If you want to stay in a charming and stylish hideaway for your staycation, not far from historic sights, stunning scenery and close to a range of activities, then Ireland’s Blue Book is recommended reading. Comprising country house hotels, elegant Georgian manors, stately castles, historic hotels, luxury boutique hotels there is something to suit all tastes and requirements. We’ve selected four of the best hotels in Northern Ireland where you can be as lazy or as active as you wish – relaxing in comfortable surroundings or visiting a wealth of local attractions. Ireland’s Blue Book Vouchers are welcomed at all the properties …
Bushmills Inn, Co Antrim
Long before Game of Thrones popularised the coast of County Antrim, Bushmills Inn was a destination for foodies and hotel aficionados. Originally a coaching inn, dating from the 1600s, set in the pretty village of Bushmills, it’s now one of Northern Ireland’s most luxurious hotels, with peat fires, sumptuous rooms, and interesting nooks and crannies. As the perfect base to explore the coastline and also work up an appetite, there is plenty of (Instagrammable) scenery in the vicinity. No visit would be complete without a walk on the beach at Whitepark Bay, a visit to the Giant’s Causeway (a World Heritage site) and the iconic Dark Hedges. Bushmills is, of course, a magnet for whiskey enthusiasts and you’ll find each of the 41 charming rooms (decorated with oak beams) are all named after Irish whiskies. Some rooms overlook the River Bush, others the lush patio which is the perfect spot for a leisurely coffee. The distillery is a mere stone’s throw from the hotel, which has its own private cask for tasting in the gas-lit bar. Golfers are also drawn to the hotel given its proximity to Royal Portrush Golf Course – the recent home of the Irish Open – which features the Valley course and the world-famous Dunluce course, both overlooking the pounding Atlantic ocean. Members include professionals Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell – Bushmills Inn has a helipad, should you wish to avail of this A-list amenity.
Once you’re back to the hotel – comfort and culinary delights await. Dinner in the award-winning Taste of Ulster restaurant (set in former 17th-century stables) is a treat. Guests also have access to intimate screenings of the latest blockbusters or old-time classics in the exclusive surroundings of the Inn’s Still Room cinema. Re-opening July 20, 2020, the Afternoon Tea and Sunday carvery are other highlights around which you should plan a stay. www.bushmillsinn.com
Ardtara Country House & Restaurant
The historic ruins of Mussenden Temple, Downhill and Benone beaches and the Seamus Heaney HomePlace, celebrating the life and literature of the poet and Nobel Laureate, are all located within easy reach of Ardtara Country House & Restaurant. Nestled on a ten-acre estate, Ardtara Country House & Restaurant is an elegant Victorian manor, the former home of adventurer and linen baron Harry Jackson Clark. It retains the feel of a private house with many original features and has an impressive baby grand piano in the entrance hall. The serene setting is matched with seamless service and an award-winning restaurant, where the emphasis is on using seasonal local produce and fruit and vegetables grown in Ardtara’s own gardens.
The downstairs drawing room and bar are perfect for lingering over a pre-dinner drink, while the hunting-themed Clark restaurant is where chef’s menus will leave you sated and sighing with contentment. There are nine bedrooms overlooking the gardens, decorated in heather tones, with airy bathrooms, original (working) fireplaces and modern amenities. A sound sleep is assured in such a tranquil setting.
After a hearty breakfast which includes treats such as organic porridge with whiskey cream and honey, smoked salmon with free-range scrambled eggs, there are several recommended scenic drives. The top of Binevenagh mountain has the most spectacular view across Lough Foyle to Donegal in the west. On the way back, take the coast road via Castlerock where you’ll find the 300-year-old thatched roof Hezlett House. For fishermen, Ardtara is also close to several good rivers (fly fishing on the River Bush and course fishing on the River Bann) and ghillies are available by request. Re-opening July 22 2020. www.ardtara.com
Newforge House, Co Armagh
Newforge House has been in owner John Mathers’ family for six generations. An excellent example of an idyllic Georgian country house, it is ivy-clad and set in 40 acres of lush grounds with mature gardens, while indoors, many original features have been retained creating a sense of gentility and intimacy. Chilling out is encouraged, while comfort is assured. The house has just six individually decorated bedrooms, many containing family heirlooms, which boast modern bathrooms, and a pillow menu. This five-star service is matched by the first class food. Meals are carefully prepared by John, a trained chef, using seasonal local produce and vegetables grown at Newforge House. Dinner is legendary – served at 8pm, guests are requested to arrive at 7.30pm for a drink in the drawing room first. (Choose from a list of some 30 gins and 21 whiskies). While the dinner menu has a few choices of starter, main course and pudding, less is decidedly more in this case. Many local residents have been known to book into Newforge House for the evening, to fully enjoy the experience!
Meanwhile for more adventurous guests there is plenty to visit in the area. Magharalin is a pretty village on the doorstep, while Co Armagh is a spiritual paradise and ancient historical hub. Cathedrals are the order of the day as is art history – two windows at the Church of St John the Evangelist in Gilford were recently discovered to be by stained glass artist Harry Clarke. Historians will be inspired by Navan Fort – an important archaeological site linked in legend with the tales of Cúchulainn. While The Argory – a National Trust property – and Hillsborough Castle & Gardens – the Queen’s official residence in Ireland, are both recommended and sustain the elegant vibe perpetuated in Newforge. Re-opening July 21, 2020. www.newforgehouse.com
Bishop’s Gate, Co Derry-Londonderry
Bishop’s Gate Hotel is an elegant Edwardian property, perfect for those looking to explore the walled city of Derry-Londonderry. It was a former gentlemen’s club which once hosted Winston Churchill and WB Yeats and is now epitomised by the friendliness of its welcome and ideal situation. It’s in the Cathedral Quarter, within walking distance of many of the main visitors attractions – next door to the 1813 neoclassical courthouse and across the street from the Bishop of Derry’s former residence. It’s two minutes’ walk from the ancient city walls, and only five minutes down to the riverfront and the excellent Tower Museum. Alternatively, Bishop’s Gate has bikes to rent for a cycle around the 400-year-old city.
The award-winning boutique hotel is defined by its tasteful restoration, elegant staff uniforms and 28 rooms all in a chic palette of greys, sage greens, burnt orange and plums, with quirky touches such as antique phones and alarm clocks. The Wig Bar in the former billiard room is lined with bookshelves and portraits of club members, with an open fire, marble-topped bar and serves posh pub grub. The adjoining Gown Champagne Bar and Restaurant, named as a nod to the courthouse next door, is romantically candlelit in the evenings and favours classical French style dining with a twist. The wine list, adorned with witty quotations from Joan Collins, Hemingway and Madame Lily Bollinger, has very good tasting notes. The afternoon tea is especially popular served in a lovely drawing room with a portrait of the eccentric Bishop Augustus Hervey over the fireplace. Re-opening July 3, 2020. www.bishopsgatehotelderry.com
Need to know: For further information on all of these hotels and the other 56 properties in the Ireland’s Blue Book collection, which also includes a number of award winning restaurants, five of whom have been awarded Michelin stars, visit www.irelandsbluebook.com
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