I had two really big surprises when we arrived at the Gregans Castle Hotel in the area known as the Burren in the western part of Ireland. The first one was that it wasn’t a castle. Actually that was a good thing. When I booked the hotel in the western part of Ireland in the middle of the Burren, my husband asked, “Hmmmm, isn’t it going to be cold and damp?”
I think he was imagining strong mildew smells, cold dank dark interiors and maybe a moat or two.
But, no, when we turned down the landscaped drive, rounded a corner and spotted our home for the next four days we saw a traditional Irish country house with a spectacular view of both the rocky mountains of the Burren and in the distance, Galway Bay.
Yes, there is a Gregans Castle nearby, but members of the Martyn clan, owners of the castle for centuries, built a home near the castle to move into in the 1700s to escape the cold and damp my husband feared. Over the years, the house was expanded and eventually converted into a twenty-room guest house.
The real Wow and big surprise, however, was the food. I selected this hotel because I wanted a comfortable and quiet location near to all the attractions in an area where there is much to see and do—the Burren, Doolin, the Cliffs of Mohr, the Coast Road and charming Irish towns. It met those criteria, but the food, Oh my goodness, we found the meals coming out of this remote country hotel kitchen led by chef Mickael Viljnen, to be visually delightful and superb in taste.
No overcooked Sheppard’s Pie or mounds of mushy vegetables here. We will rave about he beetroot macaroons with fois gras appetizer, the lamb with carrots prepared four ways, the locally caught fish for years. Yes, we took photos. Couldn’t help it.
The house is wonderfully decorated by owner Frederieke McMurray who bought the hotel with her husband Simon Haden from his parents seven years ago. Simon moved to the hotel when he was ten and seriously got involved in the hotel business at age 16.
“Freddie” began “de-doilying” the hotel right away. Banished were some of the fussy chintz fabrics and doilies and remnants of years of country decorating.
Our room was lovely—a combination of taupe walls, linen drapes and purple accents, reflecting the colors in the Irish landscape. This is a goal of Freddie’s—blurring the boundary between indoors and out. She called it Castle Contemporary–a charming mix of old and new. I like that.
And she’s added interesting accessories like these light fixtures in the Corkscrew Bar, named for a nearby mountain and its winding road nearby. They are attractive during the day but throw stunning shadows during the evening when guests gather in the cozy space. I was transfixed. This is typical of Freddie’s stylish touches.
If you like the traditional, not to worry. The drawing room has plaids and prints and family photos, making one feel right at home. It’s not my personal style but it is well done, feels good and perfect for this house.
The staff was gracious and accommodating. Every request, even one for a skirt hangar, evidently something they don’t use in Ireland, was met. (Skirts come with little loops I was told.) The hotel has won a slew of awards and I can see why.
I look for ward to going back to see Freddie’s progress with her de-doilying the hotel and for more of those delicious meals.