This isn't a stay option for everyone --- and that's why you should thank them for it, because the Toms, Dicks and Harrys that make your hotel a long, loud clatterspace are nowhere in evidence. The loudest shout you'll hear at Ballymaloe House is the excited squeal of a toddler who rounds a shrubbery and comes across --- ducklings!
Yes, it's going to make a dent in your paypacket. But it'll smoothe out several months' worth of creases in your forehead. And as the (5-course) menu explains, this isn't cheap food; it is food that has been lovingly grown, collected locally and dished up the good, slow, old-fashioned way.
Each room here has unique character, quirks and comforts both. My friend stayed in a lavendar- and lilac-themed bouquet of a bedroom (called the castle suite), so pretty she said it broke her heart to take the soap out of its little dish and disturb the 'just so' Victorian elegance. My own room, half of the family suite (yet another friend had the other half), was up a little recessed flight of steps (children would adore this one for hide-and-seek). Inside, the toile wallpaper was perfectly matched with furnishings ditto, an exquisite quilt the colour of fresh cream, a tiny but adorable little bath, and a gorgeous view over the frontage, outlined in climbing creepers of pale yellow roses. And a little fireplace to boot.
The dining rooms are a series of enchantingly decorated small to medium rooms in different country cottage colours. The food is really to die for, some of the produce grown in the kitchen gardens off to one side and the rest sourced from nearby farms. Proximity to the sea ensures gorgeous seafood, including fried fish (catch of the day at Ballycotton or kippers) for breakfast to go with the divine stoneground porridge that made converts of even the oatmeal-haters in our little group who remembered the offputting pap from schoolday mornings. Don't miss their oven-fresh scones, homemade strawberry jam, rhubarb-ginger preserves and marmalade to go with the iconic Irish brown sodabread; plus the lovely currant-speckled spotted dog (rather like the barm brack served for tea). There's just-squeezed juice, muesli made with the apples just coming into season when we stayed, more apples poached in a light, sweet geranium-flavoured syrup and a creamy homemade yoghurt. Fresh farm cream and pats of newly churned butter round off your meal.
Walk it off as you wander the extensive grounds. There's a bird sanctuary, the yards where the freerange geese and ducks and chickens and turkeys roam, pheasants and wood pigeons in the groves that just might turn up for your lunch. Little benches every few yards make a great reststop for time spent with a good book. There's a golf course and a swimming pool if you prefer a more urbane style of natural exertion. The kitchen gardens are a good place to grab a snack --- raspberry canes and pear trees bend over with the weight of fruit.
Lady of the house Myrtle Allen (now 82) made simple, traditional rustic cooking fashionable over Frenchified restaurant cooking almost singlehandedly in the 1970s, and her daughter-in-law Darina Allen is Ireland's best chef. Indeed, the latter has become something of a global phenomenon, concentrating on organic, local produce grown and cooked with care and time. Her cookery school a stone's throw away sees students from all corners of the earth, and they can't get enough of the kitchen gardening, pig-rearing and curing, and diverse cookery classes and one-day demos. At night, enjoy a sumptuous 5-course meal of soup, salad, main course, cheese plate and dessert trolley that draws on their beautifully trained staff's expertise (let their resident cellar specialist guide you through the wine list or sit back with a ladylike elderflower cordial if you've got the babies along).
Then make your way to the drawing room for a music session with son of the house Rory Allen, whose jokes should help shake all that good food down nicely.
The only bits we didn't manage, because we spent a day at the Ballymaloe Cookery School (and ate our own cooking!) and got them to pack a picnic lunch to eat on the clifftop walks along Ballycotton Bay, were the shop in the House and the sitdown lunch!
I'd go back as soon as the bank balance recovers a tad.
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- Also Known As:
- Ballymaloe House Hotel Shanagarry
- Ballymaloe Hotel