A fresh wave of enticing, ultra-stylish hotels has put the Emerald Isle back on the travel map
In the stampede for holiday sun and beaches, we sometimes forget that Ireland offers both – along with lots of rain, Guinness, music and laughter.
For a start, there are lots of hacienda-style bungalows but, more usefully, a wave of new spas, foodie restaurants and contemporary hotels has made it one of the best places to choose for a short break. Here are our favourite recent discoveries, ideal for that quick escape…
The lowdown: An ultra-luxurious modern classic in the heart of Ardara, this one is a must for couples with a taste for the finer things in life. Decked out in rich velvets and cool silks in pared down hues, it boasts all the comfortable opulence you would expect from Gatsby himself.
What's special? With just five exclusive rooms, every detail is wow-worthy, with fixtures from Ralph Lauren furniture to Vera Wang china. It's also within mere walking distance of the coast and the accompanying views of the breath-taking Loughros Point.|||www.swell-group.co.uk/country/gatsby-house/house/
The lowdown: Set in a clearing overlooking Lough Corrib, Lisloughrey Lodge is a Victorian country house thats been converted into a 50-bedroom hotel mixing period features with modern touches. A deep claret dominates the interiors, with floorboards and window shutters painted matt black. The bedrooms are individually designed some have funky, purple paisley wallpaper, others more subtle country creams and golds. All have goose-down duvets, bespoke furniture and flat-screen TVs.
What's special? Theres a Canadian cedar hot tub in the orchard, plus a sauna, Pilates studio and resident masseuse. Boat trips to the islands leave from a jetty at the end of the garden, and there are excellent walking trails in nearby Connemara National Park.|||www.lisloughrey.com
The lowdown: A quirky 48-bedroom hotel, The Twelve sits in the pretty village of Bearna, just ten minutes drive from the youthful city of Galway. One road leads to the village beach and fishing pier, another to the wild, magnificent Connemara moorlands, backed by the peaks of the Twelve Pins mountains hence the name. In stark contrast to the hotels traditional exterior and thatched roof, the interiors are boldly contemporary with bespoke furniture, specially commissioned artwork, a smart restaurant and a champagne bar.
What's special? Bedrooms come with kingsize beds, iPod docking stations and mood lighting. Irish organic seaweed products are used for the spa treatments, and youll find the hotel bar resounds with Gaelic-speaking locals and traditional music.|||www.thetwelvehotel.ie
The lowdown: The Merchant is an opulent hotel nestled neatly in the heart of Belfast's historically-rich Cathedral Quarter, and as of summer 2010, the hotel will have a luxury spa, rooftop garden and jazz bar to its already impressive credentials. The food caters to a changing mood, varying from heart-warming home-comforts in The Cloth Ear, to grandiose spreads in The Great Room restaurant.
What's special? They pull out all the stops to ensure your stay meets your every need. Want your favourite kind of pillow? They'll source it. Want your room temp to be 28 degrees? It's done already. The 'Tailor Make Your Stay' service allows for truly bespoke travel.|||www.themerchanthotel.com
The lowdown: This majestic hotel can be found in the grounds of one of the most scenic and historic estates in Ireland. It boasts a 200-room resort, 'showcasing Palladian-style architecture' and 'Georgian-inspired interiors', along with two championship golf courses and stunning gardens, dating back to 1731.
What's special? You'll enjoy mighty-fine dining at the Gordon Ramsay 'signature restaurant'.|||http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Powerscourt/Default.htm
The Lowdown: A traditional beauty, bang in the centre of Dublin, The Merrion is perfect for cultured ladies who love to lunch. The award winning hotel has racked up an impressive show of awards in its 11 years of being open and has an art collection to match.
What's special? As well as boasting an inrivalled collection of contemporary Irish art, the hotel has turned its hand to reflecting the same cultural experience in it's afternoon tea, by offering up mini-masterpieces in the form of art-inspired pastries. The quirky treats are served as part of a traditonal tea in the hotel's elegant gallery come drawing room. What's more, you can follow up your Yeat's inspired mousse or Woman in White macaroon with a relaxing trip to the hotel's spa.|||www.merrionhotel.com/awards_accolades.php
The lowdown: Dublin's most famous hotel mixes traditional charm with a buzzing atmosphere; glamorous and packed out, but offering serenity in the from of it's elegant tea lounge. At weekends, the whole of Dublin seems to be checking out the new-look Shelbourne. Many of Dublin's best restaurants are also close by, such as The Unicorn (Italian, book well ahead), Bang Café (younger, cooler), and Mackerel (more casual).
What's special? The Shelbournes own Saddle Room brasserie is good, but its new bar is even better. This is see-and-be-seen territory, the epicentre of Dublin social life.|||www.marriott.co.uk
The lowdown: Possibly the hippest Dublin city centre hotel, the Morrison has played host to a bevy of stars, from Beyoncé and Jay Z to the Sugababes. Overlooking the River Liffey, this luxurious hotspot boasts a John Rocha-designed interior and is a stones throw from the bars and restaurants of Dublin's buzzing nightlife.
What's special? The penthouse: an open-plan oasis of dark woods and cream furnishings with its own Jacuzzi, eight-seat dining area and, get this, ghd straighteners.|||www.morrisonhotel.ie
The lowdown: Georgian elegance meets quirky Irish charm. Decked out with art from the Philippines and warm, earthy colours, owners Bryan and Martin have made sure you feel at home the instant you step inside.
What's special? The aroma spa and treatment rooms are super-relaxing, but it's the stunning Kilkenny countryside that'll take your breath away.|||www.kilgraneyhouse.com
The lowdown This 44-room boutique hotel is the last word inmodern luxury. Located five minutes from Dublin's larger-than-life citycentre, it's the ultimate base from which to explore the city.
What's special? Wheredo we start? The rooms are exquisitely and individually designed withFrette linen and underfloor heating, while the restaurant serves upout-of-this-world food. There's also a funky outside terrace where thecool set sip cocktails and chill out. Warning: Not one for pennypinchers.
To discover more gorgeous Irish hotels, and fun things to do in-between all the eating and relaxing, visit www.discoverireland.com.|||www.dylan.ie