Exclusive five-star bargains

1. Ashford Castle, Co Mayo

Tempt me: Yes, Ashford Castle recently went into receivership. But the hotel’s international reputation, a steady stream of wealthy American guests and the first-class team serving guests in an estate dating from 1228 still make it one of the top five hotels in the country.

Bang for your buck: From the moment you enter its sprawling wooded estate, Ashford Castle’s exclusivity is on display. After crossing a thin bridge over the River Cong, a doorman greets you by name. Inside, an oak-panelled reception area is crammed with oils and antiques. After relaxing into the aura of fusty luxury, perhaps you’d like to try a spot of falconry, cruise Lough Corrib, or don your jacket and tie for a feast beneath the Waterford Crystal chandeliers in the George V restaurant?

The celebrity guests: Guests at the former Guinness country estate have included Brad Pitt, Woody Allen, Christina Ricci, Barbara Streisand, Sir Alex Ferguson and Ronald Reagan, who visited as President in 1984. John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara stayed whilst filming The Quiet Man in Cong in 1951.

The price tag: A special ‘legendary castle’ offer running to March 12 has three nights B&B for the price of two from €390 per room (based on two sharing). Dinner and activities are extra.

Contact details: 094-9546003; ashford.ie

2. The Merrion Hotel, Dublin

Tempt me: Since the 1760s, the Merrion’s plush Georgian façade and city-centre location have been one of Dublin’s most desirable addresses. Now it’s one of its most desirable hotels, too. An opulent series of bars and drawing rooms, together with Patrick Guilbaud’s (the only restaurant in Ireland with two Michelin Stars) combine 18th-century city-living with 21st-century service.

Bang for your buck: Money makes the Merrion go round. Outside, you’ll see fleets of Mercedes and other top marques. Inside, the hotel’s art collection includes pieces by Jack B Yeats and Louis Le Brocquy. The best rooms are those in the Georgian wing, with Italian marble bathrooms, rococo ceilings and views over Government buildings or the hotel’s period gardens.

The celebrity guests: In May, Barack and Michele Obama used the Merrion Hotel as their Dublin base. “The last thing he said to me was ‘make sure you tell people I was here’,” general manager, Peter MacCann, has since revealed. Bruce Springsteen, Alastair Campbell, Martin Sheen and, erm, the IMF’s AJ Chopra, are amongst the luminaries regularly papped entering and exiting the redbrick townhouses.

The price tag: Rack rates start at €485 per night, rising to €3,000 for the penthouse suite. A ‘Five Star Steal’ offer valid to April 30, however, has B&B plus dinner and champagne from €125pp.

Contact details: 01-6030600; www.merrionhotel.com

3. The Cliff House, Co Waterford

Tempt me: If you build it, they will come. Was that the motto for Barry O’Callaghan and his family, who spent some €20 million transforming this old seaside pile into a five-star bolthole cascading down the banks of Ardmore Bay? It certainly worked out that way. Almost four years and a Michelin Star later, the Cliff House is a 21st century vision in a village founded by St Declan over 1,500 years ago.

Bang for your buck: A boutique hotel with 39 bedrooms, the Cliff House is kitted out with original Irish art, an indoor infinity pool, outdoor Jacuzzi, bold interior designs and a series of terraces and balconies that feel like the decks of a luxury liner. Then there’s the cooking of Martijn Kajuiter, whose marriage of molecular gastronomy and Irish cuisine has won Ireland’s only Michelin Star outside Dublin.

The celebrity guests: The Cliff House is slowly but surely building up its celeb quotient, with recent visits from Kathryn Thomas, Sonya Lennon, Richard Corrigan, Adrian Dunbar, Johnny Vegas and Olympic gold medal winner, Ronnie Delaney. As word spreads, expect the A-listers to follow.

The price tag: Deluxe sea view rooms are advertised at €216 per night, rising to €451 for a cliff veranda suite. B&B and a Michelin-starred dinner are currently available from €347 per room (€173.50pp).

Contact details: 024-87800; thecliffhousehotel.com

4. The Four Seasons, Dublin

Tempt me: One of the highest-profile hotel developments ever to have taken place in Dublin, the Four Seasons found itself up for sale after posting losses in 2010, but remains one of the poshest overnights in the capital. Hotel brands don’t come much swankier, as even the briefest visit will testify.

Bang for your buck: King-size beds, bath tubs said to fill in one minute, fresh chocolates on turndown — and that’s just the bedrooms. The Four Seasons proclaims itself Dublin’s most exclusive enclave, and once you get past the bloated, wedding-cake-style building itself, it’s hard to disagree. Splashes of marble, luxury rugs, fresh flowers, a full-service spa and a top-notch steakhouse all pile on the posh points, and junior guests get their own bathrobes, toiletries and welcome treats too.

The celebrity guests: Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Eminem, Colin Firth and Sheryl Crow are all reported to have stayed at the Four Seasons, and former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, lives in an apartment at the hotel. The ICE Bar remains a magnet for city celebs and bands playing the nearby RDS.

The price tag: Regular rates are currently quoting at €225 for a ‘moderate’ room, rising to €2,040 for a premium suite. Online package rooms are available from €185 per night (€97.50pp), however.

Contact details: 01-6654000; fourseasons.com/dublin

5. Ballyfin Demesne, Co Laois

Tempt me: Ireland’s newest five-star accommodates just 29 people, which means guests get top-end hotel service, married with the exclusivity of a private Regency mansion. After a restoration lasting the guts of a decade (longer than it took to build in the first place), Ballyfin opened last April, and quickly found itself listed amongst Tatler Travel Guide’s Top 101 Hotels in the World.

Bang for your buck: For starters, a 600-acre estate is your personal playground. Then you have the mansion itself, built in the 1820s for Sir Henry Coote and lavishly restored by Chicago businessman Fred Krehbiel. Exquisite details abound, facilities range from an 80-foot library to an indoor heated pool, the antiques look like Sotheby’s greatest hits, and that’s not even starting on the sensational suites.

The celebrity guests: Prices like this buy silence, and Ballyfin has been tight-lipped about the identity of its guests. However, the hotel did host Dylan McGrath and Nick Munier last year, when 10 Masterchef contenders prepared canapés under the watchful eye of executive chef, Fred Cordonnier.

The price tag: Ballyfin re-opens after a winter hiatus on March 9. Full-board costs from €975 per room per night in peak season in a deluxe room, but midweek rates to April 30 are almost 25% cheaper at €750 per night.

Meals, drinks and the use of most on-site recreational facilities are included.

Contact Details: 01-8755866; ballyfin.com

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