Guests make introductions and share stories of their travels over pre-dinner cocktails and canapés in the stately 79-foot-long library at Ballyfin, a lavish boutique hotel in the heart of Ireland. The scene harks back to the house’s early days as a showplace for its fabulously wealthy owners, Sir Charles and Lady Caroline Coote.
Just as no expense was spared when the newly minted billionaires built their spectacular Regency mansion in the 1820s, its new owner Fred Krehbiel, an American billionaire, invested a king’s ransom and eight years restoring the architectural gem to perfection and appointing it with museum-worthy artworks and antiques.
Over dinner in the State Dining Room, talk turns to the day’s activities—shooting clay pigeons, picnics, fishing, horseback riding and exploring the estate’s 600 acres of rolling hills, meadows, woods and gardens. A stone grotto and an ancient-looking castle tower are among the follies Lady Caroline had built to surprise and delight her influential visitors. In that spirit, managing director Jim Reynolds, a renowned Irish archeologist and landscape architect who oversaw the restoration, installed a neoclassical water cascade crowned by a Roman-style temple behind the main building.
For all its extravagance, Ballyfin is in essence a country house for enjoying country pursuits that now welcomes paying guests (starting at $650, all-inclusive). Each of its 15 rooms is unique and individually decorated with original artworks and furnishings. The Sir Charles Coote room is the Baronet’s former study, tucked in the corner at the foot of the grand staircase, with a Roman marble sarcophagus bath dominating the bathroom. The Sir Christopher Coote suite, the hotel’s largest, has curved windows overlooking the verdant grounds, 18th-century Chinese wallpaper panels from the collection of the Prince of Hanover at Schloss Marienburg, and Chinese Chippendale furnishings.
Whichever room you choose, you will feel like the lord of the manor when you close the evening on the terrace overlooking the flowing cascade with a Cohiba Siglo VI and a single pot-still Irish whiskey in hand.