Irish Countryside Serves Up Local Fare and Active Outings
It’s the weather that keeps the Emerald Isle so green, the gardens lush and the creamy dairy products so delicious.
“It’s a soft day,” said Damien Bastiat general manager of Ballyfin hotel, an elegantly restored country estate set in the middle of Ireland.
Bastiat was referring to a gentle mist of rain calling for a light jacket but not enough to require an umbrella.
He led us on a tour to explore the walled gardens and expansive landscaped grounds including a climb up a stone tower built as an architectural folly.
The formal kitchen gardens boast a gourmet grocery of vegetables, herbs, apple trees, and even artichokes.
“Irish producers are just starting to promote their own,” said Ballyfin executive chef Michael Tweedie. His ‘garden to plate’ menus star farmhouse cheeses, and yogurt from Irish dairies, shellfish and sea salt from the coast, eggs from the estate and Thomas Salter’s free-range pork from a nearby farm.
“It’s nice to meet the farmers and hear their stories,” said Tweedie.
Just the right touch of Irish butter or cream adds indulgence to lovely desserts at Ballyfin.
More local tastes include braised lamb from Kilkenny with wild garlic, mint and peas.
(Nutrition note: Irish sea salt is very salty so you only have to use a little to add flavor to foods. I bought the adorable little silver butter dish below at the Ballyfin gift shop. Had to have it. Helps you savor butter’s flavor even more.)
To the Manor!
Step inside Ballyfin’s neo-classical manor house…
….originally built in the 1820’s, and step back in time for cocktails in the Gold Room overlooking the lake or the library with a secret door that opens into the glass conservatory.
Guests can time travel to dinner by donning formal wear from the hotel’s collection of period costumes. I felt as if I’d burst into song. Must have been the song bird perched on my head.
More echoes of history: Ballyfin spent time as a boy’s boarding school.
The hotel’s serene indoor swimming pool sits in what was the student’s (no doubt raucous then) dining hall. Ballyfin is truly a magical place where you can escape the world and enter your own surrounded by peace and grace.
Irish Country Estates: Gardens and Guns
What’s a country estate experience without a few sporting activities?
Now let’s visit dreamy Ashford Castle.
At stately Ashford Castle (a member of Leading Hotels of the World) on the shores of Lough Corrib in southwest Ireland in County Mayo guests can golf, fish, learn archery, shoot at sporting clays or try their hand (safely cloaked in a leather glove) at Ireland’s School of Falconry.
Dating back to the 13th century, Ashford Castle with soaring turrets, stone towers and sunken gardens…
is now brought to life for today’s travelers (who want luxury and technology) with a loving restoration led by Beatrice Tollman of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection. The restoration brought a new roof, new windows and interiors lavish with antique filled guest rooms and a luxurious spa and indoor swimming pool. Details of the decor are a joy to discover such as the tiny tassels on the canopy over the bed in my suite.
There’s a wine cellar to explore and taste a world of vintages and then join the guests for dinner in the elegant George V dining room where the table is set in luxurious style.
…..or hide away in the casual and cozy ( yes!) Dungeon restaurant.
For a taste tour of the Irish countryside, sample woodland mushroom soup or the wild game terrine with plum gel and purple potato chips…and salmon of course!
A full Irish breakfast at Ashford Castle includes the luxury of baked ham served to you from a silver and mahogany trolley.
Good thing there are 350 acres of land to explore on horseback, by bicycle or via running shoes before the next enchanting Irish meal. More salmon please…..
But perhaps my most precious memories from my trips to Ireland are those of the friendly Irish people who laugh, tell a story and make you feel at home in their home.
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