A little while back I had the pleasure of staying at Liss Ard with my family. The warmth and friendly nature of the Irish is legendary, and it they didn't fail to deliver.
The Liss Ard Estate, set in the stunning and tranquil countryside of West Cork, envelopes you in it's relaxed and welcoming atmosphere as soon as you arrive.
The stunning 19th century mansion house and secluded lake lodge manage to balance both luxury and homeliness, and it's no surprise that celebrities and rock stars have sought refuge here. The grand piano in the entrance hall has been played by the likes of Lou Reed and Van Morrison and the walls of the lake lodge are adorned with photos of their famous guests.
Here, you are allowed to just be. There's time and space to do whatever you want. The hotel staff have mastered the very clever skill of being around, without you even noticing them. Nobody minds if you want to pad around the great house in your socks, if the kids want to run shouting and whooping through the woodland grounds or climb the trees. In fact, so vast are the estate grounds that if your visit is out of season when the grounds are shut to the public, you can wander around for hours without seeing another soul.
On a couple of mornings, we crept down the grand staircase at 6am. The house was silent and the shutters still closed. Walking across the garden by the haw-haw, the sheep graze on undisturbed and we'd descend the moss-covered stone steps onto the woodland pathway. Passing the waterfall garden, breathing in the rare air, the birds would be chorusing in the ancient lichen covered trees. Down the winding secret paths until Abisdealy, the vast private lake revealed itself. Myself and Ruby would paddle in the water's edge and watch the birds flitting through the reeds, while the Other Half bravely stripped down to trunks and dived in, soaking up the peace and freedom.
A quick dry off, then back to our room for a warming shower before joining the handful of other guests for breakfast. There is something about the air here that makes you feel invigorated, exhausted and ravenously hungry all at the same time. Thankfully the traditional Irish breakfast seems to be a panacea for us all. Tucking into the locally sourced sausages, Clonakilty black pudding and fresh farm eggs, we still couldn't help but eye up the breakfast buffet table too. The aroma of freshly baked bread and pastries, together with a huge bowl of fresh fruit salad makes for a real country, farmhouse atmosphere. Until that is, you notice your surroundings and remember that this is far from a farmhouse.
After breakfast Ruby was always keen to join the kid's club which runs every morning. We really appreciated the skilled and experienced staff who ensured it wasn't just a babysitting service, but an action-packed and fun-filled few hours. In the few days we stayed, Ruby enjoyed baking; face painting; crafting and outdoor games, as well as a movie morning in the well equipped lower ground playroom.
While she was busy, we were able to kick back on the luxurious sofas in the drawing room, soak up the open fire and relax with the morning's papers. One day I even managed to slip off for a massage.
There's plenty to do and see in the surrounding area and the staff are more than happy to share their local knowledge, whether it's telling you the best place to get a crab sandwich and a pint of the black stuff; the best scenic drives; a secluded local beach or directions to a very well hidden farm to visit.
Lough Hyne is well worth the short drive, not just because it's another wild swimming opportunity but because quite simply it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.
Equally, there's loads to do on site, from their own GPS trail to boat rides on the lake. There is a well equipped games room with toys, books and Wii console for days when it rains, otherwise, borrow a bike or the all-terrain buggy, slip on one of the communal pairs of wellies and a Barbour jacket, grab a picnic blanket and go off and explore the 200 acres.
One of the biggest surprises in such a secluded area, is a world renowned living art installation. The Sky Garden by James Turrell, is a monumental sight and experience. Take the cleansing and enlightening journey through the tunnel so silent it's deafening. Let your senses adjust to the light before rising up the staircase through the white light opening in the sky. There you are greeted by a gigantic crater which holds you safe. The only view is the steeply sloping grass sides or the sky above. At night time, lay back on the stone plinth and enjoy the purest uninterrupted view of the night sky you're likely to see. It's an incredible experience, and one which will stay with me.
It's a short plane ride from England, but it's another world.
We stayed in the O'Donovan Suite in the main house. Rooms for family groups are also available in the Garden Mews and the Lake Lodge.
For further information and bookings, visit the Liss Ard Estate website.
Sponsored post. All views and opinions are my own.