On a Clare day ...

WHATEVER the New Year has in store for Irish holidaymakers, you can be sure self-catering will be involved.

The use of a kitchen, the freedom to come and go as you please, the chance to plonk yourself on a sofa that isn’t four inches from a hotel bed, the savings to be made when several people pool their accommodation — all have made self-catering an Irish holiday staple.

Serviced self-catering, which combines the freedom of a holiday home with the option of paying for staff to clean the house or cook your food, is a newer niche. This year, Sandbrook House in Co Carlow opened with the offer of a house manager and kitchen staff, for example.

Even before that, Inchiquin House was blazing a trail in the wilds of west Clare. This luxury Georgian farmhouse, which opened quietly following refurbishment in 2010, can be booked with catering, with cookery classes, or enjoyed entirely by yourself. It’s a timely proposition.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Darkness has fallen by the time I reach Inchiquin. It’s a brutish night, and turning off the Kilnaboy road, I trundle along a thin avenue with wipers whacking back and forth, fighting off the rain like Bull McCabe fighting off the sea. The glow of farmhouse windows appears in the distance.

The following morning, all has changed. The rain has gone, the clouds dispersed, and Inchiquin House is revealed in all its Georgian glory. Set in a hollow overlooking Clifden Hill, surrounded by rolling farm, lakes and woodland, the middle of nowhere suddenly feels like the perfect place to be.

THE AMENITIES

Inchiquin House opened to guests following a painstaking refurbishment by its owners, the Harbison family. If the surname seems familiar, that’s no surprise — John Harbison, the former State Pathologist, and his brother Peter, the eminent archaeologist and art historian, spent several summers here as young boys. The estate is now managed by Ronan and Treacy Harbison.

Inside, the 200 year-old farmhouse is riddled with antiques. OS maps of Clare date from 1894, a grandfather clock stands guard in the hall, there’s a Regency bureau in the sitting room, and a wonderful walnut ‘compactum’ graces one of the bedrooms — it’s a gentleman’s wardrobe straight out of a Wes Anderson movie, complete with labelled storage space for soft collars.

A standalone bathtub, turf fires and a big Aga are old-school comforts, and they’re complemented by a brand new kitchen, Wii and satellite TV, so you can keep a toehold in the 21st century, too. Aside from a tendency towards clutter in the sitting room, it all hangs together very well.

THE ROOMS

There are five bedrooms at Inchiquin, all individually furnished and varying in layout and size. They accommodate 10 guests in total, so it’s ideally suited to small groups or families.

If you’re first in the door, the master bedroom is the one to bag, with its King-size bed, full-length antique mirror and sash window views over the 100-acre estate. I slept in one of the twins, a long, thin room with two narrow singles squashed in among the antiques, and sharing an upstairs bathroom with a power-shower, free-standing tub and sprinkling of Gilchrist & Soames toiletries.

THE FOOD

There are several options for stuffing your face at Inchiquin. First, you can cook for yourself (the local butcher delivers to the door). Second, you can request the house cook — Liam Walsh, who has worked in Marlfield House and Gregan’s Castle — to come and cook for you.

Liam specialises in country cooking, and dishes like Burren lamb or pheasant stew can be eaten informally in the kitchen, or at the stately mahogany table in the Georgian dining room.

The third option is to combine a little bit of everything in a cookery course. Liam can be booked for demos or classes, and the kitchen is kitted out with restaurant grade cooker, chef’s knives and branded aprons. It’s a fun, hands-on approach with Liam providing recipes and ingredients — though you can contact him in advance if you’d like to tackle a particular theme or dish.

WHAT TO DO

Corofin sits just next to the Burren, the clints and grykes of which are far more diverse than they first appear. The National Park is home to Ireland’s oldest perfumery, to forts, dolmens and famine villages, and there’s nowhere better to kill calories with a brisk winter walk. Golf at Doonbeg or Lahinch, trad sessions in the pubs of Corofin, and west Clare’s winter surf are all just a short drive away.

At Inchiquin itself, you can walk the estate, fish the lakes, and enjoy private botanical tours of the Burren with Mary Angela Keane, or archaeological excursions with Prof Peter Harbison, can be organised for €950 or €1,600 respectively (for a group of up to 10). The day tours include lunch and transport.

If you’d prefer to head off yourself, the nearby Clare Archaeology Centre (dysertcastle.com) is closed until May, but the walking trails around it are open, taking in dozens of monuments, including a 12th century High Cross and the splendid Romanesque doorway in Dysert O’Dea Church.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Two nights’ B&B, two dinners and two lunches, together with a full-day cookery course and eight bottles of wine, costs from €350pp (minimum, six people). Contact 085-2118835; inchiquinhouse.com.

ANYTHING TO ADD

A New Year, a new idea, and a new property finding its feet in a tough market for tourism. Here’s hoping this luxury little farmhouse can stay the course.

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