Room type: Junior Suite – The Lady Caroline Coote
Duration: 15th > 16th November
It’s rare that I’m caught off guard with a hotel. Having been to so many luxury hotels, I know what I like, so will do a lot of research before booking anything to make sure it matches that criteria. Yet with Ireland so close, I just glanced at Ballyfin, saw some decent reviews and decided to go for it. This turned out to be the best way to experience the resort, as it blindsided me; I had no idea that they were going to offer something so spectacular. This is not just a stunning luxury hotel, it is one worthy of being ranked amongst the best in the world.
When the deputy GM reaches out to you prior to your arrival, you are given permission to start to be impressed. Some useful digital brochures were emailed through regarding activities and spa treatments, as well as understanding transfer times and departures. It was obligatory for me to mention that there was a birthday or two taking place around our visit. Don’t ask, don’t get.
For the transfer from Ashford Castle, Ballyfin quoted €400 – €100 more than what Ashford quoted. It seemed an easy choice to go with Ashford, but when arriving at Ballyfin and seeing that the place was made of magic, I had to realise my error; Ballyfin were only charging the extra €100 as that’s how much unicorn food must cost. It took 2.5 hours from Ashford Castle, but is just 90 minutes from Dublin airport. I think what I’m saying is you should book your return flights to Dublin.
After the small problem of no one answering the gate to let us in, only for our driver to then have to phone them to get them to open it, we arrived to find management waiting for us at the entrance. Massive land with complete privacy? Small number of guest houses? Management getting in touch prior to arrival? This was all starting to smell of an Aman.
They sure knew how to do it back in the good ol’ days. Whilst wealth now is having a penthouse apartment over looking Hyde Park, back then it was having 614 acres and a house with 20 bedrooms. It of course wouldn’t be appropriate not to have your own lake, insanely well maintained land and a list of unique areas so large that you need a map to get around. That postcard image in your mind of the quintessential English countryside resort just happens to be in Ireland.
After Ashford Castle and The Halkin, just knowing we were arriving would have been a significant upgrade. They did not wow me with how the room was setup; the temperature was not set, the memory foam pillows were not provided, but there were some snacks and a free mini bar with our preferences in it. They did also take note of everything regarding allergies.
Each room has its name, as numbers are just way too lame for Ballyfin. Our room, The Lady Caroline Coote, was a Junior Suite that over looked the front of the house and had great views onto the lake in front. The room decor is not to my style, but it is also not something that will bother me either. It’s slightly more classical than The Connaught, but still maintaining a sense of class. Excluding that lounge chair that looks like a flower bed farted on it. The style is very subjective, whereas the facilities and attention to detail can objectively be commended.
They have kept things low-tech, with actual light switches, temperature control using a knob without dials on and an actual physical key. Not once did I lock the room though, so I never bothered carrying the key with me; you don’t go around locking doors in your own home when you’re there. For the toiletries, they have used Pevonia, and then a local brand for their soap. They’re both so awesome that….not naming names, but someone, somewhere, has a suitcase full of them.
Whilst it did not feel cramped, for a Junior Suite it did not offer enough, other than the view, that would make it feel a worthwhile upgrade. But the view really is stunning. Some hotels you get just for the room. I would recommend our room, but there was very little reason to spend anytime in it, as just walking distance away from all the downstairs sitting areas. So comfortable the location made me feel, I did not bother wearing shoes when I left the room, as socks is all I’d wear at home. This is barefoot luxury, just an entirely different kind.
As I have to throw at least one negative in, the duvet situation was a rather messy affair, with something like 5 different blankets included and all of them seemingly impossible to use in a way that was neither suffocating or preventing hypothermia.
Ballyfin oozes class, but nowhere is that more prevalent then their reception rooms. Each one offers a different themed area to lounge around, drink tea and generally pretend you’re important. Some people staying there may even be important, but alas, I’m just some twat who writes pointless reviews.
Then there’s even a wine cellar. A bar. More reception rooms. Oh, and its own tower. And beautiful water features just sprinkled around the property. A lake. Gardens. Art. Mini waterfalls. I hate to think what deal with the devil they had to do to get all of this, but the devil was the loser.
Ballyfin have gone for the act of surprise with their spa, as rather than having it as a menu item like every other website in the entire world, they decided to have it under activities instead, which then meant I somehow failed to spot they even had one. Even the Google fairies struggle to find it. This means that just as you think Ballyfin could not get any better, it somehow manages to just kick it up a notch when you not only discover it, but then discover how awesome it is. Down in the basement, past more art work than a London hipsters cafe, there you will find even more peace and quiet. The entire area is heated, with loungers placed around the pool. To the left you will find a sauna, shower and the awesome jacuzzi, although you should be cautious about turning the pumps on, as they are a little bit on the aggressive side and could probably drown you, unless you’re a fish, in which case I salute you for reading this.
I’m sure there is a large collection of things to do here, but why bother when you can go rouge and try off-roading in your golf buggy?
After recent experiences that made a turd sandwich seem like gourmet food, it would not have been that hard for Ballyfin to produce something that seemed magnificent. And it did. But that would be underselling the fact that they actually have some very talented chefs here and it seems they are determined to try and receive some awards for it.
When I first saw “full board” as an option, I was expecting the menu to be very limited, especially for a hotel with only 20 rooms. Surprisingly it was not that bad, but I think if you’re here for more than 3 or 4 nights you might start to struggle. For dinner they offer a fixed price 3 course dinner for €105, which must mean Ballyfin accounts for 10% of Ireland’s GDP. Back before the UK engaged in economic suicide and voted to leave the EU, I would have enjoyed this at a at £1 = €1.44, so would not have cared so much, but times have changed and it starts to look expensive. For a single night I am fine in trying this, but I would not want to try it for every night, so would hope another menu is possible. When deciding that none of the starters appealed, a look of horror crossed the waitresses eyes, as she looked like a deer in headlights. Perhaps a simple salad would suffice instead, she asked? So out came some lettuce with nothing on it. We then asked for some tomatoes and they came in a separate plate. Would they still charge us the whole €105? Yes, yes they would.
Perhaps I’m forgiving of this as they sent the dessert up to the bedroom, as I did not want to wait. Eating fine dining food in bed must rank up there as one of life’s greatest pleasures, just below popping bubble wrap on someone else’s present. When I asked they smiled and could not have been more friendly at the request, but when they arrived and I helped with the tray, I realised that they must have been throwing obscenities my way in the kitchen, as even Hercules would have struggled with it.
This is what La Reserve Paris should have been; this is what the best of Aman is; this is effortless, thoughtful service that makes you smile.
Ballyfin is several leagues ahead of its competition. With just 20 rooms, it gives them the opportunity to offer really good service and remain very exclusive. Ashford Castle is what so many English countryside resorts remind me of, in that they are very friendly, they clearly are trying and you will not leave with any complaints, but you will not be coming here writing a poem about how amazing it was. But Ballyfin genuinely feels close to an Aman – it really is that good. They are anticipating your needs, responding to them perfectly and offering a phenomenal overall experience. Signing for anything? No chance. Asking room number? Never. I asked when the pool closes: “officially 8pm, but for you, sir, it will be open whenever you want”. Turndown gifts, stay list notes perfectly remembered (sit down at the table and wine glasses immediately removed), all allergies noted, constantly being checked up on etc etc etc. Even when I went into The Library at 6am, they came along and frequently checked up on me, lit the fire for me and offered drinks.
There is a big difference between employees who could not be more helpful and react to the guests vs the top-end resorts who have already thought of it well in advance.
Only slight grumble was being asked when we were going to check out, even though they were the ones taking us to the airport and knew when that was. I would have expected management to come say goodbye, especially as they were present on arrival, but that was not the case.
Ballyfin offers two options: room rate or full-board. If you plan on only eating at the resort, which you really will have almost no choice to do as your alternatives are the peanuts you stole on the plane, then you will save money with full-board.
- I had to leave
- The property
- 614 acres of privacy
Ballyfin exceeded every single one of my expectations. 2016 has been a year of excess, with 2 of the worlds most expensive resorts – Laucala and North Island – ticked off the list. Yet I will go away most impressed by Ballyfin, as I did not imagine that something so brilliant could be achieved in a countryside resort so close to home.
Ballyfin is exclusive, relaxing and peaceful. It’s also unbelievably classy, ultra luxurious and clearly deserves all the accolades it has recently received. It is home. It is why you went to a luxury property and decided it was worth going to another and another. I love every single thing about it; excellent food, stunning interior designs, spacious room; epic warm pool with jacuzzi; great service, incredible scenery, activities and never-ending opportunities to explore on their golf buggies and bikes. At this price point, this is one of the finest properties I’ve ever stayed in.
Everything is so great that I was expecting them to say “this is on us” on checkout, such good friends we had become. Sadly not this time, but one can hope for the next time and the time after that.
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