depending on the rooms. There's no denying the expense, either (the six-course dinner costs €69pp). That said, you get what you pay for ... from the sumptuous beds down to the raspberry and yoghurt lollipops in the petit fours.
ASK FOR ROOM NUMBER: All of Gregan's rooms come with the creature comforts you'd expect of a Blue Book bolthole (think REN toiletries, fluffy towels and original art), but savvy guests may wish to upgrade to one of the superiors with garden access – especially if you're travelling with children or dogs. If it's space you're after, splash out on a junior suite.
CONCIERGE'S CHOICE: Guided walks, farm visits, cheese tastings and more can all be arranged for visitors looking to explore the Burren, or booked as part of a package.
GUESTS OF HONOUR: Steven Spielberg, Sharon Stone, Ewan McGregor and JRR Tolkien have all stayed at Gregan's, but the biggest impression was made by Gerard Depardieu, whom a party of guests mistook for a wine waiter. "Being himself, he went along with the mistake – to their complete mortification upon discovering who he actually was!"
RATES: B&B starts from €205, but there's an internet rate of €165 per room (provided you can put up with a 28-day cancellation policy). A summer special bundling two nights' B&B and a six-course dinner starts from €299pp.