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Checking In: Ballymaloe House, Cork, Ireland

Run as a hotel and restaurant by the Allen family since 1964, Ballymaloe House, in rural East Cork, feels like a home away from home. Comfy quarters, locally sourced food, and warm hospitality make for a congenial stay.

Baile ui Maolluaigh (The Homestead of Maloo) was bought by Myrtle and Ivan Allen from the Simpson family in 1948. Six years later, the couple listed an advertisement in the Cork Examiner which read: ‘dine in a historic country house’. And dine people did. Today, the hotel’s reputation – and that of its neighbouring cookery school – precedes it, with Ballymaloe House topping many foodies must-visit hit lists.

The Vibe

Warm and hospitable; the Irish are known for their welcomes after all.

The Rooms

Comprising of 32 bedrooms, spread across the main house and the rose-covered courtyard outbuildings, accommodation at Ballymaloe is simple and understated. In the main house, choose from larger, airier rooms on the lower levels and cosier quarters at the top of the house in the eaves. Several self-catering apartments with kitchenettes are also available, best suited to families or larger groups planning a longer stay.

With most rooms absent of TVs (there are bedside radios if total silence isn’t your MO), unwinding is made easy. Pretty floral wallpapers, Irish linen sheets, and fresh bud vases presented on hand-painted nightstands further add to the overall sense of calm. Bathrooms are stocked with VOYA products, and most are kitted out with both shower and bath facilities.

The Little Extras 

Enjoy complimentary afternoon tea (comprising of tea/coffee, plus your choice of cake slice – we opted for lemon drizzle) in the charming yellow drawing room. If the weather is looking a little moody,  kick back in front of the open fire. On sunnier days, opt to take tea in the pretty, geranium-filled conservatory, located towards the rear of the house in view of the gardens and river.

The Food + Drink

Ballymaloe has long been renowned for its food, with much of the kitchen’s offering produced from Ballymaloe’s farm and garden; wild foods are sourced from the hedgerows and streams. As prefaced, dining is the pinnacle of a stay at Ballymaloe House, so come hungry!

Breakfast (served from 8AM until 10.30AM) includes a buffet of freshly baked bread (soda bread and brown yeast bread) and scones, homemade butter, and preserves from the farm, as well as poached fruits, muesli, and porridge kept hot on the burner. A hot breakfast is also offered, with guests invited to choose from an assortment of dishes, including grilled smoked mackerel and poached egg, buttermilk pancakes topped with bacon and honey or maple syrup, and the Full Irish.

Dinner is where things really get scrumptious (though, admittedly, from AM to PM the fare you’ll consume is generally delicious/faultless/utterly yum). From Tuesday to Saturday, a five-course menu, which changes daily, is available for both guests and non-residents. First things first: choosing your dinner table from a maze of rooms, each unique in style and ambience. The spaces towards the front of the house are the most decadent, making supper feel like a real occasion. Menus cater well to all, with offerings ranging from a chicken, apricot, and pistachio terrine, to hake with samphire, shrimp beurre blanc, and garden spinach, as well as heartier meat options, like leg of lamb reared on the lush East Cork pastures.

The set menu also includes an Irish cheese plate – accompanied by quince membrillo and Ballymaloe biscuits – and a wowing dessert trolley from JR Ryall and his team, loaded with tempting choices including homemade ice creams, tarts, and Carrageen Moss Pudding (a seaweed-based dessert, that’s a Myrtle Allen original). Finish with tea and petit fours.

The To-Do List

From a stroll around the sculpture garden to a dip in the outdoor swimming pool (if you’re feeling hardy), there’s a lot to see and do here. Indulge in a game of croquet or, for something a little more exerting, take a bike ride down to the coast – Ballycotton, a famous fishing village set on a rocky-ledge overlooking Ballycotton Bay, is a good end point.

Back at base, browse the Ballymaloe Shop and depart with a medley of treats, ranging from wool blankets to kitchen accessories, and stacks of Ballymaloe relish. At the end of the shop, you’ll find the Ballymaloe Café – a great spot to grab a light lunch of homemade soup and hearty sandwiches, or a couple of slices of homemade cake for your onward journey.

Most notably, the internationally renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School, run by Darina Allen, is located two miles from Ballymaloe House. With short courses and demonstrations on offer – ranging from bread-baking to Asian cuisine –, hotel guests can (and should) take advantage of the school’s close proximity.

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