"24 hours of heaven!"
We were very fortunate to have received gift vouchers for Ballyfin as wedding presents and we booked a deluxe room at the 'full board' rate for a Saturday night. We timed our arrival to just after noon to make the most of the stay.
The approach to the house is dramatic. After entry through the intercom-controlled electric entry gates, and the half mile or so drive through beautiful parkland, the house appears round a bend with staff awaiting to greet you. It's a little daunting on first visit, but the guys were very friendly and chatty, took care of our luggage, and whisked away the car whilst we entered the house and were offered a welcome glass of champagne and a tour of the public rooms. They are simply stunning. The refurbishment was completed about 8 years ago and the level of craftsmanship and the harmoniousness of the interior design is breathtaking.
We thought Ballyfin might be a bit stuffy and stifling, but nothing could have been further from the truth. The policy of hiring local staff, rather than high-end hotel staff has paid dividends, as everyone is chatty and friendly rather than cold and distant as is the case with so many top hotels. The advertising likens the stay to a stay with friends, rather than an out-and-out hotel experience, and this was our experience too (although sadly we don't have any friends that live in a country mansion!).
The rooms aren't generally available until 3pm, and so was the case with ours, but we settled happily into the Library with our champagne and the paper until lunch at 1pm.
The State Dining Room is a beautiful space with well spaced tables and we both ordered the caramelised onion tart with goat's cheese, with salad and fries, and a glass of Sancerre. It was sensational, with sweet caramelised onion on a very flaky pastry with the tang of very good goat's cheese. The salad was beautifully dressed in a balsamic glaze and the fries were beautifully golden and crisp. My wife had a salted caramel pot as dessert and I had the cheese - three varieties with delicious crackers and gorgeous spicy fig chutney.
After lunch we retired to our room - the beautiful Mountrath - with stunning views over the cascade water feature to the rear of the house, and beyond to the folly styled as a Greek temple. What a lovely place to be. We spent the afternoon relaxing completely.
As we came down the stairs for dinner we bumped into Damien, the General Manager, and Jim, the Chief Executive and part-owner who stopped to chat. I had just watched the fascinating documentary on the TV about the history of Ballyfin and its restoration, and it was glad to have had the chance to talk to them about it as it is such a triumph.
We were offered a pre-dinner drink and an amuse bouche in the Library whilst we looked at the extensive menu, and even more impressive wine list! The dining choices are an 8-course (or 5-course) tasting menu, or the a la carte option. We opted for the latter and ordered the scallop starter, with crispy chicken skin, apple and lemon, which was divine, and then the lamb for me and the veal for her. All deliciously cooked and beautifully presented. Desserts were delayed to enjoy the remainder of a rather lovely bottle of Vacqueyras but we eventually succumbed to dessert. An excellent meal.
We were up early on the Sunday and tried the pool, sauna and jacuzzi before returning to our room to shower and then have breakfast about 10am, which is available until 11am. I had sweet freshly squeezed orange juice, yoghurt and honey followed by Eggs Benedict, mini pastries and coffee, all served on delightful blue and white Spode crockery. The attention to detail was impeccable.
After packing our bags and leaving them with reception, we took one of the available golf carts to explore the 160 acre estate. We went to the Grotto and then a lap around the lake, and on to the Tower with it's amazing far-reaching views, before returning to check out and leave (actually twice, as I forgot to hand in the key the first time!).
We had a truly memorable stay, in the most tranquil and beautiful surroundings. The obligatory 'How Did We Do?' survey was left for us to complete and asked if any one staff member stood out for service. We truthfully answered that they hadn't, as everyone had been fantastic. That sums up Ballyfin - and we can't wait to return - it's a treat beyond compare.