Stepping into a secret country hideaway

Step House Hotel, Co Carlow

HAVE you ever felt that you have stumbled upon a well kept secret? That’s what it feels like when you stay at the Step House Hotel in Borris, Co Carlow.

To be honest, I had not heard of Step House before we stayed there, but while planning how to mark a significant wedding anniversary, the mere mention of its name sent people into a flurry of superlatives as they recalled their own stay at the hotel and its gastronomic delights. It seems a whole underground network of rave reviews and whispers of potential Michelin star ratings had bypassed me. But now I too have joined the army of people who extol the virtues of staying in this country hideaway.

The hotel is a family affair which is evidenced by the attention to detail throughout. James Coady is the proprietor, his sister Mary manages the day-to-day running of it, his wife Cait has helped design the interiors, Cait’s daughter Aisleen runs the sales and marketing element of the business and son Alan is the chef.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The Georgian facade hides an understated luxury and homely atmosphere hard to beat.

Large flower pots brimming with colourful surfina decorate the outside of what appears on the outside to be quite a linear building with its bar, hotel entrance and tea rooms.

And once you step inside, the spaciousness reveals itself slowly.

Marble floors, a roaring, open fire with carefully arranged seating and welcoming smiles is what greets you when you go inside.

It’s a 20-room boutique hotel without the pretentiousness that that word often means. It is not brash in either colour or tone. It has the quiet confidence of a place that knows what it is offering is of a high quality and standard. Colour schemes of golds, creams, sandstone and sage greens add to the air of luxury and spaciousness.

THE FOOD

I’m still dining out on my memories of one of the deserts I enjoyed at the Step House: passion fruit panna cotta with passion fruit sorbet — and I don’t even like desserts. My husband will look at the desert section of the menu before the mains, but I rarely have one, preferring to linger on starters and mains. But the Step House may have changed my ways.

The food is just sublime; simple menu descriptions belie the complexity of textures and flavours conjured up in the kitchen. On our first night we had chicken terrine with pear and confit of pork belly with a liquorice sauce for starters. For main we enjoyed coq au vin “Step House-style” and monkfish, served with steamed and buttered broccoli and chive mash. If Kilkenny has two Michelin star restaurants, Carlow won’t be far behind with the quality of food being served here.

On the second night we had house burgers from the bar menu served with fantastic hand-cut chips all served up for €13 that even the locals travel from miles around to sample.

Silver service breakfast consists of a selection of fresh fruits, cereals, freshly cooked croissants and homemade brown bread, as well as a more traditional cooked breakfast option.

THE ROOM

A minimal amount of furniture, or rather an optimal amount of furniture in the room, adds to the overall feel of spaciousness. There was a large en suite, we had our own balcony overlooking the garden, and the mattress was very comfortable.

THE AMENITIES

The 1808 bar (so called to commemorate the date it was built) deserves a special mention with its green leather snugs, polished brass and roaring fires. It has been in the family for five generations and is like an old gentlemen’s club, but one where women have left their mark over the years to make it a more welcoming place to while away the hours.

As well as the main hotel area, there are also two-bedroomed self-catering cottages and apartments at the Step House Hotel, and a penthouse suite.

WHAT TO DO

Borris itself is a picturesque town of cut stone buildings and traditional shop fronts. Directly opposite the hotel is the MacMurrough Kavanagh family seat, former kings of Leinster and one of the royal families of ancient Ireland, and their walled estate forms the backbone of the pretty town. Avoca is a short drive away with monasteries and round towers lurking around nearly every bend, hidden by ancients oaks and sycamores. Walking and cycling trails criss-cross the area with views of Mount Leinster and the Blackstairs Mountains to the east, and the Barrow Valley to the west.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Overnight stay available from €55 per person midweek bed and breakfast and €90 per person midweek with breakfast and one evening meal.

ANYTHING TO ADD

I would highly recommend anyone to go and enjoy this secret for yourself. (Pssst. . . but don’t forget to pass it on.)


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