There are just around one hundred manor homes left in Ireland today that survived the revolutionary troubles of the early 20th century, and Ballyfin Demesne, a 614-acre property in County Laois, is one the grandest to have been spared. Following an eight-year conservation project so extensive and thorough there’s an entire book about it, Ballyfin is now not only one of the most lavish Regency-era mansions in the country, it’s one of, if not the most, most luxurious and private places to stay in the world.
Once a private home so grand it makes the mind boggle, Ballyfin was used for decades as a Catholic boys’ school, and later purchased in the early aughts by an American businessman who made it his life’s world to restore the home and its extensive grounds. Since opening in 2011 as a hotel, Ballyfin has earned a reputation not so much as a place to stay, but as an opportunity to be had—one you feel lucky to have had and that you’ll remain in awe of for some time after leaving its gates.
Many of the paintings and floors in Ballyfin are original to their creation, lending a feeling that what is, always was and that your stay is just an additional detail in the home’s centuries of history. Today the mansion is filled with a deep sense of pride apparent in the daily intimate history tours offered to guests and the staff, several of whom quite literally grew up in the home when it was a boys’ school and exams were staged in what is now the dining room.
It’s easy to keep your mouth agape during your time at Ballyfin, from the moment of the grand reveal of the house following a two-kilometer drive from the front gate to a horse carriage ride around the 28-acre lake (complete with wild swans), to an evening stroll, cocktail in hand, through the flower-filled grounds. The grounds alone are dreamy-worthy and were both historically reconstructed and reimagined by the renowned Irish landscape designer Jim Reynolds.
No single expense was spared in the restoration of Ballyfin, leaving an otherworldly sense of magic. The folly (or fake castle ruins) that was constructed in the 19th century, has been restored in its faux-history glory, the glass conservatory which was virtually destroyed from years of boys’ footballs being flung through its glass panels was carted away, curved piece by curved piece to a restorer in the UK before being shipped back and reassembled at the back of the mansion. Ceiling plaster was restored and recreated, period and period-inspired furniture lugged in, and bathrooms were refitted in marble soaking tub glory. One night here and you’re transported back in time, to a life upstairs, where luxury, privacy, and romance are mere words that can only hint at describing your surroundings.
Location: County Laois, Ireland
Star-Rating: Five Stars
The Vibe: Downton Abbey meets ultra-luxury Irish country hotel
Our Favorite Thing About the Hotel? The curation of the experience. Everything at Ballyfin has been meticulously planned to give you an experience, unlike anything you will likely encounter again. From the long drive from the gates to the front of the house where you are greeted by a line of staff, given a warm towel and a glass of champagne, to the bar that magically appears before dinner in the drawing rooms, to the golf carts and horse carriage waiting to give you a tour of the grounds (folly castle ruins and grotto included).
Food + Drink: Meals—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—are served in a long dining room and are included in the price of your stay. The menu is decidedly Irish and draws from what’s fresh and in-season. In the warmer months, lunch is served alongside statues and plants in the glass conservatory. Before dinner drinks and canapes are served in the drawing rooms. The whole operation is overseen by a former Michelin Star reviewer so there is nothing out of place.
Any Neighborhood Recs? You would be mistaken to leave the grounds. However, if the outside world truly calls to you, indulge in the country pursuits of hiking in the nearby Slieve Bloom Mountains.
Amenities: A former school building now attached to the manor home houses an indoor pool and spa. There is no shortage of outdoor pursuits, from on-property fishing, horseback riding, clay pigeon shooting, archery, and falconry. You can explore the ground by yourself in one of Ballyfin’s golf carts, or take a guided tour of the property on a horse and carriage ride (a highlight of any stay here). Each room is equipped with discreet TVs and Dyson hair dryers (IYKYK).
What’s Nearby: The beautiful Slieve Bloom Mountains. Dublin is a day trip away.
Rooms: Ballyfin has just 21 rooms, adding to the overarching feeling of privacy. Each room is uniquely appointed and decorated.
Pricing: Rates from $865.
Closest Airport: Dublin is the closest airport, but Ballyfin has its own helicopter landing port, naturally.
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