‘It’s a grand place you’re headed,’ says Danny Fitzpatrick in as fine an Oirish accent as can be heard. Danny, our driver from Dublin airport to Bellinter House, County Meath, hasn’t so much kissed the Blarney Stone as settled in for an all-night love-in, judging by the rich, anecdote-filled commentary he provides as the lush countryside rolls by. It has been a hard week. So, we can’t think of a better way to start the weekend than to sit back and let Danny’s lilting soundtrack waft over us, while we gaze out at the luminescent green fields, and the watery sun sets through the mist. I was too whacked even to ask the origins of an anomalous herd of buffalo.
As we swish up the long drive towards the Palladian splendour of our boutique stay, Bellinter House, the 18th-century mansion looms ahead, all twinkly and inviting. It feels as though we’re in a Jane Austen novel, arriving at a much-anticipated ball hosted by the local catch. All that’s missing is the horse-drawn carriage and an empire-line frock.
The period-drama spectacle continues inside – as finding our room involves an expedition up a cantilevered staircase and along an opulently plastered landing, beneath an elaborate, oval-domed ceiling that’s propped up by slightly bonkers Doric columns. Those Georgians certainly never stinted on their proportions. Our room has the requisite high ceilings, floor-length sash windows and impressively heavy shutters that come as standard issue in country piles. Apparently Bellinter takes its name from the Irish words Baile and Saoir, which means ‘home of the carpenter’ and, judging by the wood panelling that’s everywhere, the place has evidently kept many a craftsman busy over the years.
Despite the grand lines, there’s still something refreshingly up to date about Bellinter House. With modern art on the walls, contemporary furniture dotted about and some very non-18th-century fabrics fulfilling the soft-furnishing function, it’s more like hanging out in the country pad of a design-savvy, modern-day squire than being trapped in a stuffy museum. There’s even technology that’s so complicated I can’t manage to switch the lights on. Luckily, Mr Smith has more perseverance with that sort of thing and, before long, he’s cracked it – and is happily reassessing the mood and readjusting accordingly (on what seems like an hourly basis).
A quick glance at the clock stirs us into action and we rush down for a pre-dinner livener, keen not to miss last orders. I needn’t have bothered, as the barman tells me that they only really close when the last guest drifts off to bed. Now that’s my kind of watering hole.
Our table awaits and, after a quick aperitif, we head for Bellinter House's Eden Restaurant – which is the sister establishment to the award-winning Dublin eatery famous for its seasonal Irish menu. Danny had mentioned something about Smokies, which we notice on the starter menu. The smoked haddock, spring onion, crème fraîche and melted cheese combination makes me wish I’d paid more attention to his recommendations, because it’s absolutely delicious. As is the hearty beef and Guinness stew (when in Ireland and all that), which comes with earthy wild mushrooms and a creamy mash. We haul ourselves back upstairs and tumble onto a springy marshmallow cloud of goose down and crisp white bedlinen. And, with those sturdy shutters blocking out the big bad world, our sleep is long and tranquil.
The next morning, I pull back the shutters dramatically, inviting in the kind of rural Irish view that stars every colour under the sun (as long as it’s green). In the far distance, the river Boyne winds languidly through our framed picture, adding focus to the composition. Happily, Bellinter House is not the kind of hotel where the breakfast service is always ending just as you’re heading down for it. We’re able to indulge in a deliciously lazy full Irish breakfast in bed. It could be early afternoon for all we know. Not that anybody would care if it was.
With so much scenic action happening out the window, we’re drawn from our cocoon to go and explore. There’s a selection of wellies in all sizes, which is handy – who’d ever think to bring their own? We grab a pair each and meander through lush meadows along the banks of the Boyne, wading through long grass, over fields dotted with nonchalant cattle, before resting up by the river’s edge, allowing the countryside’s natural powers to work their restorative magic.
Funny how time flies when you’re busy not doing much at all. Not that there isn’t plenty to occupy restless spirits. For anyone who wants to curl up with a good book, the library’s packed: with everything from a Joan Collins biography to Irish artists from the 1600s. Then there’s a games room and fishing, golf, horse riding and clay-pigeon shooting for the energetic. But after our extensive walk, I’m more in the mood for a lie-down. And there are worse ways to fill a few hours than to visit the Bathhouse spa, where a seaweed bath and body wrap leaves my skin feeling velvety, dewy and soft – a description equally germane to the Meath landscape.
We retire to the forest-toned drawing room where, gazing at the pretty plasterwork, I’m reminded of an ornately frosted wedding cake. As if on cue, afternoon tea arrives and we hunker down on an elegant sofa. Other guests congregate and soon we’re chatting about life and love, and wondering why we don’t do this sort of thing more often. Maybe it’s the fine food and favourite tipples. Or the promise of a comfy bed and a sound sleep. Perhaps it’s the soothing emerald tones. Whatever. Danny Fitzpatrick was right: ‘It’s just grand.’