As you know readers, our blog keeps its ears constantly pinned to the ground listening out for the footsteps of unusual accommodations. Recently, those footsteps have been more a rumble then a gentle pitter-patter.
That rumble is Ireland’s Blue Book, a directory for country homes, Georgian manors and stately castles. We’re pretty convinced if it was physically possible to shrink Northern Ireland and pass it through a sieve to filter some of the most romantic retreats in country house living, these five would pass through this process faster than a bag of flour. Here are five corkers that David McEvoy has trussed together for you . . . .
Montalto Estate, County Down
Tread carefully. Those ooohh’s and aaahh’s of viewing pleasure will be hard to suppress in the shadow of Montalto Estate. It’s a speech bubble frenzy waiting to happen, if our thoughts and remarks were projected in that way. Anchored in 400 acres of rolling, wooded countryside, Montalto is one that can leave you stumped. A good stumped. We’re talking woodland paths formed and moulded by the traipsing of past visitors, elegant embellishments along the lines of walled gardens, a secreted summerhouse and clusters of blooming bluebell and lavender bushes. Pop inside this 236 year old pile and its cherished antique fixtures really mirror Montalto’s historical timeline. All that’s left to do really is wrap up in a warm quilt in the sleepy sounding Linen Room. Sweet dreams.
Ardtara Country House, County Londonderry
With our sifting kicking into full motion, Ardtara Country House Hotel is next to fall through. Ardtara has picked up several accolades along the way including being named ‘the most romantic hotel in Ireland’, by the AA. So, for lovers/dreamers chasing that fluffy air of romance, Ardtara is well versed in setting the ambiance. High ceilings, antiques drafted in and accumulated since the 19thcentury by the previous owners, (the Clark family, world famous linen makers), are all commonplace behind its walls. Evenings can be spent all cosy and snug in front of original working fireplaces immersed in chat and the promised romance. When morning comes, you can take your perch for a restful view of the extensive lawns and nature that break out onto the lush countryside. We envy the birds that can take that perch here all year round. We suspect they chirp a particularly happy little melody round here.
Newforge House, County Armagh
Cradled in the quiet country surrounds of , Newforge House is another we just had to signpost for you. Taking Newforge House head on, it’s hard to deny its allure. Its facade boasts ivy-clad walls, while ancient trees tickle its sides. Impressively, its been passed on and handled by six generations of family, a lineage that has rallied around this splendour bringing it to how it stands today. Inside, original period features and antiques remain, but a contemporary feel lingers. Most of all, culinary whims are seen to, with menus for all four seasons rustled up on site. Any gastronomic excesses can be walked off just off its grounds, and Lake are close, as well as plenty of marinas to stroll along at . There might be more a pep in your step though, knowing you’ll be returning to quarters of the heavenly variety.
Belle Isle Castle, County Fermanagh
An island retreat and dubbed one of Northern Ireland’s ‘Hidden gems’ by The Irish Times, Belle Isles’ (wait for it) 470 acre (!!!) site is, well, a bit special. Once upon a time this fortified structure was only a residence for nobility, but now it’s a stomping ground, well, for people who want to stomp like a King or Queen. Now, ‘Fortified Castle’ implies a structure built for power and defence, but in Belle Isle’s case, this fortification is draped and shrouded in luxury. All your fishing and croquet needs are seen to, as well as foraging your own freshly laid eggs from the chickens on the grounds. The castle itself has floor to ceiling windows for you to peer out of (no arrow-silts here these days) and sigh at the loveliness of lake and land. Days can be spent learning culinary classics at the famous cooking school, while evenings can be spent in the impressive long hall for a feast and glass raising to being king or queen of the Castle.
Bushmills Inn, County Antrim
The Bushmills Inn is no spring chicken. In fact this cosy number began life as a coach house and stables in 1608, the same year the Bushmills Distillery itself was granted its first licence to distill. Over the years the Inn has taken on many guises, once a home for allied troops in WWII. From its white-paneled, lighthouse-feel entrance to its nooks where a seat can be had beside an open turf fire, it’s got a quaint cuteness that’s hard not to (literally) embrace. A big feature of the rooms in Bushmills is the hayloft snugs in the rooms (I always dreamed about having one of these as a kid). After a day of stamping across basalt columns at The Giant’s Causeway, The Bushmills Inn is commonly known as the pit-stop to sample a freshly distilled namesake on ice. Sláinte, readers.
We weren’t joking when we said we have out ear to the ground for unusual accommodations. We’ve tapped the Hidden Ireland’s county house B&Bs and the Irish Landmark Trust’s lighthouses and towers to stay in.