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Ireland's Ballyfin: A World-Class Country-House Hotel Opens Its Doors

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If Ballyfin in County Laois, Ireland, intends to become one of the great country-house hotels of Europe—and the ambition of its owners surely runs in that direction—then it certainly has all the qualifying hallmarks. It is, in a word, amazing.

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Stroll through the public rooms. A fire burns merrily in the saloon beneath a dome skylight. A cantilevered staircase seems to float in air in the Grand Stairwell. Wine glasses tinkle as guests repose in the vast library with twin fireplaces on opposite ends of the room.

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There are only 15 bedrooms, all large, some with views of a lake and forest, others overlooking a manmade cascade and faux Greek temple. My favorite; the out-of-the-way Little Library, with a wall full of books, two (nonworking) fireplaces, and a balcony above a charming private courtyard.

Guests can enjoy spa treatments, swim in a 45-foot-long indoor pool, work out in the gym, or explore the estate's 600 acres of typical Irish emerald countryside. Don't miss the 19th-century follies, especially the grotto (Coote may or may not have hired a hermit to lend added authenticity) and the medieval tower, whose views extend to the Slieve Bloom Mountains in one direction and the Wicklow Mountains in the other.

The visionary owner and moneyman behind the project is Chicago businessman Fred Krehbiel. The restoration of the house (which had nearly become a ruin by the 1990s) was carried out by Jim Reynolds, an archaeologist, garden designer (the Merrion Hotel, Dublin), and general Renaissance man. The attention to detail involved even relocating a massive stone fountain three feeet to the south to correct a mistake made while Coote was away in England some 180 years ago.

The all-inclusive pricing of the accommodations (from app. $1,375 per night for two people) includes three meals daily prepared by chef Fred Cordonnier, former chef de cuisine of the Saddle Room at Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel. A recent dinner started with black pudding cappuccino and was followed by pan-fried West Cork scallops with carrot, orange blossom, yogurt, and pistachio; roast breast of duck accompanied by garden spinach, burlat cherries, and elderflower; and ice cream of rosemary, yuzu, apricot, and almond and rosemary sponge. Much of the table's bounty derives from the estate's six-acre walled garden, which you are welcome to tour.

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Located one hour and 10 minutes from Dublin Airport, Ballyfin hopes to rival such other celebrated country-house hotels as Twin Farms in Vermont, La Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire, England, and Villa Feltrinelli on Lake Garda, Italy. I wouldn't hesitate to put down even money that Ballyfin's lofty goals may soon come to pass.

2010-hs-mark-orwolljpgSmart Traveler Mark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter.

Photos courtesy of Ballyfin.

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