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Barberstown a cut above

Four-star hotel the perfect base for break in classy Co Kildare

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Barberstown Castle.

Barberstown Castle.

Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens.

Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens.

The castle’s Barton Room restaurant.

The castle’s Barton Room restaurant.

Kildare Village.

Kildare Village.

The Straffan Inn in Kildare.

The Straffan Inn in Kildare.

Eric Clapton once owned the castle.

Eric Clapton once owned the castle.

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Barberstown Castle.

I often wonder how many of the six million-plus visitors who descend on Dublin every year step foot outside the city.

Just a few miles beyond the confines of the M50 is some of the most breathtaking countryside in Ireland, dotted with picture postcard towns and villages.

As much as I love the capital, it is worth travelling beyond its borders and exploring counties Meath, Wicklow and Kildare.

It was in the latter where I spent a brilliant two nights during the unseasonal sunny weather at the end of March.

Home for the weekend break was the glorious four-star Barberstown Castle hotel on the edge of the wealthy village of Straffan, whose residents include MMA superstar Conor McGregor and ex-international footballer Niall Quinn. The exclusive K Club golf resort is here too — cementing the area’s A-list reputation.

While McGregor and Quinn are part of Ireland’s new generation of millionaires, this region of Kildare is still dominated by old money. Huge countryside homes on acres passed down through generations dominate the landscape.

This is also the land of horse breeders, the sport of kings, and the Curragh and Punchestown racetracks which host the Irish Derby and Gold Cup.

A visit to Kildare would not be complete without a trip to the Irish National Stud and Gardens where hundreds of racehorses are sired each year.

Nine stallions work around the clock for fees up to £60,000 per turn producing tomorrow’s champions. Seeing them in the flesh, all solid muscle and sinew, really is something else.

Accompanying us on our walk around the Stud and hugely impressive Japanese gardens was its tourism development manager David Wardell.

An encyclopaedia on horse breeding and racing, he played a key role in developing the complex’s fantastic Irish Racehorse Experience.

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Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens.

Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens.

Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens.

The centre immerses visitors in the history of horse racing in Ireland, teaches how the animals are trained, before allowing you to take part in a virtual race in front of a huge screen while sitting on a shaking mechanical mount. It’s great fun, especially if you manage, like I somehow did, to actually win a race.

The Irish National Stud and Gardens is just a 30-minute drive from Barberstown Castle Hotel, where I could easily have spent the weekend just lounging around. The stunning four-star hotel is the former home of legendary guitarist Eric Clapton, and was converted into guest accommodation after he sold up in 1987.

It now boasts 55 rooms and is a proud member of Ireland’s Blue Book — the invite-only essential travel bible featuring the most exclusive hotels and guest houses on these shores.

Much of the original castle’s features have been retained including the medieval keep built in 1288 which now houses an award-winning restaurant.

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The castle’s Barton Room restaurant.

The castle’s Barton Room restaurant.

The castle’s Barton Room restaurant.

Our bedroom for the weekend was huge, with a comfy four-poster bed, all mod-cons, and massive en-suite bathroom. It overlooked the well-kept castle gardens and was just a short elevator trip to the impressive hotel bar, which has a glassed roof allowing swathes of sunlight to flood the room.

While the hotel itself is dramatic and fit for a rock star, its Barton Room restaurant is equally absorbing and working towards a Michelin star.

We dined there on both nights of our stay, thoroughly enjoying the French-inspired menu ranging from spring lamb to grilled fish.

A breakfast of eggs cooked to order, smoked kippers, and a traditional fry was also sumptuous, especially as it was combined with a buffet packed full of cold meats, cheeses, fruits and pastries.

For anyone wanting to eat outside of Barberstown Castle there is the Straffan Inn, a pleasant 10-minute walk away.

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The Straffan Inn in Kildare.

The Straffan Inn in Kildare.

The Straffan Inn in Kildare.

Recently taken over by the nearby K Club golf resort, it specialises in wood-fired pizzas and traditional Irish pub grub. It’s also a great way to get the night in with a pint of stout and live music. We fell in with a group of Dubs — the village is packed with them — and they regaled us with tales of local life, and how the area had become a mini-mecca for Irish celebrities.

The inn has a sizeable outdoor seating area with heaters making it the perfect place to enjoy a summer evening.

If pizzas and pints aren’t your thing then there is always the Kildare Village retail complex, again less than 30 minutes away from Barberstown Castle, to bash the credit card on designer goods.

This was my first visit there and I was impressed with the layout of the shops which are based in Swiss chalet-style buildings. While the missus went off looking for bargains I was able to relax with a drink in one of the many coffee shops and restaurants dotted around Kildare Village.

Unsurprisingly they were filled with mostly men, sitting on their own, glancing at their watches and waiting on their better halves returning.

I cannot speak highly enough of Kildare as a location for a short break. It’s somewhere I would never have previously considered — more fool me — but a place I am delighted to have found.

As a holiday destination it does suffer from being in the shadow of its glitzy neighbour Dublin, but scratch the surface and it can be every bit as glamorous and rewarding.

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Kildare Village.

Kildare Village.

Kildare Village.

As a base for a Kildare break, the Barberstown Castle hotel ticks all the boxes. It has the perfect blend of affordable luxury and old world charm. The food is amazing and the restaurant and bar competitively priced. The staff were also a credit to the owners and keen to assist with every request.

If you’re considering a short break, and tired of the usual destinations, then give Kildare a go, especially as its just two to three hours’ drive away from anywhere in Northern Ireland.

Factfile

The four-star Blue Book rated Barberstown Castle is offering a series of summer packages from €220 per night. These include dinner and breakfast packages, stay and dine deals, and romantic getaway offers. Visit www.barberstowncastle.ie or call 00353 1 628 8157 for more information.


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