Certain places on the planet are destinations unto themselves. Ballyfin Demesne is such a locale. Indeed, many travelers may find themselves responding the country house’s name when asked where their journey is taking them versus the idyllic country where it makes its home: Ireland. Yes, a visit to Ballyfin is nothing short of magical, one that forever embeds memories in hearts.
Nestled at the foot of Ireland’s Slieve Bloom Mountains, the 614-acre property’s grounds charm upon entering the front gate. A sense of adventure takes hold when spying cyclists zipping along trails, falconry lessons underway with Ballyfin’s resident eagles, hawks, falcons and owls, and, out on the lake, a wooden boat floating lazily for some afternoon fishing. There’s a lot to be discovered at Ballyfin, but first, getting acquainted with the five-star luxury accommodations is in order.
Stepping Back in Time
Architecture buffs will recognize design elements from the Regency Period when taking in Ballyfin. The house was built by Sir Charles Cootes in the 1820s for a life of “refined leisure” filled with days of “tea on the terrace or skating in the walled garden.”
A century later, Ballyfin was sold and converted into a school for boys. Its transformation into the hotel it is today occurred in 2011. As for children on the premises these days, only those aged nine and above can accompany their family to the estate. With this in mind, couples visiting on a babymoon will want to plan a return trip nine years in the future to introduce their offspring to Ballyfin’s hidden wonders that speak directly to young imaginations. More on those later…
Ballyfin’s “registration” area is located in an elegant drawing room. This one-on-one transaction concludes with guests being escorted to accommodations of which Sir Cootes would approve. Four-poster beds, fireplaces, opulent textiles and marble bathrooms promise every comfort.
Rather than unpack suitcases, there’s another way to choose attire for dinner — “dress-up” for adults via period attire from Chicago’s Lyric Opera. Ballyfin has a designated costume department, where a dresser helps guests choose just the right frocks — not to mention hats, jewels and accessories — for stepping back in time during an elegant dinner.
Once bedecked, it’s time to embrace the evening, starting with a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. The parklands at twilight have a magic all their own. A favorite moment — erupting from the ancient forest to a view of the moon reflected off the lake’s surface.
A Seat at the Table
Next up, dinner by candlelight in Ballyfin’s intimate dining room. Sommelier Magdalena Mocek suggests wine pairings from Ballyfin’s cellar. Delivered to the table — delectable morsels from Head Chef Sam Moody, like Freshford Spring Lamb with leek, barley, goat cheese and almonds. Having passed the property’s walled garden during the carriage ride, there’s little doubt the produce featured will be fresh from the garden.
Keeping the evening going is a live performance downstairs in the moody red music room and whiskey tastings in the cellar. There’s no need to grow wistful as the night draws to an end. More adventures await in the morning.
Exploring Ballyfin’s Grounds
Whiling away hours in Ballyfin is easily done. There’s lounging by the indoor swimming pool. Tucking away for a spot of tea and hot chocolate chip cookies in the library. Poke around a bit to happen upon bookshelf that serves as the surprise entrance to a conservatory.
What to do next? Archery? Clay pigeon shooting? Perhaps horseback riding with a stop for a picnic.
A glimpse at the well-manicured grounds with myriad gardens confirms it — exploring is in order.
Step outside to see there’s more than flora to admire. Round one turn to find a cave. Follow a rock path to where a grotto waits.
Standing vigil from a hill is a folly. Waving as if to beckon one closer is a flag atop this medieval-style tower built in the 1860s.
From the hilltop, the demesne sprawls in all its glory. Nearby are some Ireland’s famous sights, including the National Stud and Japanese Gardens, the medieval town of Kilkenny and the culturally rich city center of Dublin. All worthy pursuits. But there’s no reason to rush time travel via Ballyfin. Besides, there are more gems to encounter, more memories to be made.