When you discover a secret gem like this one, it takes everything to stop yourself from sharing it with the world. I’ve been putting off writing this post for days, for fear that all the world will book in and I won’t be able to go back to my new favourite short-haul getaway spot. That said, it would be a tragedy for you not to hear about Ballyvolane House, the Irish countryside retreat that you’re going to fall in love with.
So, how did I stumble across such a hidden secret? Well, it all sounds like something out of a spy movie. Through the most random series of events, including a 24-hours flight delay and a contact at the East Hotel, Hong Kong, I was introduced to Jonathan, who shares my passion for luxurious retreats. Jonathan told me about Ballyvolane House, by email, which he described as officially his “favourite place in the world.” To this day, I’ve not actually met Jonathan in person but when I do I’m going to give him a massive hug in appreciation for his shared secret. I was close to tears upon leaving Ballyvolane House and whilst writing this, I’m just itching to go back. Why? Because it’s the cure for burn out. Though not yet medically proven, Ballyvolane House is where you should go to unwind from busy city life and it’s where you should go for an escape with friends and loved ones when you want a luxurious break to rejuvenate and relax. It’s a heavenly spot that forces you to slow down, relax and get your rest-face on. This was exactly what we needed.
Ballyvolane House in County Cork, Ireland, is one of the dreamiest country house retreats you can imagine. Run by a wonderful couple, Justin and Jenny Green, the house is steeped in history dating back to the 1700s. Justin’s grandparents, Cyril and Joyce Green, were rubber planters in Malaysia. They bought the house in 1953 and shaped it into their own after Joyce began to crave the farmland of her original home, Ireland. Ballyvolane was Justin’s home whilst growing up before he moved to Hong Kong to work in the hospitality industry. Incidentally, this is where he met Jenny, whilst they were both working at the famous Mandarin Oriental hotel.
The house itself is almost 290 years old and full of historic charm. Original features have been kept as they are with beautiful portraits, antiques, and heirlooms in each room. Added homely comforts in each room, like electric blankets, freshly-baked homemade cookies and the most delicious homemade blackcurrant cordial (with sweet hand drawn labels), providing an unrivalled warming homeliness.
Each room has unique features from kitsch old-fashioned pastel coloured radios, fresh flowers and these informal touches that bring warmth to this quirky boutique hotel. The hotel feels very much like a home from home in every way, the best kind of luxurious, opulent house, with warmth and character in abundance.
Room Five, our room, has antique wooden finishing, an enormous incredibly comfortable bed, a sofa and long floral curtains. It’s an opulent taste of the past with cute retro details. The piece de resistance is undoubtedly the antique bath tub taking centre-stage in the ensuite bathroom. You could lose hours reading in this bath, soaking in the luxurious toiletries from local Irish organic brand Voya.
Between the countless piles of books available to you and daydreaming, whilst watching the birds and butterflies through the garden-facing window, you’ll lose any travel-related stress or tension instantly. Having no shower forces you to slow down and wait for the perfect moment when that temperature is just right and there are more bubbles than you can see water.
Once your skin starts to resemble a wrinkly prune, wrap yourself up in one of the soft bathrobes and make yourself a tea or a coffee. Of course, every room has a Nespresso machine and a range of Solaris teas. Take your time and sip it whilst looking out at the lush, green view of the gardens and the birds soaring over them. You’re in no rush as breakfast is served until noon – you’ve got ages yet! There’s never a rush at Ballyvolane.
The ethos of relaxation and slowing down has been longstanding. Ballyvolane was managed by Justin’s parents as a countryside guesthouse until 2004 when Justin and Jenny took over the reins. Their experiences as hotel management at Soho House’s Babington House in Somerset have rubbed off on the house. With no televisions and only six bedrooms in the main house, they have created an intimate feel where the small number of guests can get to know one another. This is the case whether you’re sprawled out on a Chesterfield in front of the roaring fireplace in the drawing room, enjoying a walk in the acres of beautiful gardens or engrossed in a book, in the front room. In line with their ethos, they have made this luxury Irish country house hotel a tranquil anti-stress zone with all the components for a truly relaxing break.
The exquisite drawing room, initially used as the kitchen, was the first transformation made under Justin and Jenny’s tenure and it is the centre point of the house. It is a welcoming spot to enjoy the company of guests, get lost in a huge selection of magazines or for a game of chess. The giant floor-to-ceiling windows face southwards allowing plenty of light in, even on the most grey and rainy of Irish autumnal days.
By preserving the original cornicing, positioning the “come sit on me” Chesterfield sofas in front of the fireplace and with the deep wooden floors, the room appears at first glance in keeping with a classic country manor. However, at closer inspection, it is clear that each piece of furniture and embellishment is by design and deliberate. Of course, it would not be Ballyvolane House, if Justin and Jenny didn’t include their influences from their time living in Asia into the décor, such as the Chinoiserie mural wallpaper, the brass candles from Hong Kong and the large Oriental pots. These subtle additions layer beautifully with the original features, creating a unique relaxing space that lends itself to unwinding with a gin and tonic using their distilled-on-site gin, Bertha’s Revenge, from their well-stocked honesty bar.
Justin and Jenny’s experience at some of the best hotels internationally, combined with the warm Irish hospitality puts Ballyvolane House up there on the list as one of the best hotel stays we’ve had.
During our visit, we met a wonderful couple who were returning to Ballyvolane House where they had stayed at the time of their wedding. They had brought their family and come as a group. The Doc and I vowed that we’ll come back with our own friends and family one day as it’s truly the perfect place for a reunion gathering or a countryside house party. It’s everything you could want your new home-from-home in Ireland and the perfect spot for relaxation or recovering from burn-out, whether that be alone or with company. It’s the perfect touch of rural life some of us city-dwellers crave, but with all the luxurious comforts we need, and strong Wi-Fi as a necessary bonus.
You’ll wake up in the morning having had one of the best night’s sleep you can remember in pitch darkness. The curtains are delightfully heavy and block out all the light. Once you manage to pry yourself away from the warmth of the bed with its electric blanket, you’ll peel away the curtains to have bright natural light pouring through the double windows, giving way to gorgeous views of lush green gardens. You can spend the day relaxing with a good book, go clay-pidgeon shooting, salmon-fishing, or exploring the on-site gin distillery! But more on that in the next post, when I’ll tell you all about the absolutely incredible food and drink that you can eat and drink at Ballyvolane. Stay tuned for part II!
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My stay on a B&B basis was complimentary, but my opinions are as always, exactly my own!