It takes a while to find the reception desk at the Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge. But I’m pretty sure that’s all part of the plan.
They don’t play by the rules here, unconventional is the order of the day.
You step inside the door, past the gloriously kooky entrance, a mish mash of garden chairs, bird feeders, multicoloured Wellington boots - and a wall full of prestigious accolades and awards - and for a moment you have to stop yourself.
Did you just walk into someone’s home? There’s a sit-and- you’ll-sink-into-it communal corner suite and a blazing open fire.
The two couples enjoying a drink and a chat look up and give a knowing smile, as if they can’t believe they’ve discovered this little haven, this hidden gem, either.
And just as you close the door, there’s John Edward, the host with the most, to greet you. No formal check in, just open arms, friendly banter.
And that first impression, we decided, set the tone for our stay at the The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge in Ballingarry. Whatever you want, somehow, it will just appear before your eyes.
Chocolates (on a silver tray, no less) and prosecco were there to greet us in our room, a family suite that could have slept four.
Again it was a fabulous little thrift shop of antiques and stories, with a modernised bathroom - we loved the funky striped wallpaper - stocked with Gilchrist and Soames products.
This country house strikes that balance, preserving the old yet ensuring guests have every modern comfort.
And that’s just the way Dan Mullane wants it. He doesn’t count himself as the owner, he explains later, bustling with energy. He’s the caretaker; “you have to care to do this”, he explains.
And it’s evident he gives this old convent a lot of care. His passion is obvious to all.
You never quite know what you’ll find around any corner at the Mustard Seed - a decadent red chandelier in one hallway, a mini shrine to Mother Teresa in another.
It’s all part of its charm. It’s home to big name collectables too, including works by Pauline Bewick.
We ate in the stunning blue dining room and the food was as magnificently unforgettable as our check in. When you sample the menu here, it’s little surprise to learn that initially Dan made his name locally as a restauranteur.
We dined from the Mustard Seed’s Classic Dinner Menu (€60). For starters there was John Dory, with squid ink polenta, avacado mousse, baby turnip and pickled radish. It tasted every bit as good as it sounds.
For main I chose monkfish, with Kenmare (melt-in-the-mouth) scallops, charred spring onions, baby beets and smoked prawn butter. Truly, it was sublime. And the service struck just the right balance - friendly yet always professional.
We loved the little piano room, leading onto the stunning gardens. During our stay it served as a private function room.
Later we ventured back to that cosy fire and found a woman from that party dozing on the couch. It summed up the laid back, make-yourself-at-home vibe the Mustard Seed oozes.
As we made our way back to the room, Dan assured us the nuns who once resided here were “good ones” (“there are only good ghosts in this place”). And there was no mistaking the beautiful aura at the Mustard Seed.
We both woke the next morning from a full night’s sleep - no mean feat when your travelling companion is pregnant with twins. Breakfast, the true test of any weekend break, was, in a word, perfection.
We were sorry to eventually find the reception desk, nestled in a corner beside the restaurant, when it eventually came to check out.
We just didn’t want to leave.
Nestled in the county Limerick countryside, close to Adare, The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge has 16 bedrooms and is set on 10 acres of gardens.
The Rest and Recharge package offers two nights accommodation, full Irish breakfast and dinner on one evening, from €195 per person sharing. The Mustard Seed is the only Co. Limerick Blue Book Country House.
Georgina Campbell declared it the Hideaway of the Year for 2014.
The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge. Ballingarry, Co Limerick, 069 68508, firstname.lastname@example.org www.mustardseed.ie