There are 600 acres of land surrounding this remote but very stately home in St Laois. Parked by its lake are bikes and golf buggies but the best way to look around is by pony and trap. The driver, Lionel, points out the estate’s parish church, various follies, such as the viewing tower built to create jobs during the potato famine, the grottos and hidden gardens.
It’s pretty sensational but so is the house itself. When I arrived in front of its sandstone facade, uniformed staff where there to meet and greet. It was the start of a formal and supremely tranquil stay.
Formerly home of Sir Charles Coote, ninth baronet of Mountrath, it wassold after World War One to the Patrician Brothers who turned it into a Roman Catholic school. The house fell into disrepair and was bought by an
American millionaire, Fred Krehbiel, who restored it.
To get a real sense of its provenance, I took an hour-long tour of the house by Declan, a former pupil. There are six artwork-crammed sitting rooms such as the Whispering Room, The Salon and the Gold Drawing Room (real gold leaf) where two Thomas Chippendale mirrors hang. The 80ft library is filled with ancient books, a fireplace at either end and a bow window that overlooks a grand Italian marble fountain.
With just 15 bedrooms, the place and its spa is never crowded. Each is unique and quite exquisite with silk wall coverings, sumptuous curtains and draped four posters. The Tapestry room has real Flemish tapestries hanging on its walls and the round Sir Charles Coote Room, entered via a hidden door, has a splendid marble sarcophagus bath.
All have views either of the lake or of a magnificent tiered waterfall, and lush, undulating green lawns. Dinner
is a formal affair, but Ballyfin have put a new slant on “dressing for dinner”. They have a costume room for guests and our group of six women donned period dresses with plumes in our hair looking quite the gentrified part — much to the delight of the American guests.
All-inclusive rates starting from €800 (Sunday-Thursday) and from €915 (Friday/Saturday) per double room per night (October 1-December 31 excluding Xmas & New Year). In high season (June/July/August) double rooms are from €1075 and in September from €1025 per night. The rates include full Irish breakfast, lunch on arrival day, tea and coffee with home-made cookies/cakes, pre-dinner drinks, dinner (food only) and use of most of the on-site recreational facilities such as costume wardrobe, boat hire, bicycles, pool etc.