Ashford Castle, Co Mayo
There is something incredibly special about the approach to Ashford Castle. After you are greeted at the entrance by the affable gatekeeper, resplendent in a forest green great coat, you drive through the wooded grounds along twisty roads before turning a bend to see the castle in all its majesty sitting on the edge of the twinkling – or sometimes glowering – Lough Corrib.
If we can be sure of anything, it’s that the friendliest of welcomes will await you – the hotel prides itself on catering to the most capricious whims of some very demanding guests but doing so in a way which is effortlessly charming – and on check-in you might find a “glass of something” pressed gently into your hand.
From there on it is relaxation all the way. The five-star hotel in Cong, on the Galway-Mayo border, is not adult-only by any means – in fact it is incredibly welcoming of little ones – but it is a very special place (and not at all cheap), so is surely the kind of spot you might want to reserve for a break-the-bank, free-from-little-ones break. Let’s be honest, children just won’t appreciate all the luxury on offer, luxury that you will be paying for.
From early morning walks through the woods, to the water with the giant hounds, and the end of day nightcaps in the opulently furnished bar, the hotel is the epitome of elegance and grace.
There is golf and fishing, horse-riding and falconry, and the most gorgeous of spas. But sometimes the best of fun is to be had just strolling the silent grounds, marvelling at all that is around you and fantasising about what life might be like if you won the lotto and could afford this kind of break on a routine basis.
The beds are made with magic clouds – or at least that’s what it feels like – so hauling yourself out of them in the morning might be the toughest challenge you face all day. The food served across all the hotel restaurants and bars is excellent, and the fine dining in the George V restaurant is splendid. From the starters all the way through to the home-made petit fours made by the stellar pastry team, men won’t even mind the obligation to wear a jacket, a rule which seems ridiculously anachronistic until you’re sitting down and soaking up the atmosphere.
The same diningroom is the home to possibly the best hotel breakfast in Ireland, a breakfast so fancy that there is even a juice sommelier to help you with your breakfast tipple of choice.
And if you’re thinking “it’s far from juice sommelier I was reared”, you’d be right, but the hotel manages to perform that hard-to-pull-off trick of being incredibly swanky and high-end, yet friendly and homely so that you won’t feel even remotely awkward when you are being waited on hand and foot, and talked through the juices of the day.
If there is one other thing we can be certain of, it’s that you’ll be sad when you leave, but as the staff will remind you, the sadness as you drive away will just enhance the happiness when you return (just as soon as those lotto numbers come up).
Bed and breakfast rates for midweek stays start at €435 per room, while one night with breakfast and dinner as well as a round of golf starts at €675. ashfordcastle.com
Cottages for Couples, Co Cork
From castles in the woods to houses in the trees. The is a gorgeous looking spot on the grounds of Grove House, not far from Skibbereen in West Cork, that will allow couples to experience all the joy of treehouse and barn living without any of the discomfort that that sentence might suggest. In fact, this place is as far from a traditional treehouse as you could possibly get. The self-catering accommodation offers you the swankiest of living spaces as well as roll-top baths, outdoor hot tubs and an ocean of woodland serenity – and wifi, thankfully.
Prices vary depending on the accommodation type but one midweek night in a treehouse starts at €189 with a week costing €1150. cottagesforcouples.ie
Finn Lough, Co Fermanagh
This lovely looking resort offers waterside cottages and lakeside lodges as well as quirky bubble domes. You can expect outdoor jacuzzis, spa treatments, fishing and woodland rambles. Or, if you are feeling particularly energetic and you’re not being lashed out if it by the weather gods, you can hire a pedal craft and explore the wonders of Lough Erne.
One night for two including breakfast starts at £175. finnlough.com
Monart, Co Wexford
Once you get over the sight of all the guest wandering the corridors in bathrobes with an aura of blissed out Zen like they are all part of some weird cult, you will start to fit in to this very fine spa resort in the southeast. It is an adults only hotel so the chances of your calm being interrupted by the cries of children are zero – but even if there were kids around you’d probably be in such a state of deep relaxation you would not even notice them. The facilities are excellent – which is why it has won all manner of accolades at home and abroad – as is the food.
Two midweek nights including breakfast in February costs €239 per person. monart.ie
Killarney Glamping, Co Kerry
If you thought camping holidays were just for kids or for hardy Bear Grylls types, this site just a mile or so outside of the biggest tourist magnet in the southwest is here to prove you wrong. Unlike many campsites in this part of the world, Killarney Glamping is open for much of the year as guests are protected from the harshest of the Atlantic weather in the very high-end glamping suites. The suites, which come with heating and electric blankets, will keep you cosy in the dead of winter. There are a range of accommodation options available and you can rest your weary head under stone, wood or canvas depending on your preference.
From €89 per night. killarneyglamping.com