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Crowning glory The off-grid Carlow castle that mixes luxury with a homely feel

"From its time-warped courtyard to the oldest barn theatre in Ireland, it is a beautiful rambling citadel"

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The main grounds of Huntington Castle.

The main grounds of Huntington Castle.

The main grounds of Huntington Castle.

A few decades ago, much like the rest of Europe and the UK, Ireland's castle-owning families, through fiscal necessity, came up with a crafty way of converting impossibly expensive fortresses into money-spinners - i.e. grand hotels.

Think Ashford and Dromoland and you have two of the best examples in Europe - fine and dandy if what you want is immense glam and five-star luxury in a Disney-esque castle with bedrooms the size of tennis courts. And even though Ireland is teeming with castles and keeps, finding a more authentic and less cosseted location complete with dreamy dollops of romance is more difficult than you might imagine.

Huntington Castle

Huntington, Clonegall, Co Carlow

4.5 Stars

Food €100; B&B €190

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One of the impressive bedrooms at Huntington Castle.

One of the impressive bedrooms at Huntington Castle.

One of the impressive bedrooms at Huntington Castle.

Off-grid Huntington Castle, an amazing bed and breakfast in Clonegal, Co Carlow, fits that description perfectly. Set in wildly beautiful countryside, and stuffed with original 17th century family heirlooms and antiques, this stunning castle is owned by Alexander and Clare Durdin Robertson, direct descendants of the Esmonde family, which built the original tower house.

Very much a hands-on working farm, a stay here is less about unrestrained luxury and more to do with relaxed home comfort: not for a moment, though, does that make Huntington less enchanting.

From its time-warped courtyard to the oldest barn theatre in Ireland, it is a beautiful rambling citadel. I half expected a shining knight to come galloping along through the dappled light of ancient trees lining the driveway.

Breakfast, personally cooked by the owners and served in the original high-ceilinged kitchen crammed with cooking memorabilia, is delicious.

Locally-sourced ingredients include creamy scrambled eggs, fried mushrooms that taste like mushrooms, juicy ripe grilled tomatoes, thick slices of crispy bacon (four of my favourite breakfast goodies) plus toasted granary bread and a pot of gorgeous coffee.

As it happened, we are supposed to have dinner later in a renowned local restaurant. Unfortunately, we're here before the July 26 reopening, so we have to forget that.

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The breakfast room at Huntington Castle.

The breakfast room at Huntington Castle.

The breakfast room at Huntington Castle.

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Luckily for us (and some other guests) the castle steps in and serves up a fantastic dinner. For this occasion we are in an elegant small-ish dining room decorated with tapestries, fine paintings, a huge granite fireplace and a handsome grandfather clock. We begin our surprisingly delightful meal with a goat's cheese and beetroot salad, and a good old-fashioned very tasty prawn cocktail.

Mains include a scrumptious generous-sized fillet steak alongside a gargantuan heap of buttered green beans mange-tout and baby potatoes. A fantastic pair of medium-rare lamb cutlets arrive with fresh mint sauce and another portion of those delectable veggies. For dessert we tuck into a mixed-berry Eton mess, and a lusciously gooey chocolate pot with whipped cream.

After a long drive in 29C heat filled with short tempers and a broken air-con, we are totally chuffed with how things are working out.

We spend the rest of an unusually warm evening loafing around the grounds while drinking chilled cava. No formalities, no worries, just calm.

If relaxation in a beautifully-furnished castle is what you want, this B&B will blow your mind. Our bedroom has a grand four-poster bed, mullioned windows and a view that's second to none. And just to remind you - this is first and foremost a B&B.

Grape Spy: Jean Smullen

This week I found two white wines from Chile that you must try. Chile is still the top choice for Irish wine drinkers - we just can't get enough of their amazing wines.

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2019 Emiliana Novas Riesling Gran Reserva, Bío-Bío Valley Chile €16.95

Viñedos Emiliana was founded in 1986 and today they have 1,550 hectares of vineyards in Chile's best wine valleys. This white wine made from the Riesling grape is produced from organically farmed grapes grown in the Bío Bío Valley, a cool climate region, located 500km south of the Chilean capital Santiago. Brand new at O'Briens Wines, this white is off-dry wine with lovely lively fresh lemon and lime flavours with lots of acidity. Serve with a Thai green chicken curry.

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wine

wine

wine

2019 Santa Rita Medalla Real Reserva Chardonnay €16

Santa Rita remains Ireland's most popular wine brand for the eighth year in a row. The Medalla Real range is a level up in terms of quality from the 120 range. This Chardonnay was grown in Limari Valley. It is superb, with lots of ripe tropical fruit balanced by a super spiciness. The flavour lasts forever in your mouth. Try it with sweet potato curry bake or cauliflower with cheese. Available from Dunnes Stores and Tesco nationwide.

  • For wine events, see jeansmullen.com


Quick bites

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YOU say 'tomayto', we say 'tomahto', but here's a taste combination ­everyone's sure to agree on.

Heinz and Wowburger have joined forces to launch the Wowburger: Heinz Tomato Ketchup Burger inspired by the rich flavour of everyone's favourite 'red sauce'.

From the red brioche bun right through to the beef patty, the new burger is bursting with the tomatoey goodness of the iconic ketchup, with a vegetarian version also available for non-meat eaters.

If that's not enough, the limited edition meal, €6.45, also comes with a small jar of Heinz Ketchup and a side of delicious hand-cut fries. You don't even have to leave the couch as the special box is available from Just Eat, Deliveroo and Uber Eats for €8.40 until National Burger Day this Wednesday.

To mark the day, Heinz and Wowburger are giving 57 ketchup fanatics the chance to win a free burger, while one lucky customer will get a year's supply of ketchup. Visit @heinzirl or @officialwowburger for details.

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