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August 16, 2011

2

The Perfect Getaway – Ballyvolane House, Co. Cork

by Julianne Mooney

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On my last visit to Waterford we couldn’t get out of the car for the rain. I promised I’d return in sunnier times and this weekend seemed as good as any. We packed our bags, heading southward bound and here’s my first tip  – come off the motorway at Cahir and weave through the countryside, over the Knockmealdown Mts via the Vee Drive. The narrow, winding road offers wonderful views over the lush fields of Tipperary and as you head further south, Cork is laid out before you.

The drive leads you to Lismore, a picturesque heritage town on the banks of the River Blackwater, well worth a visit.  A 12th century castle (although what stands today dates mainly to the 19th century) surrounded by parkland and manicured gardens presides over the town, which comprises of brightly coloured buildings, billowing flower baskets and a reputation as Waterford’s prettiest town.

We were staying a twenty-minute drive west of Lismore, at Ballyvolane House, a charming 18th century manor surrounded by woodland and wild gardens spotted with little lakes. Guests have been coming to Ballyvolane since 1985 and their experience in hospitality is evident from the moment you set foot in the house. We were welcomed by smiling guests, a friendly dog and the sound of children playing in the garden. It felt like arriving to a friend’s house (albeit friends with a very large, luxurious country house) and owners Justin and Jenny Green have worked hard to create this idyllic haven.

The six bedrooms, as with the rest of the house, are decorated with antique furniture and peppered with bright soft furnishings giving a luxurious, yet homely feel to the place. I’ve come to realise it’s often the little touches that make places stand out and Ballyvolane is filled with ‘little touches’ that guests will remember when they leave.  Home-made cordial, cookies and delicious cafetiere coffee in the bedrooms, deck chairs and hammocks dotted around the garden, a dovecote, crackling fires, an honesty bar, late breakfast hours and always, smiling, helpful staff.

Guests lounged in the cosy drawing room while we embarked on our exploration of the estate, which is surprisingly extensive. We rested a while in the long grass beside the lake enjoying the tranquility of the area. I was looking forward to my soak in the bath in our spacious bathroom before dinner at 8pm and there was still a drink to be had in the gardens. So much to do, so little time.

The Green’s are passionate about food, so it’s no surprise this is a well known spot amongst the foodies in Ireland, as is their excellent restaurant O’Brien Chophouse in Lismore. The walled garden on the estate is packed with fruit and vegetables, served each evening at dinner.

Dinner at Ballyvolane is a communal affair, where guests sit together around a large mahogany table enjoying a jovial, festive evening with wholesome, tasty food. I don’t like salmon, never have and I used to say, never will. However, when Justin said there was salmon gravalax for starters I vowed to give it a whirl. It turns out I’ve just never had salmon served as it should be. It was fresh and delicious. A main course of duck was served with bowls of floury potatoes, roasted courgettes and salad, all from the garden and prepared by Jenny.

Sitting there, surrounded by antique furniture, candle-light, a roaring fire and before us, a feast laid, we could have being back in the 18th or 19th century, except for the talk of Twitter and Facebook! Justin pops in throughout the meal, contributing to conversation, re-filling glasses and generally being the perfect host. Tea, coffee and port is served in the drawing room and it was the perfect end to a perfect evening.

Everything about Ballyvolane is elegant without being pretentious, laid back without being slack. In fact it all seems to tick by seamlessly with friendly, attentive staff and time to sit back and enjoy the surrounding nature. After a leisurely breakfast and a visit to the pigs and hens, we bid farewell to the other guests, and as Justin waved us off we both agreed we had found the most perfect getaway.

Postscript: I can’t omit the fact that Ballyvolane have renovated outside buildings, creating the most perfect, rustic wedding venue. Guests can gorge on hog roasts and dance inside the old barn, or sit around the pot bellied stove in the garden. In my mind, it’s the perfect wedding venue.

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