No elevator (but the hotel does have porter service)
The 40-room Ballynahinch Castle Hotel is a less formal, more accessible alternative to the more famous Ashford Castle to the east. It has a riverfront location amid the wild, unspoiled beauty of Connemara and decor that's alternately homey and elegant. It's more of a manor house than a castle, but the main structure dates to the 18th century and both the building and the estate are steeped in history. The 450-acre grounds offer a range of activities, including beautiful hikes, woodcock shooting, and fishing. Both restaurants serve terrific gourmet cuisine using fish, game, and mushrooms from the surrounding region.
A lovely 18th-century stone manor house in an untamed riverfront counry setting
The word "castle" may call to mind imposing stone parapets and sweeping, perfectly manicured grounds, but that imagery would be more accurately applied to Ashford Castle Hotel to the northeast in County Mayo. Ballynahinch, by contrast, is intimate, approachable, and entirely unpretentious. The charming stone manor house dates to the 18th century and the 450-acre country estate embodies the sort of wild country beauty that Connemara is famous for. The grounds hardly appear to have changed for the last several hundred years, and indeed, the age-old country activities of fishing and shooting endure today.
The lands have a rich and colorful history. Past owners have included the O'Flaherty clan (the 16th century "Pirate Queen," Grace O'Malley, married into the clan and was one of its more noteworthy members); Richard Martin (a member of Parliament nicknamed Humanity Dick for founding the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals); and the Indian Maharaja, Ranji, who bought the estate in 1922.
The interiors of the manor are more cozy than grand; the lobby and library have tufted leather furniture, oil paintings, and wood-burning fireplaces, and the Fisherman's Pub has a casual setting with wooden tables. Other areas have an air of homey elegance, such as the The Owenmore restaurant, with its white tablecloths and stunning river views, and the Luxury Rooms, with their gracious Georgian style.
Two river-view wings were added to the hotel in modern times, but were designed in keeping with the property's historic character. These wings house Superior Rooms, Luxury Rooms, and suites, while the historic section houses mostly Classic Rooms. The hallways between the different wings are maze-like, but there are plenty of signs to prevent guests from getting lost.
A riverfront location in unspoiled Connemara that's a half-hour drive from Kylemore Abbey
Ballynahinch is located on a 450-acre estate of gorgeous Connemara countryside. For many visitors, the estate is the destination, where they can hike, bike, shoot, and fish in this famously beautiful region. But it's also a convention home base for visiting Kylemore Abbey, Galway, and the Aran Islands.
30-minute drive to Kylemore Abbey
1-hour drive to Galway
45-minute drive to Rossaveal, where ferries to the Aran Islands depart
Elegant country style, and in many cases, river views
Room decor at Ballynahinch is befitting of a historic country estate. It varies by room category, but many have details such as delicate white quilts, decorative fireplaces, framed historic prints and documents, and four-poster beds. The standard Classic Rooms are housed in the historic part of the hotel and so their sizes and layouts differ, but they have neutral traditional decor (the one I viewed had a beige studded headboard, beige carpets, striped cushioned armchairs, and an antique wooden writing desk). Luxury Rooms housed in a newer river-view wing have elegant Georgian style -- four-poster beds, white wood, gilded mirrors and frames, and pink and green fabrics.
River views guaranteed from all but the Classic Rooms (though some Classic Rooms do have river views)
Bathrobes and slippers in Superior Rooms and above
Both the casual Fisherman's Pub and Owenmore fine dining restaurant have excellent gourmet cuisine using regional ingredients.
Fisherman's Pub may be a casual pub with a fireplace and wooden bar, but you won't find greasy burgers or fish and chips here. The cuisine is decidedly gourmet (with the prices to match) -- expect items such as filet mignon, slow braised pork belly, fresh fish of the day, lobster, and duck liver pate.
The Owenmore restaurant also serves gourmet Irish cuisine, but in an elegant white tablecloth setting with lovely river views. A pricey four-course prix fixe menu is available, or guests can order items a la carte. Both restaurants use meat, fish, and other ingredients sourced from the Connemara region whenever possible.
The free breakfast is a cut above the usual continental spread, with fresh-squeezed juices, meat, cheese, cereals, fruit, and yogurts, as well as the option to order hot items.
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