When it comes to booking into a hotel, there are a few simple things that most people look for. If you're anything like us, comfort is obviously a huge selling point, along with great food and a decent list of things to do.
Pretty standard requirements for any hotel worth its salt, we're sure you'll agree. Throw in some of the most helpful staff we've had the pleasure to meet, and some of the most picturesque scenery we've ever seen and you've got yourselves the Irish staycation of your dreams.
When we stayed at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel in Connemara, we were met with all this and so much more. As hidden gems go, things don't get much better.
Upon arrival, we availed of afternoon tea in the Owenmore Restaurant overlooking the Ballynahinch River and our expectations were exceeded by the scenery that greeted us through the rain-soaked window right next to our table.
The estate on which the hotel is built contains over 600 acres of mature wooded grounds brimming with history and character.
As we sampled an array of delectable sandwiches, scones and cakes, and sipped tea and Prosecco it felt like we'd stepped right into a fairy tale.
After tea, it was time to leave the restaurant behind, don the provided wellies and experience the vast estate for ourselves.
We took a guided walk which brought us along the old railway line and over the river where we were treated to a lesson in fly fishing.
Ballynahinch is a fisherperson's dream with ample space to unwind and cast a few lines with resident tutor Cyril. If that's not enough, the hotel also has its own fishing boat which takes people from nearby Roundstone out to various islands around the Connemara coast in search of the west coast's freshest cod and lobster. More about that later.
Once we had made our way back in the early evening it was time to unwind before dinner. While it was difficult to choose between hanging out in our spacious and luxurious bedroom or chilling by one of the hotel's six wood fireplaces with a perfectly poured pint, we managed to squeeze in a bit of both.
Having worked up quite the appetite it was time to settle back into the Owenmore where we were greeted by a menu which would cater for anyone's tastes. Understandably, given the setting of the castle, fish was a common sight on the menu.
We sampled both the gurnard and the duck and we were not disappointed as both tasted absolutely delightful.
While Ballynahinch Castle is located in close proximity to both Clifden and Roundstone, if relaxing is the name of the game then there really is no need to go in search of nightlife. Everything you need is right there on site.
With this in mind, we enjoyed a couple of after dinner drinks in the homely setting of the Fisherman's pub. Here, you'll find the kind of atmosphere not unlike the one you'd find down your local. Management mingles with staff and guests alike as the hotel winds down after another busy day.
We even managed to catch the tail end of a performance by a local trad group which was being lapped up by the host of international guests who had traveled from as far afield as America, Australia and beyond to get a true taste of the Irish countryside experience.
After retiring for the night and enjoying one of the most comfortable sleeps we've had in a long time, we opened the curtains in the morning to glorious sunshine across the estate. With last night's mouthwatering dinner still fresh in our memories and taste buds, we had high expectations for what breakfast had to offer.
Given that Ballynahinch Castle recently won the Georgina Campbell Irish Breakfast Award for Best Breakfast in a four star hotel, we'll let you muster a guess about how our Sunday fry-up tasted.
Along with the mixed grill of bacon, sausage, tomato and pudding was a breakfast buffet containing various cereals, juices, yoghurts and, it must be said, some of the finest bread we have ever tasted.
If none of that is for you, there are plenty of options to choose from the set breakfast menu pictured below.
Once we had finished, we made our way to Roundstone for a boat trip to nearby Inislacken Island where we managed to get a glimpse of the beauty of Connemara from an altogether different perspective. The island currently has no permanent inhabitants but is dotted with a number of cottages which people use as holiday homes as well as a revamped schoolhouse which is now used for the same purpose.
On the way back we stopped to hone our improving fishing skills and one of our party even managed to capture a codling. No fish were harmed though as we quickly threw the little fella back into the sea!
As with any boat trip, we returned slightly wetter than when we left. This must have been quite noticeable because as soon as we returned to the hotel a kindly member of staff insisted on serving us hot whiskeys to warm us up. Given that we had to drive back to Dublin, we persisted in our efforts to politely decline before we settled on a pot of tea instead.
We only stayed at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel for one night but the number of activities we squeezed in made it feel much longer.
For that reason, we were suitably knackered as we said our goodbyes to our new friends and made our way home. Not before squeezing in another road trip around the mountains of Connemara.
Do you fancy checking out Ballynahinch Castle Hotel this summer? You may see us there as we're already planning our next trip!