From hip new hotels to self-catering castles, cosy guesthouses to glamping escapes, Pól Ó Conghaile and Nicola Brady have the year's best places to stay
Covid-19 has been a horror show; we all know that. But it has also seen extraordinary resilience and imagination, and our Fab 50 hopes to inspire, help you plan and showcase the fierce creativity at the heart of Irish hospitality.
Think of the boom in food trucks and ‘at home’ menus, of outdoors enhancements like secret gardens and terrace dining. Mount Falcon is building a bamboo tent with barbecue grill; the Merrion is adding cosy cabanas; the Armada is crafting its own camper van in West Clare.
We’re witnessing a new wave of woodland stays, from posh cabins at Cabü in Co Cavan to ‘wild nights’ at Finnebrogue Estate. Many hotels have used the time to step up their sustainability efforts; traditional wedding venues like Markree Castle will now open to leisure guests. Nobody knows exactly when they’ll reopen, but Government has flagged a possible restart for accommodation in June.
Usually, we visit every inclusion on our list. This year, that wasn’t possible. But we saw that as an opportunity, too. We still favoured places that are innovating, imagining, at the top of their game and distinctly Irish — from food to art, design and community outreach, but have also included exciting new arrivals that haven’t yet welcomed a guest. Places like the Cashel Palace or The Rabbit in Co Antrim have us salivating at the prospect of 2021 breaks.
The Fab 50 isn’t gathered via Google. It’s about experience, painstaking research and listening to our readers. And it’s in no particular order. Let us know your thoughts on social media, using the hashtag #IndoFab50.
We can’t wait to get going again.
Where: Tuaisceart, Co Donegal
Why: Launched just a few months after Covid hit, Frank is a quirky little shipping container perched right over the surface of a coastal lake. And we do mean perched: its position just above the water means you can make the whole structure gently bounce, which is perfect for both engineering nuts and pranksters alike. Inside, it’s simple enough, but when the views are this good, you won’t be able to tear your eyes away from the scene laid out before you. Interiors are basic but thoughtfully fitted out, with picture windows and a full kitchen, so you can cook up a feast and enjoy it on the overwater decking, before hitting the hammock with a glass of wine to watch the sunset. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: This is an entirely recycled building that, in its former life, used to carry excavator parts from China to Omagh. Talk about repurposing...
Insider tip: Dooey Beach is close by, so you can take a nice coastal stroll before a sundowner.
Details: Two nights from €286; underthethatch.co.uk/ftsc
Where: Spanish Point, Co Clare
Why: John Burke has climbed Mount Everest, so he knows a thing or two about challenges. During Covid, his Armada Hotel has been hugely creative, not just refurbing rooms but adding a new covered ocean terrace, food truck, glamping suite and ‘Armada at Home’ menu. When it reopens, guests will also be able to book a 200-year-old gate lodge at its farm, as well as the West Clare Explorer, a MAN van being converted with local specialists Vanderlust into a camper. It sleeps two with a shower, loo, Netflix, bikes and artisan breakfast produce included. “It’s being built from scratch with a very focused look, rugged, off-road and adventurous,” John says. The aim is to encourage people to connect with West Clare and Loop Head. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: It’s everywhere, from Irish art to growing their own tomatoes and herbs for a new pizzeria.
Insider tip: Ask about the Store Room Snug, a pub version of the chef’s table, where up to six guests can sit and sample Irish whiskeys amid the back-of-house action.
Details: From €500 for a weekend; armadahotel.com
Where: Glengarriff, Co Cork
Why: This past year has seen us turn into a nation of garden obsessives, whether you’re lucky enough to be preening your own yard or if you’re simply trying to keep a gaggle of houseplants alive. If you fall into that camp, a stay at Two Green Shoots will be a dream come true. Set up by two garden designers, this spot is a plant-filled paradise, with a botanical bell tent and four boutique B&B rooms, all surrounded by lush greenery. The bell tent is completely private, set in its own peaceful forest clearing with only the sound of rustling trees for company. The rooms in the Botanical B&B are in the middle of the Garden of Reimagination, where everything is edible, from the bubblegum-flavoured topiary to apples that grow underground. During Covid, these rooms are available exclusively for small groups, so you won’t share the space with strangers. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: The bell tent is off-grid, with solar lighting and sustainably harvested local timber as fuel.
Insider tip: The Beara Way goes straight past the doorstep, so bring the walking boots!
Details: Nightly rates start from €139, with a two-night minimum stay; twogreenshoots.com
Where: Kylecreen, Co Clare
Why: Last summer saw a panicked flurry of people looking to book campervans for socially distanced summer breaks. The demand sent prices soaring. Enter the brand-new teardrop campers from the Burren Farm Experience. These Burren Rover Campers hitch on to the back of your car (so they’re easy to manoeuvre) and come with a double bed and kitchenette. You can stay right on the farm, or you can head off and explore — plus, owner Bronagh O’Rourke can tell you all the best spots where you can camp legally and ethically. “I feel a responsibility to do it correctly,” she says. “My husband is here all his life, and I don’t want to set up something that takes away from all the hard work done by the people before us in this amazing area. My thing is slow tourism, with a soft hand.” — NB
Sustainability shout-out: They’re part of the Burren Ecotourism Network, so sustainability is key — as is Leave No Trace.
Insider tip: Ask about the hike down to Lough Bunny. You can hire SUP boards or take a dip, if you’re feeling brave.
Details: Campers from €130; burrenfarmexperience.ie
Where: Cullenagh, Co Laois
Why: With bell tents, lodges and a shepherd’s hut in the mix, this is a glamping paradise, and a treasure trove for young kids. Covid changes include adding individual BBQs and chimineas, so families can toast marshmallows at their own personal fire pit. “This gives you the full glamping experience, while still being socially distanced,” says owner Kyra Fingleton. “I think people really appreciated it when they got here — they saw that we had gone to great lengths to make people feel relaxed. We wanted them to enjoy all the good parts about glamping, but still feel safe while they were doing it.” This year, they’ll be launching six brand-new hobbit houses, each with a grass roof and a different theme. All going well, they’ll be open in July. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: There’s a strong focus on biodiversity, with wildflower meadows to encourage wildlife.
Insider tip: The Rock of Dunamase is close by for kids to let their imaginations run wild.
Details: Family bell tents start from €199 for two nights; glampingunderthestars.ie
Where: Finnebrogue Estate, Co Down
Why: There’s something magical about this. With twisting paths through wooded glades, the waters of Strangford Lough lapping and the scent of firewood in the air, this is a place where you want to chuck your phone in the lake and live off-grid forever. Which is why it’s the perfect spot for a new concept — “A wild night in the woods”. The experience gives you the chance to reconnect with nature, learning how to build a shelter and make a fire with Bushman Rob Hill. You’ll cook your dinner on the campfire and can sleep in the shelter you built or a hammock, if you’re feeling adventurous. It’s definitely not for those who like their creature comforts but if you’ve always longed to spend the night under the stars, it’ll be a little slice of heaven. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: The whole experience is completely off-grid; you can’t get much greener than this.
Insider tip: The Dexter beef burgers in the tipi are out of this world, cooked over the fire and as soft as butter.
Details: €140 per adult; finnebroguewoods.com
Where: Glenarm Castle, Co Antrim
Why: There’s a knack to making glamping pods look cool. Often, they can feel like soulless wooden shells, with rickety beds and camping stoves thrown in. But not at Further Space. These nine pods have swish little touches that make all the difference, from heated towel rails in the bathroom to a private fire pit with log seating. The location, on the grounds of 17th-century Glenarm Castle, is unbeatable — you get the best of the surrounding woodland with sea views to enjoy from your bed with a morning coffee. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: The pods are well insulated to preserve heat, and there are recycling and compost bins on site.
Insider tip: Glenariff Forest Park is a short drive away; head up for a stroll on the wooden boardwalk by the waterfall.
Details: Pods from €150; further.space
Where: Gorey, Co Wexford
Why: It can sometimes feel like hotels are decorated via a checklist of tired décor tropes. But not so at Marlfield House, where the brand-new Pond Suites are like an artsy breath of fresh air. Each suite is swathed in colour, be it an elaborate mural or huge commissioned painting. But it’s perhaps the Heron Suite that’s the real knockout, its main wall adorned with a giant painting of a heron (not every wall has to be a tasteful neutral tone!). Set right within the woodland and overlooking the pond, these cottages are surrounded by nature, which you can enjoy from the deck, curled up on the couch or soaking in the freestanding bath beneath a round picture window. Bliss. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: The Blue Book bolthole aims to become a carbon-neutral hotel in 2022.
Insider tip: If you don’t fancy toddling up to The Duck when you’re peckish, you can get meals delivered right to your door (hello, dressing gown dinner…).
Details: Pond suites from €400 per night; marlfieldhouse.com, irelands-blue-book.ie
Where: Kinsale, Co Cork
Why: Kinsale was hugely creative in our first Covid summer, from on-street dining initiatives to a dynamic Kinsale Comeback Campaign that saw it work with pandemic expert Dr Ian Norton to safely reopen for visitors. One business at the heart of it all was Ciaran Fitzgerald’s Blue Haven, a layover well known to locals and visitors alike. It, and sister business the Old Bank House, has been super creative in lockdown, upgrading not just the 16 rooms but building a new kitchen and opening Rare — a new craft-cocktail and dining space in an old bonded warehouse on site, where head chef Meeran Manzoor will mix up current and classical dishes when it’s safe to reopen. “We’ve cleared a lot of to-do lists,” says Mary Kirby O’Donovan, sales and marketing manager. We can’t wait to see the results. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: A staff wellness programme and carbon-neutral plans are in place, and the menus at Rare feature local, ethically produced ingredients.
Insider tip: The Blue Haven connects through to revamped streetfood and gastro garden, Hamlets. A food truck, grill and wood-fired pizzas await…
Details: Rooms from €200 B&B; bluehavenkinsale.com
Where: Kenmare, Co Kerry
Why: Kenmare’s Victorian-style Lansdowne Arms Hotel was bought out of receivership recently by two brothers you may recognise. The idea is to add “a new zest” to the streetfront heritage property, say John and Francis Brennan, who hope to open just as soon as restrictions permit. The 28-bed bolthole dates from 1790 and sits opposite its big sister, the Park Hotel Kenmare. Expect stripped-back, stylish rooms, and a new LK Café to perk you up with 3fe coffee and casual local food. Trust this pair to see Covid not just as a crisis, but an opportunity too. “The Lansdowne wasn’t on the horizon but was too good an opportunity to say no to,” as John puts it. We can’t wait to check in. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: There will be no single-use plastics and lots of tasty greens from the garden at nearby Dromquinna Manor.
Insider tip: Not content with the Landsdowne and Park upgrades, John and his wife, Gwen, are also restoring a five-bed house at Dromquinna — Blackberry Lodge.
Details: From €225 room-only; dromquinnamanor.com
Where: Mitchelstown, Co Cork
Why: This is the first thatched cottage on the Irish Landmark Trust’s books, and a beautiful spot, to boot. With a gorgeous pale pink façade and an exterior that looks like the front cover of a children’s book, it’s the perfect blend of original 19th-century features, antique furniture and modern touches that make life easier (hello, tumble dryer…). Low ceilings and exposed beams give it a blissfully old-fashioned vibe, too. This was the final project overseen by former CEO Mary O’Brien, who retired at the end of March after being with the company from the beginning. “Irish Landmark has been a part of my life for over 29 years,” she says. “To finish Killee Cottage is the icing on the cake.” — NB
Sustainability shout-out: The roof was re-thatched with traditional materials and the meadow planted with wildflowers.
Insider tip: You can bring a dog with you, if you can’t bear to leave the pup at home.
Details: From €340 for two nights; irishlandmark.com
12. Lake Lodge, Lough Eske Castle
Where: Lough Eske, Co Donegal
Why: There’s something intrinsically charming about a gatekeeper’s cottage. This newly launched lodge on the grounds of Lough Eske Castle is a traditional stone cottage dating back to 1861, but with modern touches like huge floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lake. The ever-present views are hypnotic: reeds swaying by the lakeshore and the Bluestack Mountains in the distance. Plonk yourself by the window with a glass of wine, and you’ll find yourself mesmerised for hours. Inside, the lodge is the perfect blend of heritage and contemporary style, with Fleur-de-Lis tiles, Scandi-style furniture and the same tweeds that you’ll spot in the castle. Oh, and the freestanding copper bath is an absolute dreamboat. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: The revamp kitted out the cottage with energy-efficient fittings. It sleeps four.
Insider tip: There are kayaks based right at the lodge, so you can head out on to the lake for a paddle.
Details: Rental from €600 a night; lougheskecastlehotel.com
Where: Cashel, Co Tipperary
Why: Last month, Tipperary Tourism launched a 10-year plan crammed with ambitious ideas for attracting visitors. One brainwave that caught our eye is dubbed ‘Inside Tipp’ — a campaign encouraging locals to showcase new experiences and off-radar intel. Well, our Inside Tipp is the Cashel Palace Hotel. Dating from the 1730s, Ireland’s newest five-star is being restored as a 42-bed Relais & Châteaux bolthole in the Premier County. Originally designed by Edward Lovett Pearce, the ground-up reboot includes a new ballroom, bedrooms and “spa bathed in light”. Lockdown restrictions permitting, it hopes to welcome guests later this year. The aim? To “open up the heart of Ireland”, as GM Adriaan Bartels says. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: The hotel has drilled its own water well on the grounds, and plans to bottle water from it for guests, as well as supplementing the hotel’s supply.
Insider tip: There’s an awful lot more to Cashel than the Rock. Start your explorations by walking the 10.5km Tipperary Heritage Way to Golden; more on tipperary.com.
Details: Rates TBC; cashelpalacehotel.ie
Where: Cong, Co Mayo
Why: Who would have thought this grande dame would get so creative under Covid shutdowns? Guided by Red Carnation owners the Tollman family, Ashford Castle has been an industry leader with its staff-welfare initiatives, creating an employee-engagement programme with a ‘King of Connections’, running cooking and Zumba classes, and setting up a wellbeing committee that saw staff train to become “mental health first aiders”. Returning guests can expect new touches including a rebooted breakfast featuring juice sommeliers (don’t worry, the carved ham will still come to your table) and a town-and-city package with The Merrion. Hat tip to general manager Niall Rochford for his positivity and creativity in challenging times, too. “I think 2021 will be the year of reimagining,” he says. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: Ireland’s first five-star to receive the Greenmark Plastic Smart Standard Award for responsible tourism aims to remove all single-use plastics by 2022.
Insider tip: A five-star chauffeur offer will pick you up anywhere in Ireland and whisk you away for two nights with a five-course dinner… for a cool €2,200 per couple.
Details: Rooms from €625; ashfordcastle.com
Where: Ardmore, Co Waterford
Why: Reunions and residences have been two concepts key to the Cliff Group’s thinking around reopening, and both are intrinsic to its new Beach House overlooking Ardmore Bay. The architect-designed rental is a two-minute walk from the Cliff House Hotel, and you can expect not just stunning interiors (a private cinema, lashings of natural light, picture windows and baby grand piano are highlights) but access to all the five-star service that entails. Artists can be booked for private classes and musicians for evening entertanment, for example, and chefs can cook everything from seafood feasts to TV suppers or summer barbecues. The price is sky high, but so are the specs, and six double bedrooms mean small groups of friends or family could split costs. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: The house is ‘A’-rated, has geothermal heating, and gardens bloom with local shrubs and herbs.
Insider tip: The smaller, marine-inspired Cliff Cottage nearby sleeps six, from €500 per night.
Details: From €2,500 a night; cliffbeachhouse.ie
Where: Killarney, Co Kerry
Why: A 50,000 sq ft spa overlooking Lough Leane and the Kerry Mountains. Al fresco terraces branching off its restaurants and cafés. A tasty local focus on menus, including beef and lamb from its own 400-acre farm. The Europe is one of three Kerry hotels owned by the Liebherr family (along with The Dunloe and Ard Na Sidhe) and seems perfectly set to capitalise on what we expect to be two key post-pandemic travel trends — the draw of open spaces and a speedy bounce-back for luxury travel. If you do splurge any lockdown savings on a five-star staycation, you can also look forward to innovations like “virtual keys”, check-in from your device, and ‘SuitePads’ replacing “paper collateral” (as those brochures are called) in your room. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: It operates on renewable electricity and is part of the Killarney Hotels Sustainability Group.
Insider tip: Guests can arrange short, complimentary horse rides on the hotel’s Austrian Haflinger ponies.
Details: B&B from €295 per room; theeurope.com
Where: Upper Merrion Street, Dublin 2
Why: Is this Dublin’s best hotel? Tastefully threading Georgian townhouses through to its modern Garden Wing, bursting with exquisite Irish art ranging from Mainie Jellett to Jack B. Yeats (there’s even an “art tea” based on the collection) and with two-Michelin-star Patrick Guilbaud’s next door, it’s both Irish to its core and a prospect that would enhance any European city. This summer, guests can book cosy new cabanas in the garden with al fresco food and cocktails. They’ll sit two to five people, bringing a hit of hygge to the high-end hotel. Soft-furnishing works include a new, specially woven carpet for the Garden Room. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: The hotel produces an annual Environmental Plan, with associated training for all staff.
Insider tip: A ‘Five-Star Steal’ offer bundles an overnight stay for two with bubbles and a three-course dinner from €370.
Details: From €295 room-only; merrionhotel.com
Where: Adare, Co Limerick
Why: Adare Manor’s multi-million-euro rebirth was one of Europe’s biggest hospitality stories pre-pandemic, but it hasn’t rested on its laurels. There’s now a brand-new, 21,000 sq ft Padel Club to look forward to. The activity club takes its name from its indoor padel tennis courts (the sport has similar rules to tennis, but with smaller racquets and courts, and is apparently one of the fastest-growing on the continent); it also has a Simulation Room for technical golf lessons or soccer skills, as well as a new 17m pool, gym and yoga studio. A weatherproof wonder, in other words, and something to keep everybody occupied until that Ryder Cup in 2027... — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: The golf course aims to be the first in the world to gain the ISO 20121 sustainability standard. Criteria range from biodiversity to community involvement.
Insider tip: The hotel has also added two- and four-bed Manor Lodges, a self-catering option by the Carriage House.
Details: B&B from €700 per room; adaremanor.com
Where: Kenmare, Co Kerry
Why: As well as buying The Lansdowne (No. 10), John and Francis Brennan are working on one of the Park Hotel Kenmare’s biggest-ever refurbishments, writing a whole new chapter in its history. Builders will be back as soon as restrictions permit, with a new lobby, cocktail bar, dining room, terrace and more to look forward to. “The same ambience will be preserved but with a sense of today,” John says, and head chef James Coffey has gotten his hands on a whole new Marrone kitchen too — the first of its kind in Ireland. Kenmare-born Bryan O’Sullivan is the interior designer, with experts like local cabinetmaker Joop Duyn and ceramicist Cormac Boydell also pitching in to preserve the Park for future generations. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: Staff who walk or cycle to work for 30 consecutive days get a dinner voucher for two.
Insider tip: Guests arriving by electric car get a 10pc discount if staying two nights or more. There’s EV charging, too.
Details: Rooms from €550; parkkenmare.com
20. Ballintubbert House
Where: Stradbally, Co Laois
Why: Ballintubbert House has a brilliant backstory. First built in 1725, this was the birthplace of poet laureate (and Daniel’s dad) Cecil Day-Lewis, and has been home to both Sir John Hurt and Sebastian Shaw, who played Darth Vadar. In recent years, it’s been exclusively a wedding venue and a spot for small gigs — The Frames played there in 2019. Now they’ve decided to open the house for rentals too, so it’ll be far more accessible. There are five bedrooms in the main house (the vaulted ceilings and huge mural in the Garden Room are simply stunning), as well as six yurts in the garden, which you can book individually. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: Their aim is to be Ireland’s first organic ornamental garden, and all the wood for the house comes from the grounds (and is replanted).
Insider tip: There’s a secret room in the house, in the basement. It’s a private honesty bar, with a piano for singalongs.
Details: House rental starts from €870 per night, yurts from €150; ballintubbert.com
Where: Barna, Co Kilkenny
Why: We love a family business, and Tubbrid Castle couldn’t be more of a family affair if it tried. The tower had sat uninhabited for over a century when John Campion Senior started the restoration with his wife, Helen, 20 years ago, and son John took over alongside his mum five years ago (his great-grandparents were the last people to live in the tower). It’s now available to rent, sleeping eight between three bedrooms. “It’s a long time in the making,” says John. “My parents poured so much of themselves into it… when the first guests arrived, it was a little bit surreal to think that after 20 years of restoration, my dad’s dream of seeing it complete had finally come true.” The rooms are incredible, with four-poster beds, vaulted ceilings, a banquet table and a bathtub overlooking the fields. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: There’s underfloor heating throughout the castle, powered by renewable energy.
Insider tip: The Crag Loop walk is a short drive away, weaving through forests to gorgeous summit views.
Details: Rental from €650 per night; tubbridcastle.com
Where: Collooney, Co Sligo
Why: After a few years of neglect, Markree Castle was purchased by the Corscadden family in 2015 and transformed with a €5 million refurb. Used primarily as a wedding venue, it has pivoted over the last year into a more traditional castle hotel. Which is brilliant for us, as this beautiful castle is now far more accessible for regular staycationers. The grounds are stunning, but the castle itself is a knockout, with elaborate stained-glass windows and a carved wooden staircase that begs you to make a dramatic entrance for breakfast. Bedrooms have a much-needed new lease of life — we love the freestanding baths overlooking the grounds. For proper glam, book the Johnny Cash room. The man himself booked out the entire castle back in 1990, and this was the room in which he slept. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: They’ve done away with bottled water, offering filtered water dispensers and refillable bottles.
Insider tip: The nearby Gourmet Parlour is a great spot for coffee and hiking snacks — their lamb and cumin pies are delish; gourmetparlour.ie
Details: Rooms from €175; markreecastle.ie
Where: Oughterard, Co Galway
Why: Become mildly obsessed with wild swimming this year? If you’ve found yourself part of the Dryrobe brigade, the new boathouse sauna at the Blue Book’s Currarevagh House will be a dream come true. You can get yourself nice and steamy in the sauna, sitting right on the shore of Lough Corrib, and then as soon as you want to cool down, you can jump into the lake. Très Nordic, dontcha know… Keep the water vibes flowing with a lakeview room and you can wake up to those lough views, too. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: As 90pc of the 180-acre property is classified as a Special Area of Conservation, the utmost is done to protect local wildlife and landscape. Any food waste from the kitchen goes straight to their hens, for example.
Insider tip: They have their own boats, too, so you can experience the lake without leaping into it.
Details: Rooms from €180; currarevagh.com
Where: Kilmessan, Co Meath
Why: All ready to reopen after a lavish refurbishment, the Station House Hotel is home to some of the most beautiful rooms in the land — think Van Gogh cherry-blossom wallpaper, freestanding bathtubs and ornate floral headboards. Every inch of the place is a design masterpiece, and there’s a beautiful blend of handmade Irish furniture and global touches, like rugs and cushions from an Irish-founded Indian company. There are 19 rooms, but the two-storey Signal Suite is a beaut, featuring an original 1800s staircase and loft-style ceiling. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: All food waste is composted, and there’s a glass-crushing facility for recycling on site.
Insider tip: Hunt around the hotel and grounds for signs of the old railway days — the train turntable is still in the woods and the platforms are outside the main entrance.
Details: Rooms from €160; stationhousehotel.ie
Where: Athenry, Co Galway
Why: Bought as a derelict building in 2005 and converted into a home, this church dates back to 1820 and has the large gothic windows and bell tower to prove it. It now runs as a B&B, usually with just one room to rent (though a second room can be made available). Inside, there’s a homely, heritage vibe, with wooden furniture, tweed blankets on the beds and thick rugs underfoot. The original stone walls on the stairs to the tower maintain the wonderful, historical feel, but the stove in the living area keeps things nice and toasty. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: The breakfasts (served whenever you like) are made from scratch, using homemade elements like freshly baked bread and cakes, instead of shop-bought.
Insider tip: If you’re a runner, bring your gear. The church is on the edge of Dunsandle Wood, with some excellent trails — the hosts are keen runners and can give you pointers.
Details: Rooms from €110; bookeenhall.com
Where: Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh
Why: We’ve long swooned at their dreamy bubble domes, where you can sleep under a blanket of stars. But in a few short weeks, Finn Lough will be reopening after a hefty £1 million investment (which created 30 new jobs in the process). There will be new, and freshly renovated, rooms and suites, an expanded bar and a brand-new Forest Barn restaurant, as well as the new Waterside Dome — a larger iteration of the Forest Domes that’ll be used for yoga or relaxation. But it’s the Geodesic Dome (opening in August) that will be the real showstopper. This two-level dome, with nine bedrooms, will have a heated freshwater pool and waterfall on the lower level, with an abundance of tropical plants above — picture a super-swish version of the Eden Project in Cornwall. All things considered, it could be one of the most exciting reopenings of 2021. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: The Geodesic Dome will be heated by sunlight; the pool will be sourced from captured rainwater.
Insider tip: Allow a bit of time to explore the lakelands — the drive alone over the Boa Island Road is a beauty.
Details: Rooms from €205; finnlough.com
Where: Gorey, Co Wexford
Why: When Ireland first went into lockdown, the Ashdown Park and sister hotel the Amber Springs didn’t stand still. They kept a core staff, teamed up with local community members and delivered almost 11,000 meals to older and isolated neighbours. “A proportion of our guests would be over 55 or 65,” GM Paul Finegan told us at the time. “They’ve been coming to us week in and week out for the last 20 years. Our view is that if we can do something to help, we have the farm, we have the produce and we have the chefs.” It has now gone on to produce takeaways as well as ready meals under a new Farmhouse Grocer brand, and we’ll soon be able to taste chef Val Murphy’s cooking, and those local goodies, in a newly renovated restaurant — “a cosier, Deco-style space” — and conservatory. Yum. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: A member of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, it has a bee alley and bee hotel on site to support bees and educate younger guests about the threats they face.
Insider tip: A lobby coffee dock serves fresh brews and treats — including freshly made gluten-free options.
Details: A family package bundles B&B with a surf lesson and picnic from €249; ashdownparkhotel.com
Where: Naas, Co Kildare
Why: It can be a struggle to keep kids entertained, even on holiday. But Killashee Hotel has come up trumps — last summer, they teamed up with local company Johnny Magory, created by children’s book author Emma-Jane Leeson. The result is a series of four onsite activities for kids, including an Irish tree hunt, a wildlife and heritage workshop, and a bug hunt. Most impressive is the brand-new nature trail weaving through the grounds, which features six short videos kids can watch by scanning a QR code, teaching them all about the native wildlife. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: A new sustainability policy includes a dedicated ‘Green Team’ being created within the hotel.
Insider tip: If you can swing it, the suites in the original house are gorgeous, with Victorian features and fabulous views of the gardens.
Details: Rooms from €140; killasheehotel.com
Where: Ballina, Co Mayo
Why: Faced with a new world of health and distancing guidelines last summer, Mount Falcon’s response was a brainwave. It erected an open-air, heated bamboo tent on the lawn, head chef Tom Doyle took his asador grill and pizza ovens out, menus were revamped, live musicians booked, and a season of creative staycationing went ahead. This summer, it plans to do the same, and then some. “Last year was such a panic. It was all last second; we weren’t sure what we could do and whether people would even come,” says marketing manager Eibhlín Ní Chonghaile. “This year, we’ll have an extended menu with lots more seafood, an all-day café, and Tom is trying different things. It will be similar, but much better.” Its treatment rooms are back, too. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: Kids’ activities have a firm environmental focus, including a Little Raptors school of falconry.
Insider tip: Guests of the self-catering lodges can also order Tom Doyle’s dishes as takeaways.
Details: Seven-night lodge breaks from €2,520; mountfalcon.com
Where: Wellington Quay, Dublin
Why: After a few years sitting on the Liffey and getting decidedly rough around the edges, The Clarence has emerged from a lavish spruce-up courtesy of new owners the Press Up Group (who also run the Devlin, Dean and Mayson hotels in the city). Gone are most of the tired-looking rooms, leaving in their wake freshly primped sanctuaries, with blush-pink headboards and silky soft sheets. But it’s the public areas that really shine, with the new lobby decked out in gorgeous pinks and blues, and a giant neon piece from Irish artist Domino Whisker. The penthouse isn’t yet refurbished; it’s still one of the coolest in the city, with a huge balcony (and outdoor hot tub) overlooking the Liffey. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: Most of the plastic single-use items have been removed, and swipe entry cards switch off electricity when the rooms aren’t in use.
Insider tip: Not all of the rooms have been renovated yet, so make sure you ask for one when you book.
Details: Rooms from €150; theclarence.ie
Where: Killarney, Co Kerry
Why: Like many places, Randles Hotel quickly realised it needed an outdoor dining space in the wake of the pandemic. And it’s lucky they did, because their al fresco dining spot was pretty much booked solid every day from 1pm until the evening — and there’s a retractable roof, so rain doesn’t stop play. You won’t catch a chill, between the patio heaters and hot water bottles the staff bring out to diners (they’re disinfected between uses, too). The hotel is located within Killarney town, but the elevation means you get a gorgeous view of the mountains, too. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: They’re in the process of changing the heating from gas to air pumps, to reduce carbon emissions, and applying to add solar panels, too.
Insider tip: Head out on the nearby Mining Trail on Ross Island — it’s just 3km in length, and a very short drive.
Details: Rooms from €109; randleshotel.com
Where: Templepatrick, Co Antrim
Why: “We’re all about the good times,” says Colin Johnson, MD of the Galgorm Collection. Over a year into the pandemic, hearing that is a breath of fresh air. This new, £10 million flip of the former Templeton Hotel has created a laid-back little sister to Galgorm Spa & Resort in Ballymena, and it aims to open on June 18. The Rabbit has 33 bedrooms, an outdoor spa with Swedish saunas, Roman-inspired baths and halotherapy salt chamber (if the offering at Galgorm is anything to go by, we’re in for a treat) and also includes a lakeside beach with sunken lounge, plush cabanas and heated sand. Yes, heated sand. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: Tumblers were preserved and reused, and access to a lake was reinstated “for everyone to enjoy”.
Insider tip: Galgorm has been innovating, too — it’s due to add a treetop hideaway and 20 new high-spec one-bed cottages in the coming years, with shepherd’s huts planned for a “secret meadow” this summer. Each has underfloor heating, wood-burning stoves and an outdoor bath.
Details: B&B and a bottle of bubbly is available from £180 per room; rabbithotel.com; galgorm.com
Where: Newcastle West, Co Limerick
Why: We’ve all had to be a bit creative this year — something especially true for anyone in hospitality. But top prize for creative flair might just go to Longcourt House, a member of the 60-strong Original Irish Hotels collection. Like many places, they’ve pivoted to delivering food to homes during the pandemic, in this case using their own branded car, as well as starting up a drive-thru service. And because a general manager needs to be everywhere at once, Mario Puchowski has strapped on his rollerblades — but he’s also raising money for charity, with over €3,250 collected so far. “Each time we do something like this, we have really good fun,” he says. “And that’s the whole point: spreading positive vibes. There are enough bad stories out there.” — NB
Sustainability shout-out: It has signed up to the LEO’s Green for Micro Project, which helps small businesses become greener.
Insider tip: Bring your bikes and head out on the Limerick Greenway — it passes right through Newcastle West.
Details: Rooms from €99; longcourthousehotel.ie
Where: Killenard, Co Laois
Why: There’s been a big shift towards self-catering properties this year, so the launch of newly refurbished penthouse apartments at The Heritage is well timed. There’s a gorgeous sense of personality inside each one, with charming decorative touches alongside fully decked-out kitchens, plush living rooms, and balconies overlooking the golf course. The hotel has also partnered with Mid Ireland Adventure to offer self-guided mountain-bike tours, with a takeaway afternoon tea you can bring along. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: The hotel has a Green Plan, and aims to replace all single-use plastics in bedrooms with bulk or bio-degradable toiletries by summer.
Insider tip: There’s a little in-house cinema where you can watch a movie with some freshly popped popcorn.
Details: Three-night family stay in the apartments with breakfast and two dinners from €1,400; theheritage.com
Where: Glasson, Co Westmeath
Why: Glasson is a tiny village turning into a jewel in the crown for Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands. Already home to the Wineport Lodge and Villager gastropub, its four-star Glasson Lakehouse is now being upgraded by Dublin’s Press Up Group. Instead of a generic golf hotel, think of a country-cool getaway that could attract a whole new wave of weekenders. There are bold splashes of Irish art, a signature blend of cocktails and pasta, pizza and seafood at Isabella’s Restaurant, hip room refits, and a new, erm, “traditional” Irish pub with fireplace, Tom’s Fish & Tackle. An open-air dining space nods to our brave new world of the outdoors, with heaters set around an Argentine barbecue pit and terrace bar... a plum spot for a burger overlooking Lough Ree. You can book boating, fishing and kayaking from the marina, and a new 55-seater Stella Cinema is coming soon. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: Initiatives include regular sweeps of loose rubbish around the forest and lake, a beehive project, and replacing plastic water bottles with sustainable cans.
Insider tip: The 18-hole parkland course has gotten a refresh, too — advanced draining now allows year-round play.
Details: B&B plus dinner starts from €150pp; glassonlakehouse.ie
Where: Killykeen Forest Park, Co Cavan
Why: Think of it as Center Parcs’ Insta-friendly little cousin. Twenty-eight cabins and lakehouses have been transformed from a 1980s OPW holiday village into a contemporary, arboreal oasis, with forest saunas, rustic-chic interiors curated down to the coir carpets, cocktail shakers and Belling ranges tacking deftly between mid-range and luxury. Walk the woodland trails, rent bikes and SUP boards, or take a fishing lesson on the underrated Cavan lakes, before toasting marshmallows, playing giant Jenga or sipping a glass of wine around the ‘Sitooterie’ fire pit. Forget Sports Bars and Subtropical Swimming Paradises, in other words: this is sweetly crafted hygge hidden in the woods. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: Modular cabin builds are all eco-conscious, but it’s great to see Irish foods like Corleggy cheeses, Gubbeen meats and Wicklow Wolf craft beers in the shop, too.
Insider tip: Extras like bike hire and meals add up; consider bringing your own or cooking in, to control costs.
Details: From around €198 per night, with a two-night minimum in winter and three in summer; holidays.cabu.co.uk
Where: Strangford, Co Down
Why: Faced with the renovation of a mid-19th-century church, most would lean into the aesthetic and play up the historical atmosphere. But The Sanctuary has a beautifully modern twist, with glass-fronted mezzanines flooding the open-plan floor with light, and colourful couches giving the whole place an airy, contemporary vibe. The church was in ruins when the owners took it on, and it took three years of painstaking renovations to transform it into this remarkably sleek affair. There are five bedrooms, all of which have their own bathroom, and a snazzy Bluetooth sound system for audiophiles. But it’s not all bang up to date — the original church organ was also restored, if you want to hammer out a few hymns (or a bit of The Doors). — NB
Sustainability shout-out: The award-winning renovation kept many Georgian features intact, from cornices to arched windows.
Insider tip: Castle Ward is just over a mile away; stroll the grounds that doubled up as Winterfell in Game of Thrones.
Details: Four nights from €1,900; uniqueirishhomes.ie
Where: Streedagh, Co Sligo
Why: Slap bang on the water, between Streedagh and Mullaghmore, Milk Harbour is a prime spot to fill the lungs with sea air. There are two self-catering apartments, one sleeping four and one sleeping two, and both are light and airy with killer views of either the harbour or Mullaghmore Head. It was originally planned as a retreat for yogis and artists, but owners Geraldine and Steve changed tack in the face of Covid and altered the building to welcome individual bookings instead. Considering it’s only in its second year of business (opening just a few months before the pandemic), that pivot can be firmly deemed a success. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: The new wastewater-recovery system, air-to-water heating and mechanical ventilation make this a very environmentally friendly build.
Insider tip: Head to Eithna’s by the Sea in Mullaghmore for al fresco crab claws; eithnasrestaurant.com
Details: Rates start from €110 per night, with a three-night minimum; milkharbourholidays.ie
Where: Limavady, Co Derry
Why: When a property is designed and run by two architects, you know you’re in for a treat. At Barn Lane, in the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains, there are two accommodation choices — Number One Barn Lane, which sleeps six, and the Garden Rooms, which sleep four. Inside, you’ll find lovely blends of swish, modern touches (think underfloor heating and Nespresso machines) and home comforts like thick carpets and battered leather armchairs. Both have furnished terraces and barbecues, so you can soak up the sun if you’re lucky, or curl up by the wood burner and drink in the views of Lough Foyle and the distant Donegal hills. There’s a freshly baked treat for guests as they arrive... because nothing says “welcome” like gooey brownies. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: Number One has been designed to be well insulated and oriented to maximise the sun, meaning it’s toasty and warm without excess energy being used.
Insider tip: Benone Beach is a short drive away. You can rent surfboards and get an excellent coffee in the Sea Shed.
Details: Garden Rooms from €187; barn-lane.com
Where: Portrush, Co Antrim
Why: Coastal self-catering is one of the hottest holiday tickets on the island, and here’s a five-star option where you can wake to the sound of the waves and views stretching from West Strand Beach to Donegal. There are six ensuite bedrooms, open-plan living areas with “glass walls” opening on to surrounding sun terraces, and smart touches like an internal elevator, home cinema and outdoor surfer’s shower stacked up next to creature comforts such as cotton waffle robes and rainfall showers. A roof terrace is the perfect spot to toast post-pandemic freedom. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: The house uses underfloor heating and heat-recovery systems to minimise its carbon footprint.
Insider tip: There’s secure parking for up to six cars. It partners with Aura Portrush to provide bespoke spa packages and beauty treatments, too.
Details: From £840 per night, sleeping 14, with a seven-night minimum; blackrockbeachhouseportrush.com
Where: Ballynahinch Castle, Co Galway
Why: A stay at Ballynahinch Castle is always a good idea. If you want to add a dash of privacy or self-catering to your trip, the newly restored cottages on site, Lettery Lodge and Owenmore Cottage, strike the perfect balance between five-star luxury and a sense of seclusion. For a multi-family bubble break, the five-bed Lettery Lodge is a great shout. It’s just a few minutes from the hotel but has plenty to keep you occupied, from the games-room pool table to the yoga studio overlooking Ben Lettery Mountain. It’s far from a budget stay, of course, but the swish touches (like bedroom service every other day and a breakfast hamper delivered each morning) give it an edge for post-pandemic pampering. — NB
Sustainability shout-out: Order produce grown in the walled garden, going from soil to plate in a few scant hours.
Insider tip: Don’t bother bringing your own bikes — you can borrow some for free from the hotel.
Details: Weekly rental from €6,000; ballynahinch-castle.com
Where: Sky Road, Connemara
Why: “We’re trying to turn it back into a destination,” says Fearghus Foyle, who runs this Sky Road stay with his sister, Clodagh. Readers may remember the guesthouse and restaurant run here by their parents — well, retirements and a year-long pandemic have seen Fearghus and Clodagh flip the properties (a house sleeping 12, and lodge sleeping six) into staycation-friendly self-catering stays. As a business, both costs and turnover are reduced, but guests are also winners, gaining exclusive rentals with high ceilings, underfloor heating, panoramic windows and the Atlantic Ocean “at the bottom of the garden”. And their plans are just starting. “It has always been a plan of ours to move away from the typical Irish B&B model, as we feel today’s guests are looking for something more than just a place to sleep,” Fearghus says. “Thanks to Covid, we’ve been forced to do that a little bit earlier than planned.” — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: They’re also working on reinstating vegetable gardens and reedbed walkways.
Insider tip: You can enjoy your own sandy cove just a short walk through the surrounding gardens.
Details: From €750 per night for the house and €350 for the lodge (minimum stays apply); dolphinbeach.ie
Where: Malin Head, Co Donegal
Why: Looking for a galaxy far, far away from your 5k after lockdown? Try this 1960s cottage. “The building is really nestled in the rocks overlooking the Atlantic so if you’re looking for something by the sea, in seclusion, and somewhere quirky, this is the place,” says owner Emma Cormac. The Millennium Falcon was built on its private peninsula during the filming of Star Wars, and Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill used the house as their green room (“I’m not sure it put Malin Head on the map; I think the beauty of Malin Head did that,” Emma adds). Skildren was designed by church architect Liam McCormick with a flat roof and hexagonal rooms and has direct access to the ocean. Four bedrooms sleep eight... and there’s a piano to boot. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: It’s connected to an eco-friendly rainwater system, but the lack of mains connection means guests need to bring their own drinking water.
Insider tip: In winter, the lack of light pollution makes it possible to spot the aurora borealis.
Details: From €350 a night, with a three-night minimum stay; airbnb.ie/rooms/27865860
Where: South Frederick Street, Dublin 2
Why: A little sister to Sheen Falls Lodge in Kenmare, Co Kerry, here’s an assured townhouse spread over three Georgian buildings within a stone’s throw of Grafton Street (read our Trinity Townhouse review). A €3.5m refurb has tastefully mapped those honeyed and heather tones to modern touches like white-tiled bathrooms and Rituals products, and though there’s no bar or restaurant, smart partnerships and nifty neighbours make up for that — a summer package will include dinner at Dunne & Crescenzi across the road, from €160. Think of it as a tidy stay for those who like their city bases low-key and elegant, rather than crammed with whizzing wheelie cases. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: As well as a sensitive restoration, you can expect touches like fresh milk in fridges, not cheap plastics.
Insider tip: Direct-booking prices are €10 cheaper than other websites, the hotel says — always worth a call.
Details: Rooms from €120; trinitytownhousehotel.com
Where: Sunday’s Well, Cork
Why: Here’s another hotel that knows a thing or two about surmounting challenges (it closed for over five years following extensive flood damage in 2009). “Covid kind of pushed us all into a situation where we didn’t have many choices,” says GM Fergal Harte. “We said we’ll have to push the boat out and do this.” The Leeside layover has refurbed bedrooms, opened a takeaway cabin — the Bean and River, whose coffee and crêpes regularly tempt passers-by off the river walk — a weekend mini streetfood market, and an online shop together with the Kilkenny Group. It’s part of the Fota Collection, so watch out for ‘City & County’ packages pairing city stays with the five-star Fota Resort. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: There’s a ‘Green Team’, E-car charge points, compostable laundry bags and more.
Insider tip: A “stay longer for less” offer saves you 10pc on two-night stays, 15pc on three and 20pc on four.
Details: Rooms from €139; thekingsley.ie
Where: Golden Lane, Dublin 8
Why: Yes, it’s a franchise hotel. But that’s only part of the story. “Over a decade since our opening, and believing so much in this part of the capital, it’s a great news story to have our fully Irish-owned and Irish-operated hotel invest further in the area and in our local community,” says GM Madeline Riley. That investment saw €100m spent on refurbing its ground floor, bar and restaurant and doubling its footprint to add 84 new bedrooms and a new Dyflin Garden — a secret suntrap open for al fresco lunch and dinner in summer, with cocktails taking twists from herbs grown on the terrace. Innovations include virtual and hybrid event spaces where a team of AV pros can make your awards, conferences and other events look slick, and the moody Velvære Spa (pronounced “vel-va-ray”) should delight day visitors and guests in need of post-pandemic pampering, too. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: The final phase will create Le Pole Square, linking Chancery Lane to Ship Street.
Insider tip: The two-bed Castle Suite overlooks nearby Dublin Castle and has its own outdoor fire pit.
Details: Rooms from €180; radissonblu.ie/royalhotel-dublin
Where: Malone Road, Belfast
Why: “I want it to be somewhere I would stay, somewhere I would socialise, somewhere I would meet people I would want to meet when I travel.” So Melanie Harrison said when we visited her new boutique hotel, describing how she used her keen eye for style and antiques to turn a 19th-century merchant’s home into a 16-bed ‘Chambers of Distinction’. It almost feels like stepping through a wardrobe. Rooms named for artists and writers like Ruby Murray and C.S. Lewis are crammed with an eclectic mix of reclaimed floorboards, standalone baths, antiques and provocative pops like Gráinne Maher’s bespoke wallpapers or animal-print throws. It’s playful and individual, and a new bar and restaurant are set to open downstairs in summer. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: Furnishing with repurposed pieces not only adds character, it’s creative recycling in action.
Insider tip: Melanie’s sister Nola provides in-house spa therapies, from facials to massages, scrubs and baths.
Details: Rooms from £84; chambersofdistinction.com
Where: Ormond Quay Lower, Dublin 1
Why: It’s an aparthotel, Jim, but not as we know it. Overlooking the Ha’penny Bridge, Zanzibar Locke is named for the Noughties nightspot that once occupied the building, but thankfully replaces Celtic Tiger bling with a subtle, Californian influence. Locke is a UK brand doing design-led, locally inspired aparthotels, and this one sees O’Donnell O’Neill Design kit out 160 studios with fully fitted kitchens and living spaces smartly set with Scandi-lite furniture and soft colours like salmon pinks, and features like bare brick allowed to shine. There’s a co-working space, and bar and restaurant Baraza is an all-day offering, switching to small plates and cocktails after 4pm. It looks like they’ve done their homework too: we spot a Brother Hubbard cookbook perched on a kitchen counter, and a series of events, talks, workshops and experiences promises to spotlight up-and-coming Dublin talent, once guidelines permit. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: A firm neighbourhood focus echoes that of recent arrivals like the Hyatt Centric, Wren (No. 50) and Hendrick. Chain hotels don’t have to be generic.
Insider tip: Later this summer, a second location will open at Beckett Locke, behind the 3Arena.
Details: Rates from €125; lockeliving.com
Where: Horgan’s Quay, Cork
Why: “We don’t do conventional,” this Cork hotel announced before opening last December. “We do fun.” Covid doesn’t do conventional either, of course, meaning most of us are still waiting to see the striking, seven-storey build near Kent Station. Similar to its Dublin namesake, the Rebel City retreat comes with rooftop Sophie’s bar and restaurant, “boutique” gym, Dime lobby coffee bar, a playful focus on edgy Irish art and trendy touches like mini-Smeg fridges and Marshall amps in rooms. A ladies-only penthouse deal includes bubbles, canapés, an hour-long cocktail bar, early check-in, late check-out and breakfast in Sophie’s from €1,000 all in. Split between four rock-star friends, that’s €250pp. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: Local art and menu ingredients are a highlight, and there are no single-use plastics in bedrooms.
Insider tip: The Dean brand is only getting started. A third hotel opens in Galway’s Prospect Hill this summer.
Details: Rooms from €179; thedean.ie/cork
Where: St Andrew’s Lane, Dublin 2
Why: Covid has kept its status as ‘coming soon’ for over a year now, but we really hope to see this new arrival open in 2021. The Wren promises 137 ‘Snug’ and ‘Cosy’ rooms described as “nests”, and compact designs come with plenty of smart touches — think Respa beds, blackout blinds and Chromecast for TV streaming (wheelchair-accessible ‘Adapted Nests’ have floor-to-ceiling windows, too). The website talks of co-working spaces, a light-filled lobby where “you can grab a flat white and watch the world go by”, and zingy, ethically sourced dishes in ALT restaurant. While it’s sad to see the old Andrew’s Lane Theatre replaced with a hotel, rather than a new cultural space, The Wren talks the talk when it comes to sustainability and community connections - one idea is a monthly ‘Conversations and Craic’ series that could include topics like street art, eco living, and organic wine and food pairings. We hope it walks the walk, too. — PÓC
Sustainability shout-out: “Dublin’s most sustainable hotel”, as it describes itself, will use renewable energy and is committed to upcycling, Irish craft products and local food.
Insider tip: The hotel’s Wren Guide to Dublin has done its homework, with like-a-local tips such as Sweny’s chemist, Love Lane’s murals and the Blind Pig speakeasy.
Details: Rates TBC; wrenhotel.ie
NB: All prices and details subject to availability and change. Always check Covid-related restrictions, travel guidelines and cancellation policies before booking.