Thursday, November 3, 2016

Ireland's Hotel Happiness

Waterford Castle
Condé Nast has bestowed on the Irish tourism industry – and Irish hotels and golf resorts in particular – an important mantle. Following publication of the magazine’s Best Hotels of the World and Top Resorts in Europe awards, Ireland can boast several of the best hotels/resorts… and the number one hotel in the world.

Take a bow Ballyfin Demesne. Condé Nast’s 300,000 readers awarded the hotel a score of 99.11 out of 100.

Conde Nast Best Hotels of the World

For those of you who don’t know Ballyfin, it’s a few miles outside Portlaoise. With only 20 rooms and a 614-acre estate this is serious hideaway luxury. The hotel is a former Regency mansion which took eight years to renovate.

Ballyfin’s guests might not be too interested in golf but there are some excellent/fun courses close to hand - Mountrath and Portarlington most notably. Not surprisingly, however, the Ballyfin website only lists the glamour courses, with the nearby Ballesteros course at The Heritage mentioned alongside the K Club (81 km) and Mount Juliet (78 km). It’s all about luxury, darling.
The K Club's charming par three beside the River Liffey.
The other two hotels in the top ten have stronger ties to golf. In 9th place is The Lodge at Ashford Castle, Co Mayo, which enjoyed a €68 million makeover in 2015. It is separate to the renowned and multi-award winning Ashford Castle next door, but it is owned by the same group (Red Carnation Hotels Collection). Far more importantly, they share a 9-hole golf course on the castle grounds – designed by Eddie Hackett, no less. What better way to warm up for dinner than with a quick spin round the course. Golf is complimentary to hotel guests, although the links at Connemara may prove irresistible as the drive through the Connemara landscape and the scenery on offer from the course are breathtaking.
The 2nd green at Waterford Castle
In 7th position is a resort far more familiar to golfers: Waterford Castle has been investing heavily since being taken over in March 2015, and the golf course has benefitted as a result. Yes, the hotel receives all the plaudits (including the Michelin-starred Munster Room restaurant) but the 18-hole golf course is stretched across this 310 acre island and you have to take a private ferry to get here.

Ireland is the only country to have multiple winners in the top 10 Best Hotels of the World:
1. Ballyfin Demesne, Co Laois, Ireland
2. COMO The Treasury, Perth, Australia
3. Hotel Matilda, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
4. Umaid Bhawan Palace (Taj), Jodhpur, India
5. Summer Lodge Country House Hotel, Dorset, England
6. Virgin Hotels Chicago, Illinois, US
7. Waterford Castle, Co Waterford, Ireland
8. Hotel Unique, São Paulo, Brazil
9. The Lodge at Ashford Castle, Co Mayo, Ireland
10. Hotel Il Pellicano, Tuscany, Italy

Conde Nast Top Resorts in Europe

Of the top 25 European resorts, four are in Ireland… and all four have their own golf course!

In 5th place is Ashford Castle – see The Lodge at Ashford Castle above.
The new 6th hole at Trump Doonbeg
In 20th place is Trump International Hotel & Golf Links. Investment is the name of the game for most of the Irish hotels and resorts on these two lists… and Doonbeg is no different. The Greg Norman-designed links course received the Martin Hawtree treatment over the last two years, opening for full play a few months ago.

In 21st position is Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort. I rate the course as the best parkland in Ireland, but let’s not forget that the entire resort is currently closed as it enjoys a multi-million makeover. Talk of Fazio’s redesign has golfing pundits salivating. And when it re-opens (2017 is planned) the resort should rise up these rankings.

The final resort is Dromoland Castle, at number 24. Personally, I think the parkland course which wraps around the castle is hugely under-rated. It has everything you could ask for in terms of variety and challenges and beauty.

These Irish winners are luxury destinations and are therefore beyond the reach of many Irish golfers, but if these awards make international travellers sit up and take notice of what Ireland has to offer then that can only be a positive thing. After all, Condé Nast carries a lot of weight. And, even if you don’t stay, there’s nothing to stop you playing the golf courses.

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