Set on 600 acres of lush countryside at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains lies Ballyfin Demesne, Ireland’s most lavish Regency mansion spectacularly transformed into an exclusive 5-star hotel.
The splendor of this Relais & Chateaux gem is immediately apparent. As I drove toward the manor house passing the misty lake, age-old trees and Greek temple with cascading water, it felt like I stepped into a fairy tale.
Dating back to the 1820’s the Grand House built to be a showpiece by wealthy aristocrat Sir Charles Coote, has been exquisitely restored by its present owner. The stately mansion is a whirl of imposing columns, intricately carved ceilings and grand staircases.
An eye-catching mosaic floor brought from Italy in the early 19th century that distinguishes the entrance, illustrates the attention to detail throughout. A collection of salons on the main floor with posh furnishings, magnificent chandeliers, original oil paintings and antiques includes comfy sofas, perfect for relaxing. I marveled at the Rotunda’s inlaid floor inspired by the Lion Court of the Alhambra Palace and the opulent Gold Drawing Room where the lady of the house entertained.
Lunch was served in the glass enclosed Conservatory which offered glorious garden views. Before dinner, I cocktailed in the cozy library amid volumes of rare books and matching white marble fireplaces.
Upstairs, the 20 swank bedrooms and suites, each distinct, are as luxurious as the downstairs salons. Lady Caroline Coote’s Room, formerly her boudoir, displays a trompe l’oeil effect with bold embellishments and a rococo stucco ceiling. My regal residence, The Lady Kildare Junior Suite splashed out in blue and white chinoiserie fabric, overlooked the lake and lawn. The Sir Christopher Coote Suite with a spacious 430-square-foot bedroom and even grander sitting room dazzles with 18th-century wallpaper panels from the collection of the Prince of Hamburg.
For those seeking greater privacy, the gardener’s cottage will be transformed into a new one bedroom suite with the same level of plush furnishings, fabrics and antiques as in the main house, slated to debut June 2018.
Adding to the fabulousness, Ballyfin offers guests – The Costume Experience. You get to dress up in period garb in your own fantasy character. It’s an entertaining activity for couples, friends, families and groups alike and ideal for celebrations. Along with all the requisite regalia, personal dressers come to your suite and skillfully attire you from head to toe. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to be Lady Mary from Downton Abbey – here’s your chance. For me it added to the fairy tale ambiance and was great fun.
The experience started in the afternoon in a separate building with a passageway leading to a huge room filled with a stupendous collection of period costumes from the Lyric Opera Company in Chicago. Looking at the vast wardrobe and trying on the elaborate attire proved to be a fascinating endeavor. And the ladies there are consummate professionals: suggesting complimentary options, showing varying sizes and styles, bringing forth accessories – until you find the perfect outfit. That evening, swathed in a corsetted flowing pink satin gown and matching feathery hat, I swanned into the dining-room, feeling like a 19th century Noble Lady.
Venturing outdoors was also magical. Here an idyllic wonderland of woodlands, grottoes, follies, walled gardens and picturesque lake enchanted.
How to Get There: Aer Lingus offers direct service to their Dublin hub from major US cities including JFK, Newark, Los Angeles and starting September 1, Miami. Service onboard was exemplary; business cabins feature elevated cuisine, fine wine and spacious seats that become comfy lie-flat beds. Ballyfin is just over an hour’s drive from Dublin.