Saturday, 27 June 2020

A lockdown ‘virtual
tour’ of a dozen
more favourite hotels

The Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield in September sunshine this week … as Lyncroft House, it was the home of the composer Muzio Clementi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Now that it looks like ‘bridges’ are about to be introduced, allowing safe travel between some EU member states that have similar responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, I am beginning to think that my planned holiday back in Greece at the end of summer may yet be a possibility.

I was saying this morning that there are some hotels that I would stay in just for own sake, and at the top of my list was the Ferrycarrig Hotel in Wexford.

But there are some hotels outside Ireland that I would return to anytime, just because of the hotels themselves. In particular, these include the Hedgehog in Lichfield, Las Casas de la Judería in Seville, and the Pepi Boutique Hotel in Rethymnon.

So, if you’re still planning or dreaming about a summer holiday – this year, or perhaps next year – these are a dozen of my favourite hotels in Britain and Europe.

1, The Hedgehog, Lichfield:

The plaque commemorating Muzio Clementi at the Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

I have stayed in many places in Lichfield over the last five decades or more, from youth hostels to guest houses, pubs, a variety of hotels, and in friends’ homes. But in recent years, I have tended to stay in the Hedgehog Vintage Inn on Stafford Road.

From here, it is just a 15-minutes stroll along Beacon Street into Lichfield Street, and the rural setting of this boutique hotel on the edges of the cathedral city make it conducive for my personal retreats, for time I need for reflection and writing, and for meeting friends. The food and the welcome here are always worth returning for.

Many of the trees at the Hedgehog may date back to Muzio Clementi’s days in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

This house was built as Lyncroft House in 1797. A few decades later, the house was home to Muzio Clementi (1752-1832), a celebrated composer, piano-maker, conductor and music publisher. Lyncroft House later became the home of the Revd Henry Gylby Lonsdale (1791-1851) when he was Vicar of Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield, in the 1830s.

The house has been beautifully restored in recent years, and a recent refurbishment was completed in March, just days before the lockdown. I was due to stay here at the end of March, but the lockdown put an end to those plans. The Hedgehog stands in its own grounds, with large gardens and commanding views across Lichfield and the Staffordshire countryside. After a long, three-month lockdown, the Hedgehog is reopening on Saturday 4 July.

2, Las Casas de la Judería, Seville:

Las Casas de la Judería, a Seville hotel that is worth visiting … just for itself (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Las Casas de la Judería is in the historical centre of Seville and part of the city’s old Jewish Quarter, on the edge of the Barrio Santa Cruz. Inside, the hotel is paradise of its own making, another world away from the city.

This is a collection of 27 different 15th century traditional houses. They appear to have been assembled randomly, but they have been restored to reflect the atmosphere of the surrounding neighbourhood. There are baroque influences, and rustic charms in this self-contained barrio with a variety of buildings, courtyards, alleyways, overhanging balconies, gardens and terraces.

The 40 patios are typical Andalusian courtyards and ooze with vibrant colour, with hanging baskets, fountains, frescoes and classical features. We moved through the hotel, from one courtyard to the next, one garden to the next, through a lair of labyrinthine tunnels, steps and arched passageways, often to the sound of water dripping from a tap or fountain that was heard but not seen.

There are surprises everywhere in these courtyard and tunnels (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There are surprises everywhere in these courtyard and tunnels. Fountains, statues and Roman amphoras decorate the winding passageways linking the rooms and shared open spaces. A Roman tunnel connects the rooms with the breakfast room and spas. At times, we criss-crossed the narrow streets and alleyways of Seville itself, yet still found ourselves in the hotel.

The hotel has 178 rooms, individually designed and decorated, each with its own unique touch, filled with history and character, and facing into beautiful cool courtyards filled with plants.

Some of the rooms have names that are reminders of the people said to have lived in these houses down through the centuries: Duke of Bejar, Count of Villamanrique, Casa del Cura … one room is named after Christopher Columbus, who is buried in Seville Cathedral.

Some of the names are a reminder that this was the heart of the Jewish Quarter before the Inquisition … Casa de Mose Bahari … or an intricate Star of David interlaced in the woodwork of a door.

3, Pepi Hotel, Tsouderon Stree, Rethymnon:

The gardens and the pool at Pepi Studios (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I have returned time and again to Rethymnon, a charming old Venetian town on the north coast of Crete since the mid-1980s, so that after 35 years I feel at home in Greece, and Rethymnon has become my home town in Crete.

I have stayed in a variety of paces in Rethymnon, from private apartments, to rooms over bars, crumbling old hotels like the Acheillion and large hotels. For the past five years, I have stayed out in the eastern suburbs of Rethymnon, in the villages of Platanias and Tesmes, and this is the first in many that I have not been able to get to Crete. Should I ever stay in the heart of Rethymnon again, I would want to stay in the Pepi Boutique Hotel in the heart of the old town.

Pepi is just a few minutes away from the harbour, the restaurants, the Fortezza and the historic sites in Rethymnon and less than ten minutes from the long sandy beach. Behind the gardens around the pool, you can see the library behind Aghia Barbara Church, and the minaret of the former Valide Sulana Mosque juts up above the roofs of the shops and houses to the south.

The entrance to Pepi Studios at No 22 Tsouderon Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This building was once one of Europe’s oldest public primary schools for boys and girls, known as Athena. The building has been in the same family since the 19th century, when the headmistress of Athena, Amalia retired, the school closed, and the silent, empty building and its overgrown gardens were sold to the grandfather of the present owners, Sifis (Iosif), who started a cotton and silk business.

His son George opened Pepi Studios in 1986 and named it in honour of his wife. Sifis, and Manos, the younger generation of the family, decided to the transform Pepi Studios in 2009, and it became the Pepi Boutique Hotel.

4,The Electra Palace Hotel, Aristotelous Square, Thessaloniki:

The Electra Palace Hotel (left) is an integral part of Ernest Hébrard’s design of Aristotelous Square in the heart of Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Aristotelous Square is the main square in the heart of Thessaloniki, and like the White Tower it is virtually synonymous with the city itself. It is a venue for many cultural and political events, and is lined with hotels, cafés and bars.

The two quarter-circle sides of the square are occupied by two culturally important and imposing buildings: the Electra Palace Hotel, where I stayed once while I was travelling to and from Mount Athos, and the Olympion Theatre cinema, the venue of the annual Thessaloniki International Film Festival.

The statue of Aristotle in Aristotelous Square (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The square was designed over 100 years ago in 1918 by the French architect, archaeologist and urban planner Ernest Hébrard (1875-1933), who proposed a number of large squares in Thessaloniki, including Aristotelous Square, which he planned to name after Alexander the Great.

His vision was for a monumental axis for Thessaloniki, stretching from Aristotelous Square on the seafront to Venizelou Square and the Roman Forum. He wanted to name this axis after Alexander the Great, and to transform this into a city with boulevards and contemporary roadways, squares and parks.

I have been back to Thessaloniki many times since, and although I have stayed in other hotels, I always appreciate the way Hébrard integrated the Electra Palace Hotel into his plans and vision for a new, vibrant, post-earthquake city.

5, The Macan CaveHotel, Göreme:

The Maccan Cave Hotel is a cave hotel in Göreme with traditional décor

I spent Easter week some years ago in Cappadocia in Central Anatolia, an area of ancient Christian, archaeological and geological heritage. This is a region of exceptional natural wonders on central Turkey, known for its ‘fairy chimneys’ and its unique historical and cultural heritage.

I was staying in the Maccan Cave Hotel in Göreme, a cave hotel with traditional décor in the arched rooms and a garden and a rooftop terrace with panoramic city views.

Cappadocia’s ‘fairy chimneys’ in Göreme today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The hotel takes its name from one of the ancient names for Göreme (Greek Κόραμα). In the past, the town has also been known as Korama, Matiana, Maccan or Machan, and Avcilar.

The Göreme National Park was added to the Unesco World Heritage List in 1985, and when the Göreme Valley nearby was designated an important tourist destination and a centre for tourism in Cappadocia, the name of the town was changed to Göreme.

6, Al Capello Rosso Hotel, Bologna:

The Al Cappello Rosso Hotel in Bologna dates back to 1375 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Al Cappello Rosso Hotel, where I celebrated some important family occasions at the end of 2017, was first built in 1375 and is one of the oldest hotels in Bologna. It is in the cultural and historical heart of in Bologna, just 50 metres from the Piazza Maggiore, and with wonderful views of the old city.

The hotel is in the central but secluded Via Fusari and boasts an interesting history. The first documents trace this hotel back to 1375, and it welcomed the first ‘foreigners’ passing through the city in the 14th century.

The Al Cappello Rosso Hotel is an ideal place to start exploring Bologna on foot (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Advertising in the late 19th and early 20th century boasts this ‘ancient and renowned hotel-restaurant Cappello’ offers guests ‘elegant rooms from 1.50 lire, with electric light, telephone, radiators, toilets and showers’ – all modern comforts at the time. The hotel also had a banqueting hall, home cooking, wines from Romagna, Tuscany and Piedmont, and ‘the real lambrusco from Sorbara,’ all at ‘moderate prices.’

The hotel was recently renovated in 2001, and it was an ideal place to explore the monuments, markets, shops, mediaeval streets and hidden corners of Bologna on foot.

7, Palazzetto San Lio, Venice:

An intimate view of Venice from the Palazzetto San Lio (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I had often visited Venice on day trips, but I stayed there for the first time at the end of 2018, staying at the Palazzetto San Lio in the heart of Venice, between the Rialto Bridge and Saint Mark’s Square. It is at the end Calle del Frutariol in the sestiere or district of Castello, and just a stone’s throw from Rialto and the Grand Canal.

Palazzetto San Lio is a small but splendid Venetian palace built in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is owned by an old Venetian family that for generations has been committed to keeping alive the traditional splendour of the palace and its Venetian style. All the apartments have canal views, and they are furnished with Venetian antique furniture, Murano chandeliers and upholstered walls in the grand Venetian style.

Our very own ‘small private cellar with a selection of our finest wines’ in the apartment in the Palazzetto San Lio in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The careful restoration of the building’s exterior last year has given new life to the external façades, while maintaining the original architectural features.

One of the surprises and unexpected joys of staying in the Palazzetto San Lio was an invitation to enjoy our own ‘small private cellar with a selection of our finest wines.’

The family that owns this small palace also owns its own vineyard on the banks of the River Piave, just outside Venice, where they have been producing their own fine DOC wines since 1925.

8, Arcadia Boutique Hotel, Frantiskanska Street, Bratislava:

The Arcadia Boutique Hotel is in the heart of the old city of Bratislava, a building that dates back to the 13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I spent a few days in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, last November, celebrating some landmark dates in the family, and stayed in the Arcadia Boutique Hotel on Frantiskanska Street, in the heart of the old city.

It is close in the old town this afternoon, and the attractions on the doorstep include Saint Martin’s Cathedral, Gothic churches, palaces and castles, the Museum of Jewish Culture, the banks of the River Danube and the other sites that make Bratislava a charming European capital.

During the Third Crusade (1189-1192), it is said, the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa stayed at a building on the site of this hotel. The hotel building claims to date back to 1290, with memories than date back seven or eight centuries, housed in mediaeval buildings that have been transformed into a romantic hotel, but retaining its vaults, old ceilings and winding corridors.

Parts of the Arcadia Boutique Hotel are said to date back to the 13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Evidence of a Celtic settlement in the area in the 3rd century BC has been found in the cellar, archaeological research has revealed indications of a Roman settlement at the site, and objects from the 12th and 13th centuries have been found in the hotel grounds. Inside, the building retains fine works in wrought iron from the Renaissance, Baroque and Classicism eras.

The building served as the headquarters of the Hussite movement in Bratislava in 1432. As a legacy from that time, a chalice as the symbol of the Hussites was carved in stone into one of the arcades in the building.

The hotel’s cellar, now used as a wellness area, is the oldest part of the building and has a fine example of Gothic vaults. On the first floor, there are examples of late-Gothic wall ornaments and stone window frames. The arcades in the central courtyard area that now forms the hotel’s lobby area are among the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Slovakia. The Renaissance-era vaulted ceiling in the cocktail bar is decorated with Baroque ornaments.

9, Varvaras Diamond Hotel, Platanias:

The Varvaras Diamond Hotel is on a quiet corner in Platanias, east of Rethymnon on a leafy, flower-filled street that leads to the beach (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

In recent years, during my return visits to Rethymnon, I have stayed in the suburban villages of Platanias and Tsesmes, about 5 km east of this old Venetian harbour city, and close to the long, sandy beach. Although the pandemic cancelled my plans to spend Greek Easter in Crete this year, over the last five years or I have stayed in a variety of apartments and hotels in Platanias and Tsesmes, including Julia Apartments, La Stella, and the Varvaras Diamond Hotel, which is set in a quiet corner on a leafy, flower-filled street that leads to the beach.

All these hotels are close to restaurants, tavernas and shops, yet in a quiet, laid-back area. The Varvaras Diamond Hotel, a family-run hotel owned by the Kantartzis family, was built in 2001 and is surrounded by evergreen trees and gardens with palm trees, colourful plants and flowers.

The Varvaras Diamond is on a leafy, flower-filled street that leads to the beach at Platanias (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

From my balcony there that Easter two years ago, I was looking out onto lemon trees with the fruits in full bloom. It was late May and early June – the beginning of summer.

During those two weeks, I spent time in a monastery, visited icon workshops, browsed in bookshops, swam in the Mediterranean, rambles around archaeological sites, sought out churches and buildings of architectural and historical interest, looked for old mosques, synagogues, hanging balconies and fountains in the former Muslim and Jewish quarters of Rethymnon and Chania, got lost in the back streets of both cities, found time to read poetry, novels, history and newspapers, enjoyed long lazy lunches in the sun and dinners in the sunset, tried to get up to speed with Greek politics and even brushed up on my rusty and limited knowledge of the Greek language.

10, Syntagma Square, Athens:

Both the Athens Plaza and the Acropolis View left me close to the Acropolis and Syntagma Square (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I have often visited Athens both for work and for family breaks. Sometimes I have stayed in Air B&B apartments, on other occasions in small but comfortable hotels.

On one occasion I had lunch in the Grande Bretagne Hotel on Syntagma Square – the most famous hotel in Athens. And on another working visit I was booked into the Athens Plaza Hotel, on another corner of Syntagma Square, in a room with stunning panoramic views of Athens and the Acropolis.

On two occasions I have also stayed at the Acropolis View Hotel at No 10 Webster Street, and close to Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, one of the most beautiful pedestrian streets of Athens, and close to the Acropolis rock.

I was close to Filopappou Hill, the Pnyx, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, and all the other major classical sites in Athens.

11, Penn Club, London:

The Penn Club in Bedford Place … an oasis of tranquillity in Bloomsbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I first stayed in an hotel in Britain in 1965, I have stayed in a variety of places in England, from youth hostels, monasteries and rectories to friends’ homes, Cambridge and Oxford colleges and hotels. I stayed in two different hotels in London in recent months, but my favourite place to stay in London is not an hotel but the Penn Club in the heart of Bloomsbury.

The Penn Club is a quiet place in Bedford Place off Russell Square, and the accommodation is plain rather than simple. At times, I have had a room at the back overlooking the gardens that back onto Museum Street at the side the British Museum.

The Penn Club is beside the British Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The club is housed in three inter-linking Georgian terrace houses built in the 1800s. Russell Square, a pleasant green space with shady trees, a café and a beautiful fountain in the centre, is just a few steps from the Penn Club, as are Tavistock Square with its Gandhi memorial and peace monuments, and tiny Bloomsbury Square. The club is also close to London University, the British Museum, the British Library, and Covent Garden and the West End theatres.

The Penn Club was established by Quakers in 1920 with funds left over from the Friends Ambulance Unit, which was active during World War I. The club continues to have connections with Quakers throughout Britain and world-wide, and maintains traditional Quaker values of integrity, equality, tolerance and simplicity, honesty and fairness in all its dealings. The value Quakers place on silence means there is no television in the rooms, and all mobile phones were switched off during breakfast this morning.

12, Hotel Franklin Feel the Sound, Via Rodi, Rome:

In the lobby of the Hotel Franklin Feel the Sound on Via Rodi … just a stroll from the Vatican (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When I was last in Rome three years ago, I stayed at the Hotel Franklin Feel the Sound on Via Rodi.

The hotel is in Rome’s elegant Prati district, between the Vatican walls and Piazza Mazzini. I was just a few steps from the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, which meant I could walk to Saint Peter’s Basilica and Castel Sant’ Angelo in just minutes.

The Hotel Franklin Feel the Sound is a music-themed hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The hotel is part of the Best Western Group, and – as you can imagine, with a name like that – it is a music-themed hotel. The nearby metro stops at Ottaviano and Cipro-Vatican Museums, and Ottaviano is on line A, the same line as the Spanish Steps and Termini Train Station.

Prati is known for its wide, sweeping avenues, elegant buildings, and modern European charm. The grid layout and its elegant ‘Art Nouveau’ and ‘Umbertino’ style give Prati a unique personality, so that it has a distinct personality and a style reminiscent more of a quartier in Paris than a former marshland in Rome.

There are many other hotels and favourite places to stay I could mention, from hotels in the Peloponnese and other Greek islands, to hotels in Turkey, the Middle East and the Far East … including the spectacular Fuji View in Japan that I promised to return to when I was there in 1979.

But that’s another story. Let’s hope we can all travel again, safely and soon.

Some recent ‘virtual tours’:

A dozen hotels in Ireland.

A dozen buildings in Tamworth (Part 1);

A dozen buildings in Tamworth (Part 2);

More than a dozen Comberford family homes;

More than a dozen Comerford and Quemerford family homes;

A dozen Wren churches in London;

Ten former Wren churches in London;

More than a dozen churches in Lichfield;

More than a dozen pubs in Lichfield;

A dozen former pubs in Lichfield;

A dozen churches in Rethymnon;

A dozen restaurants in Rethymnon;

A dozen churches in other parts of Crete;

A dozen monasteries in Crete;

A dozen sites on Mount Athos;

A dozen historic sites in Athens;

A dozen historic sites in Thessaloniki;

A dozen churches in Thessaloniki;

A dozen Jewish sites in Thessaloniki.

A dozen churches in Cambridge;

A dozen college chapels in Cambridge;

A dozen Irish islands;

A dozen churches in Corfu;

A dozen churches in Venice.

A dozen churches in Rome.

A dozen churches in Bologna;

A dozen churches in Tuscany.

A lockdown ‘virtual
tour’ of a dozen
hotels in Ireland

Sunrise at the mouth of the River Slaney at the Ferrycarrig Hotel in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

The lockdown introduced in response to Covid-19 pandemic is beginning to be eased, and many of us are probably beginning to think about – if not planning – staycations in Ireland as soon as the opportunity arises.

When I was in my late teens, I hitched hiked all over Ireland and England, staying in youth hostels, over pubs and in bed and breakfast guesthouses.

It is left me with a taste for ‘cheap and cheerful’ hotels, rather than the expensive plush hotels I have sometimes found myself staying in during working trips.

But there are some hotels I have stayed in that I have come to regard as worth staying in, no matter where they are, simply because of themselves. And at the tope of this list in Ireland is the Ferrycarrig Hotel in Wexford.

In the spirit of my recent ‘virtual tours’ during this lockdown, I offer this ‘virtual tour’ of a dozen of my favourite hotels in Ireland. Perhaps it might help readers as they think about a ‘staycation’ later this year.

1, The Ferrycarrig Hotel, Wexford:

All bedrooms in the Ferrycarrig Hotel look out onto the River Slaney (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

If there is one hotel in Ireland that I would stay in just for its own sake, then it has to be the Ferrycarrig Hotel, is just 3 km from Wexford Town.

I lived in Wexford almost 50 years ago, and still feel that I am part of Wexford and that Wexford is part of me. In the past, when I returned to Wexford, I wanted to stay in the town, staying with friends or in a variety of hotels and guesthouses. Ferrycarrig seemed to be far out, even though I walked there regularly in my early 20s.

Now I know it is actually very convenient to the town, and I have stayed in the Ferrycarrig Hotel on a number of occasions in recent years. and before dinner last night two of walked around the streets of the old town.

All the bedrooms in the Ferrycarrig Hotel look out onto the River Slaney, and there is nothing comparable to waking up to this sight any morning, any time of the year.

In the corridors of the Ferrycarrig Hotel in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the morning, the colours on the Slaney and in the skies slowly can change from greys and dull blues to contrasts of bright orange and silver sparkle and then to bright blues and reflections of the landscape in the water. Time moves on – in history, in life and on river – and each passing phase brings new opportunities and new blessings.

in one of the corridors of the hotel, among a large collection of posters from the Wexford Festival, I came across a poster from the 1994 festival, that is the same as a block-mounted poster in the my house in Knocklyon.

However, unlike my own poster in Dublin, the hotel’s copy is not fading, a reminder of my continuing, harboured and cherished memories of Wexford that never fade.

2, Castle Leslie, Co Monaghan:

Castle Leslie exudes old-world grandeur and hospitality(Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I stayed many years ago in Castle Leslie, Co Monaghan, while I was attending the ordination of four former students. Castle Leslie, at the village of Glaslough, is a country house hotel exuding old-world grandeur and hospitality, and is free from distractions and intrusions.

The 1,000-acre Castle Leslie Estate includes the charming and eccentric Castle Leslie with its own equestrian centre and hunting lodge set in unspoiled countryside, with ancient forests, rolling hills, green fields, lakes and streams. Castle Leslie stands on the site of an earlier castle, and was designed in 1870 by Charles Lanyon and WH Lynn for Sir John Leslie in the Scottish baronial style.

Castle Leslie is beside the pretty village of Glaslough (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The colourful history of the Castle Leslie Estate is a story that is bedecked with politics, royalty and war, with a family that includes much-married bishops, exiled opponents of William of Orange, a woman said to be the granddaughter of George IV and his mistress, cousins of Winston Churchill, prisoners-of-war, and eccentrics who believe we are about to be invaded by flying saucers and UFOs.

Swift wrote many verses about the Leslies, not all of them complimentary:

With rows and rows of books upon the shelves
Written by the Leslies
All about themselves.


3, The Zuni Hotel, Kilkenny:

The Zuni Hotel is close to all the attractions of Kilkenny

I have stayed in many hotels in Kilkenny, at clergy conferences, church meetings, eating in some of my favourite restaurants, or visiting some of my favourite places, including Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny Castle, Rothe House and Ballybur Caste, or exploring the streets, lanes and churches of Kilkenny.

But one of my favourite places to stay in Kilkenny is the Zuni Hotel on Patrick Street, a short walk from Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny Design Centre and Kilkenny’s main shopping district and many fine restaurants and bars.

The Zuni Hotel has its own award-winning restaurant

But, despite all these attractions so close at hand, the Zuni Hotel is a boutique hotel with its own award-winning restaurant.

4, Markree Castle, Co Sligo:

Markree Castle, near Collooney, Co Sligo … this was once the coldest place in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I stayed at Markree Castle, near Collooney, Co Sligo, during a family wedding in Sligo Cathedral. Markree Castle is a small family-run hotel, owned by the Corscadden family who also own Cabra Castle Hotel, Co Cavan, Ballyseede Castle Hotel, Co Kerry, and Bellingham Castle, Co Louth.

The hymn-writer Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895) is said to have written the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful while she was a guest there of the Cooper family in 1848.

The staircase leading into Markree Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Markree Castle, which is partially moated by the River Unshin, is the ancestral seat of the Cooper family. The castle, as we see it today, dates from 1802 with exterior changes by the architect Francis Johnston. Some later changes, mainly to the interior, were made in in the late 1860s and in the 1890s.

Charles Cooper transformed his ancestral castle into a hotel in 1989. The castle’s restoration was featured in a television documentary, and the renewed facilities included a hotel and restaurant.

Markree Castle was run as a hotel by Charles and Mary Cooper, the tenth generation of the family to live there. After four centuries, the castle finally changed hands in 2015 when it was sold for an undisclosed sum after being on the market with an asking price of €3.12 million. The hotel is now run by the Corscadden family.

5, Castle Durrow, Co Laois:

Castle Durrow was built over 300 years ago by the Flower family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Castle Durrow, in the Midlands village of Durrow, Co Laois, is a country house hotel on the N8 old Dublin-Cork road, about an hour from Dublin. The house was built over 300 years ago in 1712-1716 as his family home by Captain William Flower, whose family later held the title of Viscount Ashbrook.

The pre-Palladian design and formal gardens were the height of fashion in those days, and the grey/blue cut stone contrasts with the breath-taking views of the landscape.

In the grounds of Castle Durrow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The banks foreclosed in 1922, and the Flower family were forced to sell up and move to England. The Land Commission divided up the lands and the Forestry department took over many of the woods for plantation, but the great house was left empty. The Parish of Durrow bought the estate for a mere £1,800 and Castle Durrow was transformed into Saint Fintan’s College and Convent.

Peter and Shelly Stokes bought Castle Durrow in the 1990s and began renovating the castle over three years. The Stokes family manage the daily running of the castle and are an intricate part of this charming hotel.

6, Strand Hotel, Dugort, Achill Island:

The Strand Hotel looks out onto the beach at Dugort, below Slievemore, on Achill Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Strand Hotel is north coast of Achill Island, Ireland’s largest off-shore island. The hotel is beneath the slopes of Slievemore, Achill's highest mountain, and looks out across the beach at Dugort facing out onto Blacksod Bay.

I first visited Achill Island in 1974, and first stayed in the Strand Hotel around 1979. The proprietor, Billy Scott, was so kind, that in the 1980s it became a regular retreat on occasions when I needed solitude and a place to write in peace and quiet, just a short walk from Saint Thomas’s Church.

On the beach at Dugort, below the Strand Hotel, on Achill Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This became a regular venue for family holidays in the 1990s. Although I have been back in recent years for summer schools and seminars, I have not stayed in the Strand Hotel for 15 years or more.

However, the location remains inviting, and the view of the beach in Dugort remains inviting.

7, The Station House Hotel, Kilmessan, Co Meath:

The Station House Hotel, Kilmessan, Co Meath … an old railway station with all the charm of a country house hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Kilmessan is a quite village off the M3 and just a short distance from Dunshaughlin, Navan, Trim and Ratoath. The Station House Hotel is a country house hotel and restaurant set in acres of woodlands and manicured gardens, providing an idyllic a country escape, away from the bustle of daily life.

This has been run as an hotel for more than 35 years but was once a train station and the hotel grounds retain some of the original fixtures, including the old railway bridge and turntable.

The old signal cabin still stands at one end of the former station (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Chris and Thelma Slattery, who also owned the Waterside House Hotel in Donabate, Co Dublin, bought the Station House Hotel in 1981, the third family to own the old train station, and transformed it into a guest house in 1983.

The remains of the old station at the Station House Hotel today include the safe made by Milners Safe Company Ltd, London and Liverpool, fireplaces and the platforms, which stand outside the main door of the hotel. The remainder of the turntable lies at the end of the wooded area near the bridge.

8, Mount Wolseley, Tullow, Co Carlow:

Mount Wolseley House near Tullow, Co Carlow … sold in 1925 for £4,500 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I stayed some years ago in Mount Wolseley on the edges of Tullow, Co Carlow, during a family wedding. Mount Wolseley House is the ancestral home of a branch of the Wolseley family from Wolseley in Staffordshire, and the Irish branch included the famous general Viscount Wolseley and Frederick York Wolseley who gave his name to a stylish car.

Mount Wolseley was bought by the Morrissey family in 1994 and has been developed into a four-star hotel. The house and gardens are private and remain the home of the Morrissey family, but they can be viewed in the near distance from the entrance gate beside the hotel.

The hotel at Mount Wolseley retains many memories of the original family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The hotel and the grounds are now owned by Lismard Properties and Enterprises. One wing of the hotel includes Aaron’s Lounge, a name that comes from a misunderstanding of the name of Mount Arran, first given to the estate by the Butler family, Earls of Arran, in the late 17th century. The name of Frederick’s Restaurant is a tribute to Frederick York Wolseley.

However, as the estate was developed over the past 20 or 30 years, the replica site of the Battle of Waterloo in the grounds was turned into an 18-hole championship golf course, and the Duke of Wellington’s battle plan can no longer be traced in the greens, fairways and the willow-lined ponds.

9, BrookLodge, Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow:

Autumn colours at the BrookLodge Hotel … a country spa hotel near the forgotten borough of Carysfort, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Another recent family wedding took place in Macreddin Village in south Co Wicklow, when I stayed overnight in BrookLodge Hotel, a country spa hotel 6 km north of the village of Aughrim.

The BrookLodge Hotel and Wells Spa opened in 1999, and the resort includes an equestrian centre, golf course, bakery, smokehouse, pub and microbrewery, and food, wine and craft shops. BrookLodge includes the Strawberry Tree, which claims to be Ireland’s only certified organic restaurant, and La Taverna Armento, an Italian taverna.

Macreddin, once known also as Moycreedin, is said to take its name (‘the Valley of Credin’) from Credin, a fifth century local saint chief who is said to have been killed by his enemies and brought back to life by Saint Kevin of Glendalough.

The Strawberry Tree claims to be Ireland’s only certified organic restaurant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Macreddin was granted to the monastery of Saint Saviour, Glendalough in the 12th century. When the Diocese of Glendalough was merged with the Archdiocese of Dublin, Macreddin was transferred to the Priory of All Hallows in Dublin. On the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, it was transferred to Dublin Corporation.

Co Wicklow was shired in 1606-1607, and so was the last county to be formed in Ireland, taking in the southern part of Dublin (with the exception of three ‘islands’ or enclaves of church property, and the northern part of what was then ‘Catherlough’ or Co Carlow, including Arklow. Two decades later, when Henry Cary, 1st Viscount Falkland, was Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1625-1628, a fort was built at Macreddin and was named Carysfort in his honour.

10, WatersEdge Hotel, Cobh:

The WatersEdge Hotel in Cork is a special venue in every sense of the word (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The last hotel in Ireland I have stayed in is the WatersEdge Hotel in Cork, which is a special venue in every sense of the word. Nestled in the harbour town of Cobh near Cork and situated on the waterfront, we really had a ‘room with a view.’

This is a boutique hotel that commands breath-taking views, with spacious, comfortable accommodation and bistro-style food. It is an hotel to come to time after time.

A view of Cork Harbour from our room in the WatersEdge Hotel, Cobh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The large balcony rooms are spacious and comfortable with a waterside terrace that is hard to leave.

We had a view right across the harbour with its islands, and we were within walking distance of the see-front museums, restaurants and the sites linked with the stories of the Titanic and the Lusitania.

11, Mustard Seed, Ballingarry, Co Limerick:

The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge … fine dining in a country house setting in Ballingarry, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Mustard Seed, an oasis of countryside bliss surrounded by verdant pastures in the heart of Co Limerick. It is within my own parish in West Limerick, but also on the doorstep to Adare.

This boutique hotel with a restaurant that is legendary with superb food and warm hospitality. Sitting on acres of manicured lawns, an orchard and a working kitchen garden, this hideaway is perfect house for a stopover, romantic nights, lazy days and special occasions.

The Library at the Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge in Ballingarry, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Originally, Echo Lodge was a long, thatched dwelling located in what is now the kitchen garden. This thatched house was a stopping house for the great Daniel O’Connell on his journey from Derrynane to Dublin.

The Revd Timothy Ryan Shanahan built the present Echo Lodge as a parochial house in 1885. Later, it passed to the Sisters of Mercy for one penny. Dan Mullane set up the Mustard Seed restaurant in Adare in 1985, and 10 years later moved the Mustard Seed to Echo Lodge, allowing diners the opportunity to stay overnight.

The Mustard Seed changed hands from Dan to his manager John Edward Joyce in 2016.

12, Charlemont Arms Hotel, Armagh:

The Charlemont Arms Hotel … three and a half centuries of history in Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

In recent years, when I have been in Armagh at General Synod of the Church of Ireland, I have tended to stay in the Charlemont Arms Hotel in English Street, a third-generation, family-run hotel in the centre of the cathedral city.

The motto on the coat-of-arms of the Earls of Charlemont, over the hotel front door, which gives its name to the hotel, proclaims boldly: Deo Duce Ferro Comitante, ‘God is my leader, the sword is my companion.’ The first part of the motto may be appropriate for synod members staying in Armagh – but I have serious problems about the second part.

The hotel, which has thrived throughout the centuries, was originally home to a Dr Atkinson. By the 1760s, it had become a hostelry known as ‘The Caulfeild Arms.’ It was renamed in 1763, when James Caulfeild (1728-1799), fourth Viscount Caulfeild, was given the title Earl of Charlemont.

In the heyday of the Volunteers, there was a Charlemont Arms in every Irish town of note. However, this hotel may be the only one to survive – something that makes the current proprietors very proud.

In Victorian times, the facilities on offer included Turkish, plunge and other baths. It passed to Robert and Elizabeth Forster in 1934. Today, a third generation of the Forster family is involved in running the hotel.

A monument to the Caulfeild or Charlemont family in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The hotel is perfectly located between the city’s two cathedrals and close to the beautiful Mall, the theatre, city centre shops, the Armagh Planetarium and Observatory, the Armagh County Museum and the old Armagh Women’s Gaol. But it is also a short stroll from the synod venue and many synod members stay here, meaning this is often a place where a lot of back-room synod work is done.

There are many other hotels I could have named. During church and clergy conferences, I have stayed in hotels such as the Dunraven Arms in Adare, Arnold’s in Dunfanaghy, the Skelligs Hotel in Dingle, and other hotels in Athlone, Enniskillen Strandhill, and Kilkenny.

Presents and gifts have allowed me to stay in the Wineport Lodge, the Lough Erne Resort, the Ice House in Ballina, Tinnakilly House in Wicklow and the Maritime Hotel in Bantry.

And, of course, there are many more hotels, as well as the wonderful guesthouses I have stayed in across the island. But I thought I would next look at 12 more hotels in England and across Europe.

Some recent ‘virtual tours’:

A dozen buildings in Tamworth (Part 1);

A dozen buildings in Tamworth (Part 2);

More than a dozen Comberford family homes;

More than a dozen Comerford and Quemerford family homes;

A dozen Wren churches in London;

Ten former Wren churches in London;

More than a dozen churches in Lichfield;

More than a dozen pubs in Lichfield;

A dozen former pubs in Lichfield;

A dozen churches in Rethymnon;

A dozen restaurants in Rethymnon;

A dozen churches in other parts of Crete;

A dozen monasteries in Crete;

A dozen sites on Mount Athos;

A dozen historic sites in Athens;

A dozen historic sites in Thessaloniki;

A dozen churches in Thessaloniki;

A dozen Jewish sites in Thessaloniki.

A dozen churches in Cambridge;

A dozen college chapels in Cambridge;

A dozen Irish islands;

A dozen churches in Corfu;

A dozen churches in Venice.

A dozen churches in Rome.

A dozen churches in Bologna;

A dozen churches in Tuscany.

At the Dunraven Arms in Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)