Ballymaloe House, near Cork, Ireland  October 2016

Ballymaloe House 

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My stay at Ballymaloe House  by Peter Stocken, October 2016

Whenever I mentioned to my Irish friends that I was going to spend four days at Ballymaloe, home of the internationally renowned cookery school, there was a sharp intake of breath. Whilst I knew little about it, clearly it was a huge draw for StockenBridge's guests with the stay sold out within a fairly short space of time. Well, we were not disappointed; it certainly lived up to its reputation with staggeringly good food.

Both the House and the School are run by the Allen family: Darina who runs the school and a household name in Ireland, officiated at the first night’s buffet dinner, explaining and then serving the wonderful array of home produced food, all sourced locally. The desserts were to die for including the historic raspberry meringue roulade and the lightest but most delicious apple tart I have ever eaten. Even the fried eggs at breakfast were in a class of their own! The staff could not have been more hospitable or accommodating: this was hospitality at its very best.

Rory Allen provided an impromptu after dinner entertainment with Irish songs and stories, accompanied by his guitar and mandolin. Myrtle Allen, the matriarch of the family and original owner of Ballymaloe, now 92 years old, was often seen eating with friends and family, clearly delighted that four generations of Allens were all involved in the family business.

On the bridge side, Zeb’s set hands were thought-provoking and instructive, introducing many of the guests to interesting and useful conventions; and for those who felt this might be a bit too advanced for them, Dinah provided much-appreciated private tuition next door.

The cookery afternoon specially arranged for the group was a highlight. At the outset there was a guided tour of the garden and glasshouses by Toby Allen, and the cookery demonstration given by the incomparable Pam was inspirational. All that had been cooked was there to be sampled, again served by Darina, and guests came away with recipes and newly learned skills. On another day, there was also an opportunity to visit the beautiful Cobh harbour with its brightly painted houses and Titanic museum.

Those of us who stayed at the hotel either played golf on the eight-hole golf course opposite the house, or walked in the surrounding countryside (the charming fishing village of Ballycotton was nearby), or just strolled in the lovely gardens, including the two large walled gardens from which the hotel grows much of its own produce. The weather was unseasonably warm for October, with plenty of sunshine and hardly a drop of rain and we even had one or two guests braving the swimming pool!

It was an enthralling four days. The enjoyment was augmented by the hotel being entirely a family-run enterprise with the most friendly and helpful staff that I have ever encountered in an hotel. Both Dinah and I cannot wait to go back!

Just to say I really enjoyed my stay at Ballymaloe, the bridge, meeting new people and staying at such a lovely place and the amazing food.

Thank you so much for arranging such a marvellous few days of bridge at Ballymaloe. It all surpassed my expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed the ambience and ethos set up by the Allens married with your bridge teaching and the great group of people.

It was really nice to meet you last week and we had a terrific time! What a lovely group of friends and clients you have! I really enjoyed meeting many of them and conversation over meals and coffee... My only comment is that we had rather it was at least four days longer!

Thank you to Claudia, Zebedee, Dinah and Peter for organising such a wonderful holiday in Ballymaloe. I enjoyed it all so much!

Just wanted to say a huge thank you for such a great time had at Ballymaloe and the testing but much enjoyed Bridge lessons - I learnt so much!

We had a lovely time at Ballymaloe and really enjoyed the holiday. The bridge was challenging enough for all levels and inclusive - we felt fortunate to be able to have your mother as a very patient and encouraging tutor in the quieter ante-room! Ballymaloe itself is unique, welcoming and comfortable and the food was honest and delicious.