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Wednesday 29 March 2017

Great Family Escapes

Looking for somewhere to take the children this summer and not aiming to go abroad? Ireland has it all, says Jillian Bolger.

Druids Glen Resort, Co Wicklow

BEST for: City families looking for a luxurious country escape.

What you get: A spacious, comfortable hotel surrounded by Wicklow's rolling hills with miles of tourist attractions close by. The decor may be corporate but the welcome is warm and staff are incredibly helpful. Food is a highlight, and kids eat free before 7pm in the fabulous Druids Brasserie. The pool is lovely and bright, though it's too deep for small kids to stand. A kids' club and kids' buffet run over the school holidays and there's a brand new play room.

We loved: The tranquillity. It's in the heart of Wicklow, making it an ideal base for forest walks and visits to Glendalough, Brittas Bay, Powerscourt and Glenroe Pet Farm. Older kids will love the equestrian and fishing opportunities or a day at Clara Lara Adventure Park, as well as the games and movie rooms with popcorn.

Our kids loved: The activity packs they received at check-in. Chock-full of colouring books and puzzles, they provided hours of entertainment. The hotel's new gated playground is great, with plenty of climbing options, and a lovely squashy surface. (Rathdrum has a super new playground, too.)

We didn't like: The gym's opening hours. On weekends it shuts early, making an evening workout impossible once the kids are asleep.

X factor: Its proximity to Dublin. In 30 minutes you can go from urban environment to stunning rural setting, making it a blissfully short drive with kids.

Our verdict: A laid-back five-star that's trying very hard to please families. We didn't use the golf courses or spa, but both come highly recommended.

Cost: One-night beach package €210, including B&B for two adults and two kids under 12 in a family room, breakfast, packed lunch, buckets and spades for all the family and a beach blanket. www.druidsglenresort.com

Kelly's Resort, Rosslare

Best for: A multi-generational family holiday, from babies to grandparents.

What you get: A stress-free environment overlooking Rosslare Strand where the kids are as welcome as you. Everything is well thought out: families can dine in a smaller restaurant away from other guests, which saves stress if junior is noisy. The creche, Pirate Club and playground are near the lounge so you can chill out with the kids close by. The decor can feel a bit like a cruise ship, but the hotel's art collection is incredible. Every single staff member is superb.

We loved: The spacious, comfy bedrooms with beautiful views and the chic spa with outdoor heated pool and wonderful massage. The €3 childcare for under 4s is great value (they mind small babies, which is rare) and there's an extensive itinerary of fun activities for kids and adults. Above average food comes in huge portions, with afternoon tea both social and relaxing. We liked how simple it was to book a babysitter with just a few hours' notice.

Our kids loved: The afternoon rice crispy buns, kids' clubs and disco after tea. The biggest draw was the full-size heated family pool with plenty of swimming toys and the fantastic pirate ship playground.

We didn't like: The fact that we had to leave. We found it all so relaxing

X factor: A well-stocked guest kitchen comprising complementary jars of baby food, milk and Liga, plus microwave, kettle, steriliser and fridge. The hotel's toilets all provide nappies and wipes. Such simple and thoughtful details.

Our verdict: Expensive, but worth saving for. We're dying to go back.

Cost: Family rooms are fully booked over the summer. From September, two nights midweek, €230 full-board per adult, plus 10pc service. Children sharing with two adults, from €25 per day, depending on age. www.kellysresort.com

Ballyvolane House, Cork

Best for: Foodies looking for a luxurious country house retreat where kids are welcomed with open arms.

What you get: An historic Irish country house run by a charming couple with children. By day you can explore Cork city or county, by night enjoy the trappings of relaxed country living, surrounded by books, antiques and stacks of glossy magazines. The kids can join 'Farmer Justin' every morning to collect eggs and feed the pigs and chickens before a tractor and trailer ride around the estate. Later, Ballyvolane's woods beckon for chasing or hide-and-seek and there's a trampoline and lovely tree house.

We loved: Putting the kids to bed, drifting downstairs and lounging by the fire with drinks until we were called for dinner. (No need for a babysitter -- it's just like staying at a friend's!) It's served around a large table in the sumptuous dining room with other guests, making for a sociable house party vibe. The kitchen uses local, seasonal produce (including Ballyvolane's own vegetables and rare-breed pork) to deliver delicious country house fare.

Our kids loved: Their gift-wrapped books and jars of chocolate cookies on arrival. Feeding the animals and egg collecting was a huge novelty, as was the high tea party hosted each night by the Greens' three gorgeous children. They loved dining with the kids, and playing with them afterwards.

We didn't like: How hard it is to get a booking! Thanks to the amazing boho-barn conversion Ballyvolane House is the coolest wedding venue in the country, which means a weekend break here can be hard to come by.

X factor: The best of both worlds -- a luxurious, grown-up break for mum and dad, and an action-packed farm and nature holiday for the kids.

Our verdict: Heaven on earth. Pricy but worth every penny. Our kids adored it, but we're dying to go back -- without them!

Cost: Three-nights Little People break, €399 per adult (children stay free sharing with parents) including B&B for all, and a four-course dinner on two nights for adults. www.ballyvolanehouse.ie

Newpark Hotel, Kilkenny

Best for: Budget-conscious families seeking real value.

What you get: A comfortable, well-established hotel, with good facilities, just a 10-minute stroll from the charming medieval city of Kilkenny. There's a small kids' pool plus larger pool and it's very family-friendly. Out the back is their wildlife farm with animals, including pot-bellied pigs, highland cows, llamas and rabbits. The kids' club operates during holidays, including after- dinner, so you can feed the kids then dine alone as they're entertained. A cinema room operates on rainy afternoons and new games room has just opened.

We loved: The spa and pool area. The changing rooms are spacious and Escape Spa is a peaceful retreat from the madness of the kids! The outdoor hot tub, with views of squirrels playing on the grass, is wonderfully relaxing, and is also a kids-free zone. On Kilkenny's doorstep, you've got access to good restaurants, pretty shops and Kilkenny Castle. We'd fun Gruffalo-hunting at Castlecomer Adventure Park, which has a brilliant-looking Treetop Adventure Walk for kids over seven.

Our kids loved: Visiting the hotel's animals every day and looking for fairies and bats in Dunmore Cave.

We didn't like: The lack of bottled water in the bedrooms. They'll supply it if you ask for it, but we'd like to see it included.

X factor: The cost. Breaks here are extremely affordable.

Our verdict: Family rooms are comfy and a good size. The food was fine, with good portions, but perhaps a little pricey.

Cost: Five nights B&B, €299 per adult sharing (kids sleep free), plus dinner for mum and dad on two nights (children cost extra), two children's tickets for Gowran's Reptile Zoo, 1 hour's horse-riding plus picnic basket, €25 spa voucher, plus a free, two-night stay in another Flynn Hotel. www.flynnhotels.com

Fota Island Resort, Cork

Best for: Active families with tots and teens.

What you get: A spacious, contemporary five-star hotel with every facility you could wish for. The staff are trained to impeccable standards and nothing is too much trouble. The 780-acre sylvan setting includes three golf courses, tennis court, walking and jogging trails, a lovely pool with kids' pool and plenty of dining options.

You're so close to Cork city and there's countless tourist attractions on your doorstep. The in-room folder contains thoughtful activity suggestions for kids, adventure and shopping trips and there's a well-organised kids club with activities like golf and baking during holidays.

We loved: Dinner in the main restaurant. The food was outstanding and the kids were charmed by caring and attentive staff, as well as enjoying healthy salmon from the kids' menu. We also appreciated the 24-hour gym, which proved useful when the kids were asleep. Fota Resort's bathrooms are especially swanky and there's plenty of space in the interconnecting bedrooms.

Our kids loved: Visiting amazing Fota Wildlife Park. It's five minutes from the hotel, which can arrange discounts and a shuttle bus transfer. They also loved the breakfasts.

We didn't like: The 'playroom.' It felt unloved and only had three toys! We found the limited pool access for kids a bit restrictive, too.

X factor: The location. It's so close to Cork city and all the county's major tourist attractions.

Our verdict: A luxurious and relaxing hotel with a talent for great service. A stay here is extremely comfortable and enjoyable.

Cost: €259 per family, to include one night's B&B in inter- connecting rooms and complimentary tickets to Fota Wildlife Park. Self-catering lodges with access to all resort amenities from €990, for seven nights, sleeping four. www.fotaisland.ie

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