Ballyfin House in a Nutshell:
Ballyfin House, located at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in Ireland's County Laois, has long been said to be the most lavish Regency mansion in all Ireland. It retained that title even during the years that the posh property - once home to the aristocratic, Anglo-Irish Coote family - served as a private school for boys.
Now, on the far side of a multi-million-dollar, eight-year-long renovation and restoration project, Ballyfin has returned to its original opulence - and then some. In May 2011, Ballyfin House officially opened its doors as an ultra-luxurious small hotel, meant to recreate the experience of a visit to an elegant country estate. Its demesne, an elaborately designed landscape, is a perfect backdrop for romance. Ballyfin is already becoming well known on the luxury honeymoon circuit, and was one of only 45 new properties to be added to the Relais & Chateaux collection for 2012.
Guest Rooms at Ballyfin House:
Each of Ballyfin’s 15 elegant sleeping rooms is different. According to Ballyfin’s general manager, honeymoon couples tend to favor either the Westmeath Room or the Lady Caroline Coote Room. The gold-and-white antique canopy bed in the Westmeath Room is positioned to capture a perfect view of the flickering flames in the marble fireplace. The Lady Caroline Coote Room at the very top of the stairs features blue wallpaper designed to resemble draped silk, an oversized white canopy bed, a cozy chintz chaise lounge, a fireplace, and a large bathroom with a soaking tub. The equally lovely Sir Charles Coote Room includes a Roman sarcophagus bath brought to Ballyfin in 1822. The Lady Sarah Pole Room is done in warm red and cream and has a cozy corner fireplace.
Dining at Ballyfin House:
Continental cuisine with Irish flair dominates the menu. All three meals are included in the room rate, and guests can choose among a wide range of dining locations, from the formal state dining room to the glass conservatory to a tower overlooking the property. In summer, meals can be served al fresco.
The Grotto, in the beech woods overlooking Ballyfin’s lake, is a lovely dining setting for romantic couples, with the staff providing a warming bonfire, and lighting hundreds of candles to illuminate the night. Sometimes, a local Irish storyteller will stop by to enchant guests with some almost-true Irish legends, as night falls.
One sample from the ever-changing menu: Glen Barrow lamb with aubergines, followed by West Cork lobster trimmed with veal sweetbreads and macaroni and aged parmesan. A luxuriously rich chocolate mousse can top off the meal. Guests are welcome to visit the wine cellar to choose their own wine for dinner – and they may request to have their meal served there as well.
Destination Weddings at Ballyfin House:
Couples who book destination weddings at Ballyfin can reserve all 15 guestrooms for family and friends. There is also a cottage on the grounds, and that can accommodate five to six additional attendees.
Ballyfin doesn’t offer wedding packages, based on management’s conviction that each wedding and/or honeymoon is absolutely unique. Instead, a Ballyfin wedding planner will consult with couples, discussing every wish, and will follow up with a detailed cost estimate.The wedding ceremony can be held in the mansion, the gardens, by the lake, or in one of several local churches, returning to Ballyfin for the reception.
Americans can marry in Ireland reasonably easily, just by doing a little bit of footwork before the big day. According to Ireland-based Michelle Mc Dermott, of Mc Events & Dream Irish Wedding, residency is not required, however non-Ireland residents must give the government at least three months’ notice that they intend to marry in Ireland.
If the couple’s situation is fairly straightforward (e.g., neither party has been married before) the paperwork can typically be processed by mail. “One meeting with the registrar is required, but quite often it can be conducted only five days before the wedding, subject to the registrar’s approval,” Mc Dermott says. Certificates can be obtained the first working day after the wedding.
Activities at Ballyfin House:
Romance permeates this historic country estate. Borrow a rowboat (or have the butler row you) around the lake, sipping a perfectly chilled white wine. Stroll the 600-acre demesne, or ride through the grounds in a 19th-century pony and trap. Get involved in the cooking. Couples are welcome to stroll to the hen house to gather eggs for their breakfast, to pick their own salad greens in the walled garden, to gather flowers to trim their table, or even to collaborate with the chef on their dinner menu. Private cooking classes can also be arranged. Ballyfin’s downstairs pub is cozy and fun, with Irish music and step dancing on some nights.
Nearby Ballyfin House:
The nearby medieval city of Kilkenny is rich in sights, beginning with Kilkenny Castle
, built in 1195 by the first Earl of Pembroke, to protect the crossing of the River Noir. Two major cathedrals are not to be missed, and there are good craft shops and restaurants. Nature lovers can hike in the gentle hills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains. Guided walks are available. A well-known local artist will take guests on “off the beaten path” tours of County Offaly, including a visit to Clonmacnoise
, a monastery founded between 545 and 548 A.D., and famous for its distinctive high crosses.
Drawbacks at Ballyfin House:
Ballyfin closes from just after Christmas through March 9, which won’t suit every couple’s schedule. (It will, however, open for exclusive-use guests, including for destination weddings.) Because the house has only 15 guestrooms, if it is not fully booked, guests can sometimes feel as though they are rattling around alone. It lacks the buzz of a big hotel, which can be viewed either as a negative or a positive.
Ballyfin House Vibe:
Ballyfin is all about casual elegance. Despite the fine art, antique furnishings, vast grounds, and glorious food, it manages to create a relaxed, “just dropping by to visit the aristocracy” sort of feeling. The staff takes care to cultivate that spirit, making a stay feel like laid-back luxury, rather than an exercise in intimidation. The property is also made to order for romance, from its grotto and gardens to its oversized bathtubs and cozy bar.
Ballyfin House Info and Reservations:
County Laois, Ireland
Tel: +353 (0)5787 55866
Official Hotel Website
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As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary accommodation and meals for the purpose of reviewing those services. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy .