2013 Grand Awards: Europe & Mediterranean


Ballyfin, Ireland

Located 60 miles southwest of Dublin, Ballyfin is perhaps the greatest Regency house in all of Ireland. In the front hall, we found an antique mosaic brought from Italy during the building’s construction in 1822. This served as prelude to the magnificent public rooms. The parquet floors are among the finest we have ever seen, while sumptuous fabrics and rugs are complemented by mahogany furniture, mirrors by Thomas Chippendale and a collection of Irish art from the 18th century to the present.

This grandeur exists today thanks to the dedication of American businessman Fred Krehbiel and his Irish wife, Kay, who purchased Ballyfin in 2002 and restored the house over a period of nine years. Today, the 15 guest rooms reflect their passion for detail. The walls of our bedroom were hung with 17th-century Flemish tapestries, yet despite the opulence, we felt cloistered in a cozy private world.

We soon fell into the seductive rhythm of country house life: large breakfasts over which we lingered with The Irish Times, followed by walks on the 614-acre property. Under the direction of Fred Cordonnier, who has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants throughout Europe, including Patrick Guilbaud in Dublin, Ballyfin’s kitchen turns out reliably exceptional cuisine.

One evening over pre-dinner drinks, a gentleman from Dublin marveled at the resurrection of Ballyfin: “It is truly a great gift to the nation that the Krehbiels have given us.” And a considerable gift to American travelers, as well.

Deluxe Room, $1,225; State Room, $1,445; Suite, $1,760. Ballyfin, County Laois. Tel. (353) 5787-55866.

Ett Hem, Sweden

Stockholm’s most charming small hotel, 12-room Ett Hem, opened in May and occupies an art nouveau mansion in the city’s quiet Lärkstan district. (“Ett Hem” means “a home” in Swedish.) It is a flawless urban sanctuary.

The property sits behind a red brick wall, surrounded by a small landscaped garden. On arrival, we made ourselves at home in a glass conservatory off the kitchen, where the chef served us a light lunch of pan-fried Arctic char with herb mayonnaise and a terrific salad of roasted baby carrots, shallots and potatoes with salad leaves and fresh herbs. Our lovely accommodations came with an oak parquet floor, a crystal chandelier on a dimmer, and a brown leather sofa with a sheepskin throw. A woodburning ceramic stove warmed a corner of the room. The small bath held a white marble-framed Victorian- style double vanity and a spacious stall shower. We marveled at the attention to detail.

The only downside to Ett Hem is that it is well inland from the waterways that are so emblematic of Stockholm. For my part, returning to the hotel from dinner, it really did feel as though I were coming home.

Double Deluxe Room, $745; Junior Suite, $985. Skoldungagatan 2, Stockholm. Tel. (46) 8-20-05-90.

Palazzo Seneca, Italy

The hilltop town of Norcia is famous for its charcuterie, Pecorino cheese and black truffles, as well as for being the birthplace of St. Benedict. The 24-room Palazzo Seneca is set within a renovated 16th-century stone palace and is an exceptionally well-managed property that offers alert and generous hospitality.

The public areas contain an inviting lounge with a vast stone fireplace, and a beautiful wood-paneled library. A wellness center in the basement includes Jacuzzi, sauna and steam. Our Junior Suite, #100, was small but charming, with a four-poster bed, a coffered and beamed ceiling, and oak parquet floors. The bath was faced in chocolate-brown travertine and was appointed with an oversize shower.

On our first evening, we enjoyed an excellent dinner at the hotel’s gourmet restaurant, Vespasia, which serves updated versions of local classics. We particularly relished two lamb dishes: lamb shank with gremolata (a condiment of lemon zest, garlic, parsley and olive oil) and a casserole of lamb cooked with potatoes and black truffles. We left the hotel with every intention of returning soon to take cooking lessons and to go truffle-hunting.

Superior King Room, $440; Junior Suite, $520. Via Cesare Battisti 12. Tel. (39) 0743-817434.

Amanruya, Turkey

Bodrum is the primary resort town and yachting center on the Aegean coast of Turkey and lies a 75-minute flight south of Istanbul. In December 2011, Amanruya opened on the northern coast of the Bodrum Peninsula, 10 minutes’ drive from the center of town.

Sited on a hillside amid an ancient olive grove, the property is constructed on several levels, with plazas and walkways that echo the layout of regional villages. Clad in local stone, the 36 pool cottages are the essence of elegant simplicity. Spacious and high-ceilinged, they are awash with light. French doors open onto irresistible gardens with pergola- shaded daybeds and blue-green private pools.

Amanruya does not have a dining room as such, but a series of open terraces and pavilions clustered around the main pool. Menus combine the Turkish kitchen with Aman’s Asian heritage.

Other amenities include two spa suites and a gymnasium, and there are numerous water-sport options at the Beach Club. Each evening, as sunset approached, we mounted the steps in the library tower to gaze out across the Aegean. It was then that we fully appreciated the essence of Amanruya. It is a self-contained world of deep tranquility; a place to be healed and restored.

Pool Terrace Cottage (garden view), $985; Pool Terrace Cottage (sea view), $1,110. Tel. (90) 252-311-1212 or (800) 477-9180.

By Hideaway Report Editor Hideaway Report editors travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who the editors are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.