Europe’s new capital of decadence isn’t where you might think – The Telegraph

Think of Europe’s most decadent destinations and Ireland might not be the first place that springs to mind. The dramatic yet somewhat drizzly country has always done understated but high-end hospitality well, with grand dames such as Ashford Castle, Adare Manor and Ballyfin hosting well-heeled visitors for decades (more than eight of them, in Ashford Castle’s case). 

But these places have had something of a monopoly, with not much in the way of new blood or breadth – until now.

Cashel Palace and Carton House are two of the country’s newest luxury hotels and there are almost a dozen high-end openings planned over the next couple of years, including a five star in Georgian Dublin from Ashford Castle’s owner, Red Carnation Hotels.

New blood and Michelin madness

Ireland’s gastronomic scene is also booming, with a new generation of chefs reframing Irish hospitality and cuisine. Michelin’s most recent round of awards in February gave the nod to 21 restaurants around the country and upgraded a pair of Dublin restaurants, Chapter One and Liath, to two-star status. Just outside Dublin, Aimsir at Cliff at Lyons is another noteworthy two-star spot with a hyper-local approach and Nordic touches. This is special event eating, with a procession of 18 small but sensational dishes using locally sourced ingredients foraged, fished, caught and grown on the island that change with the seasons.




Fishing by the boathouse at Carton House

Holiday rentals are also increasingly reflecting the growing demand for the secluded and ultra-special. Unique Homestays’ latest property, Limehouse Cottage is a stylish but sensitively renovated cottage perfect for a romantic, undisturbed getaway for two in splendid isolation on the Ring of Kerry, with an outdoor rock-hewn bath for stargazing.

Gateways to the drama

New destination restaurants and hotels also unlock parts of the country often overlooked by visitors en route to the more dramatic landscapes of the west and south. In Ireland’s horse-breeding heartland, County Tipperary, is the hotly anticipated Cashel Palace, which opened in March. The views from the extensive rear gardens are reason enough to check in. From here you have uninterrupted views of the Rock of Cashel, one of Ireland’s must-see heritage sights, a cluster of ecclesiastical buildings high above on a rocky outcrop that was recently visited by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall on their visit to Ireland.




From Cashel Palace you have uninterrupted views of the Rock of Cashel, one of Ireland’s must-see heritage sights


Credit: Getty

Cashel is owned by horseracing tycoon John Magnier and family, who also own neighbouring Coolmore Stud, arguably the world’s most successful bloodstock operation. Given the local interest, the big reveal was always going to be something of an event and thanks to its owners’ deep pockets, the hotel is now as well turned out as a Coolmore champion on race day.

A palace with pizzazz

Built in 1732 for an Archbishop, the Palladian-style mansion sits at the end of an avenue off Cashel’s main street. It became a hotel in 1959 and enjoyed a golden age but was on the shabbier side of chic before closing its doors 20 years ago. It now channels an intimate, polished country-house look, with reception rooms that feel grand and gracious, scattered with fine pieces of period furniture and welcoming crackling log fires. Walls are mainly filled with reproductions from the Magnier’s gallery-grade private collection, with works by Sir John Lavery and L S Lowry. 




Cashel Palace channels an intimate, polished country-house look


Credit: Michelle Chaplow

The grandest of the 42 rooms are the four suites on the first floor of the original house, with seven more attic-style rooms on the second and the rest of the rooms scattered between a new garden wing, a carriage house, schoolhouse and gate lodge. Before the arrival of motorways threading their way through the Irish countryside, Cashel was a stopping-off point for generations of Irish travellers heading south, so the nostalgia factor for some return visitors is high.

Beyond the facilities

Tipperary is at the heart of Ireland’s most fecund food-producing region, known as the Golden Vale, so provenance plays a big part at the Bishop’s Buttery, the fine dining restaurant in the vaulted basement, with the likes of Castletownbere crab on the menu.

As well as a slick spa, Cashel has coveted fishing rights on the rivers Suir and Aherlow. But a one-of-a-kind privilege afforded to guests is the services of the Equine concierge, who can arrange a behind-the-scenes tour of Coolmore Stud in nearby Fethard that also calls into Ballydoyle Stables, home to renowned trainer Aidan O’Brien.

Then there is the chance to explore the velvety green countryside dotted with ancient ruins, empty mountains, rivers and sleepy villages. Hike a section of the Tipperary Heritage Way, a walking trail that follows the path of the River Suir between Cashel and The Vee in the Knockmealdown Mountains further south, and you may well not encounter another soul. Ambling alongside the lazy flow of the river will take you to the serene and spectacular remains of the 12th-century Athassel Abbey, once one of Ireland’s most important Anglo-Norman monasteries, lesser known than its more famous neighbour, the Rock, but refreshingly free of any crowds.

More ‘zhuzhy’ mansions

Some 100 miles north, Carton House, one of Ireland’s finest Palladian mansions, reopened last summer with a regal reboot.




Carton House is one of Ireland’s finest Palladian mansions


Credit: JACK HARDY

Surveying 1,100 acres of rolling County Kildare countryside, another hotbed of horse breeding , this grandest of grand residences dates from 1739 when the 19th Earl Robert Fitzgerald commissioned architect, Richard Castles, to design the current house, which eventually became a hotel in 2000. 

The original house now has 18 heritage-style bedrooms with hand-printed wallpapers, stained floorboards and unfussy fabrics; the remaining 151 rooms are housed in the newer zhuzhed-up Garden Wing. The shimmering Gold Salon is filled with frothy Baroque stucco work, while the Morrison Room is the setting for the hotel’s fine dining restaurant.

Days can be spent in the spa, on two golf courses, or clay pigeon shooting. Carton is close enough to the capital for day trips or dinners out in Dublin, but Kildare offers up its own under-the-radar treasures, such as the equally opulent Castletown House, just five miles from Carton and another of Ireland’s standout Palladian piles that is open to visitors.




Carton House’s shimmering Gold Salon is filled with frothy Baroque stucco work


Credit: Barry Murphy Photography

Sign up for the estate tour and you can visit the Chinese Boudoir, where Queen Victoria slept, and might even be allowed a peek at the fairytale Shell Cottage, one-time home of singer Marianne Faithful and the scene of some legendary parties. It seems these A-list addresses are ready to welcome royalty both real and rock once again.


How to do it

Cashel Palace (00 353 62 620 002; cashelpalacehotel.ie) and Carton House (00 353 1 505 2000; cartonhouse.com) both offer doubles from £265 including breakfast. Unique Homestays (01637 881 183; uniquehomestays.com) offers three nights at Lime House Cottage from £995.

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