WHAT can be better than taking a leisurely stroll through frosty woodlands on a December morning?
We are extremely lucky here in Ireland to have lots of fine country houses remaining that are open to the public.
However, what if you want to experience what it is like to live in one of these splendid old mansions? There is nowhere better for this than Castle Leslie Estate in County Monaghan.
Going there in December is a real treat, and this place lends itself well to a Christmas theme.
Set in the extremely pretty Glaslough Village, it is commonly remembered for the ill-fated wedding of Paul McCartney and Heather Mills.
That one may not have ended well, but many weddings that have been held there since are still going strong.
In fact, the place is completely booked out for next year, with more than 100 weddings set to be held there.
This makes it tricky to be able to secure a bedroom in the castle at any given time, but we were extremely lucky to do just that recently.
The castle has 20 bedrooms, all individually designed and each with a theme. We stayed in The Chinese Room, which is decorated in plush, deep reds. There are no TVs in the bedrooms, but there is a cinema room that you might spend a little while trying to find after a few drinks …
But that’s the beauty of this place – you are made to feel like you are at home for the night, and you are given free reign to explore and relax.
We dined in Snaffles Restaurant, which is located in the lodge, a short stroll from the castle to the entrance of the estate – or, if you are so inclined, a driver will take you in one of the estate’s Range Rovers.
We dined there on a Saturday and the restaurant was full to capacity. Guests were still trickling in at 10pm, looking for a table.
The dining room is large with very high ceilings and is set on a balcony, overlooking the bar area and the stables.
To start, we were more than tempted by a very extensive gin menu, and all come with a little more than ice and a slice.
I tried a Martin Miller with strawberries and cracked black pepper, while my other half went for a South Bank gin with two juniper berries and a sprig of coriander. Both were refreshing and delicious, and proved the perfect pre-dinner drink.
The six-course dinner, that was included in the price of our stay, was spread out well over the course of the evening.
We started with a cod croquette amuse bouche; a small appetiser sent out from the chef. This was small and perfectly formed.
The starters included a crab dumpling and a wood pigeon, while for the main course we went for venison and a special of pan-fried cod on a bed of lobster and mussel risotto with a lobster bisque.
This was an outstanding dish and one of my highlights of the year.
Dessert of banana tart tartin with caramel sauce and coconut ice cream and a warm chocolate mousse pot brought a perfect evening’s dining to a fanfare conclusion.
Note that for guests residing in the castle, it’s advisable to wait for a driver to take you back after dinner – we didn’t, and ended up knee deep in muck. Still, this proves all the more reason to choose a perch next to one of the castle’s many roaring open fires and while away a few more hours in conversation.
It would be criminal not to check out the treatment rooms during your stay, and I went for a facial with voya seaweed paprika exfoliator, and this included a head massage.
An outdoor hot tub overlooks the lush grounds and the stables, and is the perfect place to loosen any knots that may still be lingering after your treatment, proving a must-do.
For further information, see www.castleleslie.com.