As part of our occasional series on breaks in Ireland, Jane Casey gets her Meryl Streep on in beautiful Borris, Co. Carlow.
On a cold Friday evening, after a long week at work and a seemingly longer Google maps-related detour, I stepped into the grand foyer of the Step House Hotel in Borris, Co Carlow, and was immediately certain I’d have the classy weekend of respite I desperately needed.
Situated on the main street in the small heritage village, the newly renovated hotel boasts some of the most appealing accommodation my ‘staycation’ buddy, Róisín and I have ever seen.
This family-run business went from a quaint home and pub to a stylish boutique hotel in 2007, and. with its roaring open ﬁres and elegant furniture, it’s the perfect mix of tasteful grandeur combined with the homeliness you would expect from a country hotel.
The hotel boasts the 1808 Bar, a traditional Irish pub in every sense of the word, named for the year the original building was erected. Having a drink there is literally like stepping into the past.
A serious of interconnected corridors lead down to The Cellar Restaurant, which might be small (a capacity of no more than 30 people), but it’s eclectic menu more than makes up for the lack of space. While it hasn’t been awarded the coveted Michelin star yet, I can’t imagine it will be long.
Head chef Alan Foley’s dishes are superb, and all the produce he uses is locally sourced. Róisín and I are self-confessed princesses when it comes to feeding time, given that I’m a vegetarian and Róisín being a lactose intolerant coeliac. The attentive staff at The Cellar went above and beyond to ensure that our dietary needs were met. I was presented with several vegetarian off-menu main course options, and settled on a delicious, specially prepared garlic gnocchi dish.
After our meal, marketing manager Aisleen Foley (sister of chef, Alan) gave us an informal history lesson on the premises… former owners, various renovations, the ghosts that roam the halls, wedding services… wait, ghosts? Yes, that’s right. While Róisín went to the ladies room, Aisleen told me The Step House ghost stories. Once, during renovations to the hotel, builders in the courtyard saw a woman standing at the window of a room on the top ﬂoor.
The men were worried, because the building was dangerous, due to all the construction work going on. When they ran up to check, nobody was there. Before Aisleen would continue with her story, she asked what room I was staying in. When I told her, she said, “I’ll tell you the rest of the story tomorrow. I don’t want to scare you.”
Giving her my best poker face to conceal my terror, I coaxed her into telling me more. She said that once there was a practicing medium who happened to be lunching in The Cellar Restaurant. She asked Aisleen if she could have a look around and after a tour of hotel, the medium concluded that there was a ghostly butler and a maid from times past, both of whom still work in The Cellar, while in the highest room of the building – our room – was the eternal abode of a young girl who fell to her death from window to the courtyard several stories below.
With the nonchalance of a true Irish country woman, Aisleen added: “Ah, sure sometimes staff will go in there and the TV will be roaring for no reason! Ha!” I didn’t mention a word of it to Róisín (until ﬁve the next morning, when I woke up in a cold sweat, shouting for her to turn on the lights – but that’s a story for a different day) and tucked into my mouthwatering dessert – chocolate pavé with homemade peanut butter ice cream. I ordered a French Coffee to ease my nerves before to bed.
After a (mostly) ghost-free night, and a huge breakfast the next morning of porridge, toast, fresh fruit and juices, pastries (all with gluten-free alternatives for my wheat intolerant friend), we went canoeing for the day. Less than ﬁve minutes away by car, we met the lovely guides from Go With The Flow River Adventures, on the edge of the River Barrow.
Despite my apprehension about the canoeing part of the trip, my worries disappeared thanks to the suburb guidance of the instructors. Guided down whitewater rapids and weirs, we felt like a pair of young Meryl Streeps taking on the River Wild. After three hours on the water, though, our aching arms had had enough so we headed back to the 1808 Bar at the Step House for homemade soup and sandwiches, before making tracks back to Dublin.
All in all, The Step House Hotel’s excellent service and country charm combined with our unique and exhilarating white water adventure resulted in one of the best ‘staycations’ I’ve ever had. Carlow would have never been on my radar as a destination county, but with its beautiful scenery, great activities, nature trails and competitively-priced luxury accommodation, I’ll definitely be back for round two on the rapids.
The Step House Hotel offers a special discounted canoeing package. Enjoy two nights B&B, dinner for two in 1808 Bar on one evening of your choice, and a guided River Barrow Trail with renowned Go With the Flow River Adventures instructor Charlie Horan, from €170 per person sharing midweek.
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