It’s taken over two months to write this post, because it’s nearly impossible to put into words how much our trip to Ballyfin Demesne meant to me. This Irish manor house has been my all-time dream destination since I first read about it nearly a decade ago, and visiting this past June for my birthday was in every way, shape, and form a dream come true to me. Although no words nor photos will truly do this iconic Irish landmark justice, I have put together an overview of our journey which you will find below!
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I first read about Ballyfin Demesne nearly a decade ago when it was chosen as the best hotel in Europe by Conde Nast Traveler. Since then, I have dreamt about visiting this idyllic Irish retreat, a Regency manor house built in the early 18th century that has been turned into an intimate country house hotel – the very top experience on my travel bucket list. When we were booking our travel to Ireland for Kelly & Paddy’s wedding and realized that we would be there for my birthday, we decided to extend our stay and finally pay a visit to Ballyfin to celebrate the occasion.
From the moment we pulled up to the beautiful Ballyfin entrance, we knew that Ballyfin was something special. The gates opened and we began slowly driving down the drive, passing rolling hillsides, ancient churches, lush forests, and ultimately turning the bend and seeing the hotel appear in the distance above the lake. It truly felt like a scene from a movie, made even more amazing by the hotel staff standing on the stairs awaiting us. We were greeted like old friends and immediately given a glass of champagne to welcome our arrival. I will also admit that I cried nearly this entire experience – it was truly almost too beautiful for my brain to process.
As both of us were a bit tired from the drive, we opted to ease into our stay by spending the morning relaxing in the beautiful gold drawing room which was decorated in an elegant French Empire style. Ryan caught up on his newspapers while I sipped tea and slowly allowed my eyes to explore each and every little detail of the stunning space.
After a refreshing morning we headed out on bicycles to explore Ballyfin’s vast 614 acres of gardens, parks, lake, woods, and grottoes. We loved climbing to the top of the old stone tower which overlooked the entire property and in the distance, the Slieve Bloom Mountains.
By this point we had worked up quite the appetite, so we ventured back to the hotel for lunch in the beautifully restored 19th century glass conservatory. The cuisine, much of which was grown in Ballyfin’s gardens, was fresh, vibrant, and delicious, and the views of the rolling hillsides and the cascading fountain topped by a miniature Greek temple were spellbinding. We lingered in here for hours every day – it was so incredibly serene.
After lunch a staff member informed us that our stateroom was ready, so we headed up the cantilevered stairs, past original paintings of the former owner’s family, to our home away from home – Westmeath. I had first seen a photo of the room’s 18th-century French canopy bed in the Conde Nast article which inspired us to visit Ballyfin, so I knew that this room would be where we wanted to stay. However, none of the photos I had seen had prepared me for the exquisite beauty that lay just behind the door. It was without a doubt the most elegant and breathtaking room I have ever stayed in.
The 18th-century French canopy bed was the highlight of the room (and actually, one of the highlights of our entire stay) and truly photos do not do it justice. I felt like a princess – when I woke up in the bed which could only be describe as sleeping on a cloud, with views of the golden sun rising over the mountains and lake, I could honestly hardly believe that I was actually there. The decor, including hand-painted wallpaper and countless priceless antiques and relics, was stunning and every single detail was meticulously thought of. The bathroom featured a giant bathtub, gorgeous views, and beautiful art. I loved soaking in the tub every night before bed while the moonlight danced on the lake.
After spending some time relaxing in our room, we headed back outside to enjoy more of the unexpectedly warm and sunny weather with a rowboat ride on the lake. Ballyfin provides guests with complimentary bikes, golf carts, and rowboats (complete with fishing gear), and we loved utilizing all three during our stay.
Dinners at Ballyfin are an elegant affair. The evenings begin around 7:30 with champagne and canapes in the Grand Salon. Every night, a pianist plays the grand piano while guests sit by the fire and catch up about the day’s activities. Highlights for me were when he learned the ‘Pride & Prejudice’ theme song per my request, when I came downstairs and he was playing the ‘Downton Abbey’ soundtrack, and when the pianist along with Ryan and nearly twenty other guests surprised me by singing me ‘happy birthday’!
Around 9PM we would head into the main dining room for dinner which was an absolute dream experience. The ambiance was incredibly romantic and cuisine was delicious and sophisticated. The service was professional while still being friendly, and every single dish we ate we loved. Finally, we would retire to the library (which had two wood burning fires roaring, even in June – amazing) for a night cap on one of the many couches. It was heaven.
Mornings at Ballyfin usually started with a walk in the gardens. Being an early bird, I would wake at sunrise and head outside for a quiet stroll in the dewy grass. When I returned back, I would wake Ryan and the two of us would visit the chicken coop and pick out the eggs for our daily Eggs Benedict. Breakfasts were long and lingering and would often include local cheeses, fresh pastries, pancakes, and fruit, all served alongside fresh squeezed orange juice, iced coffee, and several pots of hot tea.
On my birthday, the kitchen packed Ryan and I a beautiful picnic basket filled with fresh sandwiches, salads, drinks, and fine china and silver. As we explored the property looking for the perfect picnic spot, a pop-up shower blew in and we ran into the miniature Greek temple for shelter. Serendipitously, the temple was outfitted with a table and two chairs so after a quick dry-off we set-up our picnic in there. Sitting in the temple perched on top of a hill above a sprawling, cascading fountain and offering views of the manor house, lake, and distant mountains, watching the rain softly fall around us, I truly felt like we were in a movie scene. It was serene, stunning, and so utterly romantic.
By the time we finished our meal the rain had cleared and the sunshine was abundant. We grabbed bikes and spent the afternoon exploring the beautiful property, walking through woods and laying in rolling fields of grass gazing up at the clouds. It was like walking into a painting.
We retreated back to the house for afternoon tea and to join the daily butler-led house tour. Originally a private home, the history of Ballyfin is absolutely fascinating and the restoration of this Regency manor house is actually the subject of a documentary – Ballyfin: A Portrait of an Irish Country House.
The interiors of Ballyfin are more beautiful than words can describe – but I would put it almost more akin to somewhere between a friend’s country home and a museum. Everywhere you turn you are treated with priceless antiques, art, and relics, unmatched craftsmanship, and unparalleled design. Although it is formal, there is a relaxed quality to the home that makes you feel incredibly comfortable – like you could lay down on a nap in any of the rooms and wake up refreshed with a hot cup of tea and biscuit laying on the table in front of you. I could have spent weeks wandering its hallowed halls exploring each and every object and artifact.
On our last evening we were greeted with a glorious rainbow across the lake (which started just behind a field of ponies). An amazing couple who was staying with us had just gotten engaged, so of course I ran upstairs and grabbed my camera for a miniature engagement session for them at sunset. Congratulations, Ian and Shalom!
After, we celebrated the most incredible birthday ever with a spectacular nine-course dinner in the main dining room. To finish our night, we retreated to the library for a night cap next to one of the two wood burning fireplaces as one of the guests played Claire de Lune on the grand piano.
The icing on the proverbial birthday cake was Ballyfin staff. To every single one of the Ballyfin family – thank you for treating us with such incredibly kindness and hospitality. Your team is knowledgeable, professional, passionate about their jobs, but completely and utterly unpretentious. No one ever asked our name or our room number – we were treated like old friends and no request was too much. They truly showcase the best of Ireland and made our experience one we will cherish forever.
Photos by Ballyfin wedding photographer Molly Carr Photography