Go big or go home: Luxury breaks around Ireland

You don't need to go abroad to have a blow-out trip for honeymoons, big celebrations or even a Lotto win 

Anyone who has bought a Lotto ticket has probably fantasied about all the amazing places they will go as soon as their numbers come tumbling out of the barrel. Covid may have ruined that fantasy for us for now, as severe travel restrictions mean the private, sun-kissed islands in far away oceans remain off limits.

But an inability to travel far and wide should not rob us of all our money-no-object dreams. For honeymoons, big celebrations or that elusive Lotto win, Ireland is pretty well served with lavish and luxurious holiday options to help you push the boat out while keeping your feet firmly planted on this land.

The castle in Cong

It will hardly come as a surprise when we say that Ashford Castle is not the place for you if you are in the market for a cheap-as-chips break. You don’t get to stay in one of the finest hotels in Ireland without paying handsomely for all that stellar service.

This summer the castle has the ultimate in luxury breaks. Stay for four nights and enjoy what will surely be the best breakfasts you will have all year, as well as four evening meals and a wine tasting in the cellar. But there’s more. They will also come to your house, pick you up and then bring you home again once you’re done.

If you want to be transferred in a mundane, old car – actually, we’re guessing it’ll be a pretty fancy car – the cost for two people for the four nights comes in at €4,280. But if you have just won the Euromillions or happen to be a member of U2 and don’t fancy the drive – it’s about three hours door-to-door from Dublin – they will pick you up in a helicopter and bring you home the same way. And the cost for the four nights? It’s €11,480. We were thinking we’d want to keep the helicopter for that kind of money until we realised that to buy one we’d need to splash out €2.5 million – and then a whole lot more for maintenance and flying lessons.

Starry, starry nights

If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I’d love a whiskey-themed holiday in some really dark places”, then have we got good news for you. The Sexton whiskey people have partnered with travel agency Travel Matters to create “an eccentric twist on the classic Irish staycation”. This seven-day tour takes in three of the darkest locations across Ireland “providing the perfect conditions for moonlit tourism and night-time inspired cocktails”.

There will be two nights at Liss Ard Estate in Co Cork, close to Castlehaven Bay and Lough Hyne, which will include kayaking under starlight. As dusk turns to darkness, the view of the rising moon will be paired with a light show of bioluminescence coming from algae under the water.

From Skibbereen you can expect to be chauffeured to the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve, the only gold-tier dark sky reserve in the northern hemisphere, and the best location to view the stars on the Wild Atlantic Way. You will stay three nights at the Park Hotel in Kenmare. After that it is on to Mayo and the Dark Sky Park and a two-night stay at Ashford Castle where, alas, there’ll be no helicopter on hand to bring you home this time.

Packages for the seven-day tour start from €5,059 for two people and you can expect “the most Instagrammable moments” to rival any foreign holiday.

Cliff hangers

Another kind of star gazing can be expected at the cliff edge. And it’s pretty Instagrammable too. First there is a jolly at the five-star Cliff House Hotel in Waterford followed by a second one at the Cliff at Lyons in Kildare. The hotels have three Michelin stars between them and every morsel of food will make you swoon. The Cliff Table is an indulgent four-night stay including two nights in each hotel with full Irish breakfast on all mornings for two people and dinner on each evening including one night in the two Michelin-starred restaurants at each hotel.

The two-Michelin star Aimsir at the Kildare property explores the Irish larder, celebrating what can be sown and harvested, fished and foraged on the island of Ireland. In Cliff at Lyons you can also enjoy the classical cookery of Sean Smith in the new restaurant, The Mill, on your second night. Your two-night stay in Cliff House Hotel will allow you to experience the elegant cooking of executive chef Ian Doyle, who brought a fresh and exciting approach to House Restaurant when he joined in 2020.

The Cliff Table experience costs from €2,193 for two people, sharing a seaview room in Ardmore and a lilypond room at Lyons, with rates varying pending season and room type availability.

A Straffagant stay

With 10 bedrooms in total, spread over three storeys and the guest cottage, a Straffan House stay is €20,000. Yes, that is the per-night charges

A stay at Straffan House, The K Club’s private residence, might give you a sense of how the other 0.0000001 per cent live. It is said to be “palatial and elegant, modelled on a magnificent chateau at Louveciennes to the west of Paris, not far from Versailles”.

The 10-bedroom house can accommodate at least 20 people who could celebrate the fact they are allowed to meet indoors for the first time in forever. You won’t need to lift a finger during your entire stay, cosseted by 24-hour butler service and a private chef, and your own dedicated housekeeper and concierge.

On the lower ground-floor level is the private swimming pool with hand-painted murals and its own swim-up bar, lit by a twinkling sky full of tiny stars created by some subtle ambient lighting – obviously. There’s a gym and private spa, games room and a wine cellar and the house also has a lush, red velvet-upholstered movie theatre with reclining chairs, digital screen and a Bose surround-sound system.

The stay includes full Irish breakfast, lunch, tea, coffee, home-made cookies and cake, soft drinks and snacks, a pre-dinner drinks reception and dinner. You will have to be rolled home in other words.

The house is built on a 550-acre country estate and has two Arnold Palmer-designed championship golf courses with rounds included as “complimentary” with any stay, if golf is your thing and you can tear yourself away from all the treats.

With 10 bedrooms in total, spread over three storeys and the guest cottage, a Straffan House stay is €20,000. Yes, that is the per-night charge, with a minimum three-night stay. So if our shaky maths is anything to go by, that would take the full cost to 60 grand. The price does not include alcohol.

Dublin can be heaven

Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin

By comparison, a night in the Merrion Hotel in Dublin seems like a bargain, even when a meal in one of the best restaurants in the country is added to the mix.

The hotel has put together a package which includes one night in the hotel and a bottle of chilled champagne in your room on arrival as well as a full Irish breakfast the next morning in your room or in the Garden Room if you fancy seeing other people. After the champagne, and before the breakfast, comes a four-course dinner for two from the a la carte menu in twice Michelin-starred Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud and a full body massage or facial for two in the Merrion Spa. There will also be bikes on hand should you fancy a spin around the city and all its swanky new cycle lanes. And the cost for one night for two people? A steal at €990.

Bally-finest night away

Ballyfin might not be able to accommodate as many people as the K-Club’s high-end house, but it is still pretty fancy. Its romantic packages see loved-up couples explore the grounds on a bicycle made for two, take a boat trip across the lake and stroll towards a tower, some grottos and walled gardens. Guests can look forward to an early-evening rose petal bubble bath with champagne and strawberries before relaxing in the library with a pre-dinner drink followed by dinner in the state dining room.

The package is based on full board and includes lunch or afternoon tea on arrival day, teas, coffees with home-made cake and cookies, soft drinks, a pre-dinner drink, gourmet dinner and a bedroom soft drink minibar, and tips. And what is the price? Well, the cost for one night in the summer months starts at €1,350 and rises to €2,570 for anyone who fancies staying in what the hotel calls the Gardener’s Cottage, although we suspect it has been a long time since anyone kicked off their wellies after a day’s work at the door.

City slicker

The Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin
The Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin

If you are going to stay for a week in what might just be Ireland’s grandest hotel – it is almost certainly the one imbued with the largest dollop of history – and money is no object, then you might as well stay in one of the Shelbourne Hotel’s signature suites. Named after famous former guests, the suites include a bedroom and living room with a view of St Stephen’s Green and impressive marble bathrooms. 

The nightly cost of a suite is from €1680 for bed and breakfast, so the total cost of our fantasy week is already north of €11,500 before we’ve eaten a morsel from the famous Shelbourne afternoon tea, which  we may as well have while we’re at it. When we tot up the cost of eating and drinking in the hotel over the course of a week we reckon we could easily blow the guts of 14 grand - which would be grand, if only we had it.

Castle delights

Ireland is spoiled for choice when it comes to swanky castles for a splurge. Up with the finest of them is Dromoland. You could choose a suite and settle back to allow the pampering begin.

You should expect champagne and petit fours onarrival, after which you could take out the golf buggy – privately reserved for you – for a spin around the estate. Actually now that we think of it, maybe you should go out in the buggy before you lorry into the champagne? You can then look forward to a candle-lit dinner in the Earl of Thomond Restaurant, bed and then breakfast. The castle falconer will be on hand to give you a private falconry lesson and you can round off your trip with a “decadent picnic for two in [Dromoland’s] enchanting walled garden” before your departure. And the price? Some €2,435 for a suite for the night.

Marker your cards

As we are all no doubt weary of hearing, this is an outdoor summer. When it comes to outdoor dining and drinking in Dublin it is very, very hard to top the Marker Hotel’s rooftop with its panoramic views of the city beneath it and the swanky cocktails and lovely food, all served with the elegance you’d expect from a five-star hotel. As well as the rooftop, there are also some swish indoor spaces, a swanky spa and an excellent restaurant presided over by Gareth Mullins. Seeing as we are pushing the boat out we decided to book – in our dreams, at any rate – a corner suite with a view for an entire week in August. A nightly rate of €405.50 would take the cost to €2,499, which is probably a lot less than it will be when the well-heeled overseas visitors come back to us.