5 Reasons To Visit Ballyfin Demesne In The Irish Countryside

As you wind the bend past enormous trees, your breath is totally taken away when you see Ballyfin Demesne in the distance standing majestically in front of a lake. The stately mansion is like a fairy tale in the middle of the Irish countryside. Once you enter the main entrance, all of your cares or past concerns melt away.

This is the kind of place where you dress for dinner, but spend the days enjoying the great outdoors or curled up with a book by the fireplace. Here are five top reasons to enjoy a stay at Ballyfin in County Laois just over an hour from Dublin airport (or reached via train from various corners of Ireland).

The history

Once the residence of numerous aristocratic families including the Wellesley-Poles (this was the Duke of Wellington’s family) and later the Cootes (the family of an Elizabethan adventure in the late 1500s). This 600-acre estate grew over the centuries as it was a home for the Cootes to enjoy life and leisure.

Eventually, however, it became an untenable project to manage and turned into a Catholic boys school for decades by two brothers. In the early 2000s, an American billionaire bought the estate with his Irish wife and invested millions in its restoration to bring it back to its original grandeur. No expense was spared including the introduction of amenities like air conditioning and an indoor pool that did not exist in years past.

Today, the staff continues to take great pride in their hospitality welcoming guests as if they were staying at a friend’s home. They unpack the car and carry luggage to the room while arrivals enjoy a glass of Champagne and brief tour of the house. If you don’t notice the staff walking around the outside of the estate, it’s because they enter via an underground tunnel designed to keep the grounds free of crowds of people walking to and fro.

These days, the majority of guests are American, and the oohs and aahhs that come from every corner of the estate are met with great Irish pride by the staff. Big spenders can even book the entire house for private use or special events. The family crest of the Coote family is on the facade of the estate.

The décor

Ballyfin is recognized as the finest manor house in the entire country, and it comes as no surprise to why. The crackle of the fireplace and the sounds of live music (or just the birds) fill the space throughout the day. Guests gather in the drawing room, library or main living room where historic art lines the walls. Art, history and design books cover the tables in between lovely curios and antiques. Everything is so carefully curated here, it feels as if you are stepping into the pages of an art and architecture magazine.

Different parts of the mansion come with different surprises from pastel-painted walls and patterned carpets to Oriental rugs and even some Japanese kimono robes hanging on the wall. You will find yourself noticing something new with each turn. From the fine china that changes with each meal to the brocaded drapery, there is nothing out of place here. It is an exquisite home, and the well-heeled (mostly American) guests here soak it up with appreciation and respect whether they are reading a novel or enjoying the lightning-fast Wi-Fi.

The rooms

Each different from the next, the rooms and suites are worth perusing if a door lingers open. They are fitted with beautifully embroidered fabrics, four-poster, canopied beds, museum-quality paintings and antique furnishings. Some have fireplaces, and their bathrooms have many original details like high-quality porcelain sinks and marble surfaces. Marble-lined showers have drenching rain pressure, and soaking tubs add to the decadence.

Housekeeping is as discreet as possible, often tidying up rooms when guests have gone for breakfast without ever being seen in action. This is the kind of detail that only the finest palace hotels can achieve. Each evening, turndown service arrives nightly with glass bottles of water and little treats like locally made bars of organic soap or sachets of herbs meant to improve sleep.

TVs are tucked away behind painted cabinetry so as not to ruin the centuries-old atmosphere of the place, and enormous windows open for fresh air revealing greenery as far as the eye can see. There is also a separate cottage that is ideal for those seeking more privacy, and it comes with kitchen facilities.

Open the closets, and you will discover plenty of thoughtful extras from the locally made botanical soaps and umbrellas to rain jackets and a garment bag. Ask at reception, and you can borrow from the hotel’s hunter boot collection in case you will be traipsing around in the mud and enjoying the gardens. There is never a need to worry about dirtying your own shoes or clothes.

The cuisine

When the sun begins to set, guests gather for drinks in the main lounge before being escorted to dinner where ironed table linens and exquisite chinaware await. Candles flicker, and the staff makes the rounds with large silver platters serving each table setting and plate with careful precision. Even the menus are updated daily with numerous options for those with special dietary requests.

Each meal is an event with some of the freshest produce you have ever tasted making up the salads, omelets and sandwiches. Fresh bread and pastries are baked daily, and the Irish Soda Bread is not to be missed. While breakfast and dinner are in the main dining room, lunch is taken in the greenhouse, which overlooking the gardens and water cascade.

As a Relais & Chateaux property, the food and beverage scene is a major draw for visitors. In the wine cellar, there are more than 400 individually selected bottles that change often based on the menu. Guests can also take part in whiskey or wine tastings or simply rely on the expertise of the talented sommelier and bar staff.

Rates at Ballyfin are all-inclusive covering three meals a day, an open bar, gratuities and activities. This makes the experience much more like a residential visit with no need to sign a bill. Don’t be surprised if the staff refers to you by name, remembers your beverage preference and dining restrictions. Guests can add extra experiences like massages in the spa or picnics in the countryside.

The activities

Whether you want a relaxing holiday or want to get out and explore, Ballyfin is ideally located in the middle of the country. Some guests rent a car while others hire a driver to explore popular tourist spots, but there is so much to do on property that many do not want to ever leave. There is a lovely spa and indoor swimming pool, which offer entertainment on rainy days. Sport activities like biking, hiking, boating, archery, tennis, golf and falconry are all popular diversions.

If you have stayed at some of Ireland’s famous castle hotels, this property is the perfect complement because it has all the modern functions you expect, but in a regal, Old World building. You can stay a few nights in different properties and experience an entirely different vibe.

No one should leave without taking a horse and carriage tour of the property where they can learn about the various species of plants and trees growing here. Complimentary golf carts and bikes are another way guests can wander on their own. Make time to visit the tower in the midst of the field because if you climb the nearly 100 steps, you are treated to magnificent views of Ireland surrounding you.

Among the numerous gardens are a fernery, a rock garden, walled garden, and rows and rows of fresh herbs, vegetables, spices and plants that appear on the restaurant menu. If you’re looking for something truly unusual, ask to borrow one of the dozens of old-fashioned costumes from the hotel’s collection for dinner. You are sure to want plenty of photographic keepsakes of your time living as the wealthy surely did more than a century ago.