Authentic Irish experience at Ireland's Blue Book hotels

Longueville House is set on 450 acres of Irish countryside. Photo Credit: Felicity Long
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We had just settled in for a spot of apple brandy when Rupert Atkinson, our walking-tour guide, apple expert and brandy purveyor, began to extoll the virtues of the various bottles he put in front of us.

The artisanal spirits, sourced from local orchards and distilled in antique copper stills, contain no additives, he said, so when you drink it "you'll get a lovely, clean buzz."

No doubt about it, I thought; I'm in Ireland. And not just Ireland, but in the Irish countryside at the four-star Longueville House, a Georgian manor, parts of which date from 1720 and where the authenticity and "spirit of place" hits you in a way that's increasingly missing in many of Europe's overtouristed cities and towns. 

A member of Ireland's Blue Book, the 20-room, family-owned property is a step into another world and another century, with its drawing rooms, ornate fireplaces and silver tea sets.

A fireplace at Longueville House, a 20-room, family-owned property.
A fireplace at Longueville House, a 20-room, family-owned property. Photo Credit: Felicity Long

Guestrooms are decorated with antique and custom furnishings and offer free WiFi but, deliberately, no in-room TVs, although TV is available in the Mount Hillary common room. 

Equally impressive are the grounds, all 450 acres of them, which offer fluffy sheep preening on the green lawns, friendly pigs that came running at our approach, a maze for children, a walled garden, flowering plants and, most of all, apples. 

The orchard takes up a good 25 acres of the estate and provides the ingredients for the Calvados-style brandy and cider we tasted, all distilled on site.

But Old World charm notwithstanding, the hotel also offers elements of the new Ireland, especially in its cuisine. Overseen by chef/proprietor William O'Callaghan, a descendant of the original owners, farm-to-table meals are served in the Presidents' Restaurant and include such delicacies as honey from their own bees, homegrown heirloom vegetables and spices, local game, free-range eggs and fresh trout and salmon from the Blackwater River, which flows through the estate.

The on-property, glassed-in Turner Conservatory is a popular venue for weddings, and the entire hotel is available for special events and corporate buy-outs.

Activities on or near the property can include fly-fishing, falconry, horseback riding, biking, hiking and distillery tastings and tours.

Longueville House is located about 25 miles northeast of Cork and about three miles west of Mallow.

Hayfield Manor Hotel

Hayfield Manor Hotel's ambience blends city and country aesthetics.
Hayfield Manor Hotel's ambience blends city and country aesthetics.

We set out to experience another Blue Book property, Hayfield Manor Hotel, a five-star, 88-room hotel set on two acres only about a mile from Cork's city center and one that offers an ambience that blends city and country aesthetics. 

High-level cuisine is a big part of the property's ethos, and guests can choose from Orchids Fine Dining Restaurant, which serves up traditional Irish cuisine with an updated, gourmet twist as well as traditional and gluten-free afternoon tea; Perrotts Gardens Bistro for less formal fare; and the Manor Bar for cocktails.

Other features include an indoor, heated swimming pool; outdoor whirlpool bath; state-of-the-art fitness center; and the Beautique Spa, where I had a first-rate, customized hot stone massage using Elemis Spa products in a room outfitted with antiques and a chandelier.

Guestrooms offer king or twin beds, marble bathrooms, air conditioning, free WiFi, flat-screen TVs and such quirky extras as a trouser press and a golf putter for a bit of practice on the rug.

A guestroom at Hayfield Manor Hotel.
A guestroom at Hayfield Manor Hotel.

Because we were so close to Cork -- about 15 minutes by foot -- we spent an afternoon exploring the city, a destination that has changed dramatically in the past decade or so but which has retained much of its authenticity and charm. 

Our guide pointed out such highlights as the 300-year-old tower of St. Anne's Church, St. Finbarr's Cathedral and the colorful English Market, where we had lunch at the Farmgate Cafe

In addition to leisure facilities, Hayfield Manor offers meetings and private dining venues and specializes in weddings.

One of three Irish hotels owned and operated by the Scally family, along with the 178-room Great Southern in Killarney and the 32-room Killarney Royal, this is the kind of property that screams upscale, from the formally dressed staff to the luxurious decor, without being even a little bit stuffy. 

When you check in, for example, you are welcomed with hearty friendliness, clucks of commiseration over the rain, cheery offers of tea and coffee by the fireplace and -- you guessed it -- a spot of brandy.

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