Ballyfin dining room rsz

Irish Hotels and Resorts Rank Among the ‘Best’

An aerial view of Ballyfin.

IRELAND HOPPING | By Margaret M. Johnson

Part 1

[Part 2 will be published in the Irish Echo on Aug. 1]

It’s now mid-July 2018. I have not been to Ireland yet and have no plans to visit before year’s end. To say the least, I’m depressed/in a funk and otherwise in a bad mid-year mood. I’ve been visiting every year — sometimes two or three times — since 1984 and have simply let travels there this year slip by. Luckily, I have enough great memories to continue to write this column, and when I heard the news that Travel & Leisure magazine just announced its “World’s Best List” with three Irish properties on it, my spirits were lifted. Every year for its “World’s Best Awards Survey,” T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, spas and more. Hotels are rated on their facilities, location, service, food, and overall value; properties are rated on their locations and amenities. I’ve spent time in all three Irish winners and reported on my visits in this space. I’m happy to share again!

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

In the “Top 100 Hotels” list, Ballyfin, in County Laois, came in at a very impressive No. 2! Set in the beautiful surroundings of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, the site of Ballyfin ( has been settled from ancient times and the house is famously one of the most lavish Regency mansions in Ireland. In May 2011, it opened as a five-star, 20-room hotel (five more bedrooms were added in 2015), but it easily doubles as a museum of Irish neo-classical architecture and design. At precisely four o’clock each afternoon, a butler leads a formal tour of the home that explains in great detail the architectural and design features that were original to the home, as well as to the features that figured in the restoration. But for all of Ballyfin’s classicism, it has embraced contemporary touches that are nearly obligatory in a twenty-first century hotel: a gorgeous indoor swimming pool, sauna, fully equipped gym, and treatment rooms are located in the lower level along with a casual bar and impressive wine cellar focusing on wines from Irish “Wild Geese” families.



I enjoyed a two-night stay at Ballyfin in spring 2016 and found this delicious French-style lemon tart on the dessert menu.

For the pastry

  • 1 large egg yolk

  • 2 tablespoons water

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1⁄3 cup sugar

  • 1⁄4 teaspoon salt

4 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

For the filling

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice

6 large egg yolks

3 large eggs

3/4 cup sugar

4 ounces butter

Fresh berries for serving

  1. Make pastry. In a small bowl, whisk together egg yolk, water, and vanilla. In a large bowl (or food processor), combine flour, sugar, salt, and butter. Pulse or work in butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add egg mixture and mix until dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

  2. Preheat oven to 375° F. Transfer dough to lightly floured surface and roll out to fit tart pan. Line with parchment paper or aluminum foil, fill with ceramic pie weights or dried beans, and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° F, remove paper or foil, and bake for 15 to 18 minutes longer, or until crust is golden.

Make filling

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring lemon juice to boil. In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks, eggs, and sugar with an electric mixer until smooth. Slowly add lemon juice and beat until smooth.

  2. Return mixture to saucepan. Return to boil, whisking constantly until mixture begins to thicken. Whisk in butter, a few pieces at a time, until smooth and thick. Pour into the tart shell and let cool; refrigerate until firm. Slice and serve with fresh berries.

The Dining Room at Ballyfin.

In Part 2 in the Aug. 1 issue: Sheen Falls Lodge, Kenmare, County Kerry, ranked No. 50 on “Top Hotels” list and Ashford Castle, Cong, County Mayo, No. 5 on “Top 10 Resorts in the U.K. and Ireland.”

Margaret Johnson’s “Recipes” page now includes “Ireland Hopping: Adventures in Food, Drink, and Travel.” For further details on her work, including how to order her cookbooks, visit