Photo: Dromoland Castle hotel Ireland

Dromoland Castle in Ireland's County Clare encourages its guests to explore the woodlands by foot or horseback—nearby stables offer horse riding lessons. Guests can also spend time fishing at Dromoland Lake for trout or perch.

Photograph by Andrew Holt, Alamy

The most authentic and unique hotels in Ireland, chosen by National Geographic Traveler editors for the 2011 Stay List

Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort, Adare, Co. Limerick
Golf and gargoyles define this 840-acre estate bisected by River Maigue. Take hour-long historic tour of the 1832 Gothic Revival manor: 75 fireplaces, 365 leaded-glass windows, formal box-hedge gardens. Rooms characterized by hand-carved fireplaces, cut-glass lamps, cabriole-legged mahogany furniture. Golf on Robert Trent Jones-designed course (former home of Irish Open), fish for wild brownies, learn intricacies of English saddle riding. 62 rooms, from $420.

Ard Nahoo Eco Retreat, Mullagh, Co. Leitrim
It's not the small cabin "of clay and wattles" described in Yeats's poem, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree." But each of these timber-framed, Donegal cedar-clad cabins comes close: hemp insulated, heated with pellet stoves, finished with natural paints, and powered by wind turbines. Organic vegetarian cuisine, infrared sauna, hot tub overlooking lake. Mix with locals at yoga class, walk the Celtic nature trail among foxgloves and bog cotton, or kayak Lough Gill and see Yeats's mythical Isle of Innisfree for yourself. (It really exists.) 3 cabins, from $268, incl. a welcome package (homemade bread, organic eggs, jams, milk, tea, coffee).

Arlington Lodge Country House Hotel, John's Hill, Co. Waterford
A William Morris-designed original, hidden behind walled gardens. Three-story Georgian house glows with soft colors and finishes of the era, while modern contrivances—room key cards, underfloor heating—moderate energy usage. Drawing room, bar, south-facing conservatory restaurant with terrace for al fresco dining. Besides a delicious meal, chef supplies history of dish, origin of ingredients, anecdotes about local artisan producers. Rare treat: blaa, a yeast roll filled with bacon, egg, or sausage, associated with the French Huguenots, who settled in the area in the mid-1700s. 20 rooms, from $120, incl. breakfast.

Ashford Castle, Cong, Co. Mayo
Storybook castle, once owned by Guinness family, on Ireland's second largest lake. Battlements, bridge, medieval armor dress up baronial manor. Regal rooms enrobed in sumptuous fabrics. Retrofitting a castle to reduce carbon footprint isn't easy, but determined efforts underway. Falconry, golf, neoclassical spa. Choose from trio of restaurants, then retire to Dungeon bar for Irish sing-alongs. 83 rooms, from $250, incl. breakfast.

Ballaghboy Lodge Farm, Ballinafad, Co. Sligo
Dr. Doolittle meets Green Acres at this geothermal-heated eco-cottage. Wander among free-roaming sanctuary animals: donkeys, goats, sheep, ponies, dogs. Owners planted 15,000 broadleaf saplings to encourage wildlife as well. Organic meals under vaulted ceiling, guest rooms with views of Lough Arrow, two self-catering cabins. Owners put you in touch with local bards, musicians, and guides. 6 rooms, from $116, incl. breakfast.

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, Connemara, Co. Galway
A green-to-the-gills Victorian sporting house with its own salmon fishery. Large rooms with mellow country house decor. Try Irish version of surf and turf in river-view restaurant: Connemara lamb with Cleggan scallops. Fishermen's bar displays day's largest catch. (Capital offense: using bait instead of flies.) Take a three-hour ramble on estate's 450 acres with in-house guide recounting lore and legend. Gearing for the future with smart metering, solar panels, carbon neutral biomass boilers, woodland regeneration. 40 rooms, from $155.

Carrig Country House Hotel, Caragh Lake, Co. Kerry
Recharge your batteries amid Victorian finery in lakeside country house. Fresh Kerry seafood or lamb in bay window restaurant. Stroll the Kerry Way (Ireland's longest signposted walking trail) or climb nearby McGillcuddy Reek mountains (country's highest), then settle back with drinks and canapes in drawing room with peat log fire. Choose lake view rooms: wavelets will lull you to sleep. 17 rooms, from $106.

Cashel House, Cashel, Co. Galway
Revel in flowering gardens along Connemara coast. Subtropical profusion brightens rooms and conservatory restaurant of this Victorian manor house. Nooks and crannies warmed by log fires burning windfall timber. Steadfastly defends environment over self-interest (successfully fighting airport construction on nearby bog) while supporting community groups, such as lifeboat volunteers. Private beach, stables with riding lessons, signposted walking paths. 30 rooms, from $212.

Castle Leslie Estate, Glaslough, Co. Monaghan
Landed gentry play host at 1,000-acre castle estate dating to 1660s. Highlight? A castle tour with 93-year-old Sir John: Wordsworth harp, Winston Churchill's christening robes, lots of ghost stories. Quirky rooms in castle—throne toilets, original Victorian wallpaper—may have ghosts, but no clocks, or tea makers. (Choose more conventional lodge rooms for these.) Pike fishing, cookery school, horseback riding on 21 miles of bridleways. 20 rooms, from $241, incl. breakfast.

The Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore, Co. Waterford
Bluffside hotel designed for ocean gazing. Enviro-friendly: moss covers the roof, glazed surfaces allow for solar heating. Unapologetically modern rooms with Donegal tweed blankets, natural stone baths with freestanding tubs. Locavore restaurant serves the perfect egg (cooked overnight at 144F/62C.) Indoor pool, outdoor hot tub—both ocean view. Grab wellies for two-hour cliff walk or knock golf balls at pontoon floating 150 yards offshore. (No worries; they dissolve in seawater.) 39 rooms, from $245, incl. breakfast.

Delphi Lodge, Leenane, Co. Galway
Engaging 1830s Georgian lakeside fishing lodge isolated by Connacht mountains. The lure: wild salmon in river and two lakes. The catch? Rain, 100 inches per year. Deep wine list accompanies fresh catch at communal oak dining table. Peat fires from sustainable turf beds warm lounges. Fly fishing, beachcombing, pub crawls in nearby Westport. Simple rooms—no TV or room service—tailored to hooks-and-books crowd. 12 rooms, from $288.

Dromoland Castle, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co. Clare
This lakeside castle's got cred. Retrofitted with carbon-neutral wood-chip boiler and energy-saving fixtures (enjoy the clever power showers), this is the greenest castle on the Emerald Isle. It's also the most castlelike: tasseled drapes, suits of armor, ancestral portraits. You're king/queen for a day in a regal turret suite. Harpist plays in formal restaurant. Rowboats, mountain bikes are free for exploring the estate's 410 acres. 99 rooms, from $351.

Dunraven Arms Hotel, Adare, Co. Limerick
An equestrian-themed coaching inn in heritage village of thatched roofs and medieval churches. Restaurant serves the sort of roast rib of beef and crisp duck leg as 200 years ago, but with contemporary twist. Maze of hallways leads to splendidly old-fashioned rooms with goose-down quilts. Tally Ho: clubby Hunter's Bar is Ireland's premier hangout for fox hunters; owners can set you up at Clonshire Equestrian Centre for superb instruction and cross-country riding. 86 rooms, from $116.

Glin Castle, Glin, Co. Limerick
Get a good knight's sleep at this 1785 castle Gothicized with turreted battlements. More family home than hotel (open March to Nov.) but you've got the run of it. Dine on Shannon River salmon, crisp greens from organic walled garden, using family silver. Chintz-bedecked rooms with clawfoot tubs, Persian carpets; choose Yellow Crown room for garden and river views. The 29th Knight of Glin greets arrivals. (He still lives here, as his family has since the 12th century!) 15 rooms, from $438, incl. breakfast.

Gregans Castle Hotel, Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare
Family-owned Georgian manor for gourmands on a hill overlooking Galway Bay and the Burren (a stark limestone moonscape). No TV and proud of it. Martyn Suite, the most historic, features an ancient fireplace with family crest keystone. Water comes from a mountain spring, electricity from wind-generation utility company. Seasonal nine-course tasting menu complemented by a generous selection of organic and biodynamic wines. 20 rooms, from $275, incl. breakfast.

Killeen House Hotel, Aghadoe, Co. Kerry
A 1838 rectory turned golf-centric country hotel 10-minute drive from Killarney and even closer to three renowned courses. (Golf balls are legal tender in pour-it-yourself pub.) Prix fixe five-course dinners draw as many locals as guests. Strategic base for Co. Kerry sights: Skellig Rocks, Gap of Dunloe, Ring of Kerry. Unfrilly rooms as unpretentious as hosts and staff, paragons of Irish hospitality. 23 rooms, from $89, incl. breakfast.

Moy House, Lahinch, Co. Clare
Surf City soul enlightens this whitewashed Italianate villa overlooking Atlantic beach. (Owner was the first to paddle English Channel on a surfboard.) At once casual—feel free to mosey into kitchen and grab a beer—yet elegant: candlelit dinners in ocean-view conservatory, Waterford chandeliers sparkle in Drawing Room. Choose one of six rooms facing beach: original cast iron tubs, soft heritage colors, window seats. Walk the sand to town for two-hour surf lesson, or golf fabled Lahinch links. (The St. Andrews of Ireland.) 9 rooms, from $278, incl. breakfast.

The Merrion Hotel, Dublin
An Irish Louvre with lodging, occupying four stately Georgian townhouses. You'll find over 40 Irish artists—Roderic O'Connor, William Scott, etc.—exhibited throughout, contemporary Irish cuisine (with Gallic flourish) in minimalist restaurant, and a landmark location near the National Gallery. (Concierge can arrange a private tour.) Neoclassic rooms with white marble baths look out on two formal gardens or Irish Parliament buildings. 142 rooms, from $329.

The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge, Ballingarry, Co. Limerick
Victorian-era country house occupying former convent, in quieter village setting than touristy Adare, eight miles away. Chinoiserie and Georgian furnishings atop creaky wood floors in large guest rooms, aperitifs in library, postprandial strolls through pleasure garden. (There's even a smoker's route.) Lion's share of fame derives from restaurant, based on seasonal menu of local artisan food. 16 room, from $104, incl. breakfast.

Park Hotel Kenmare, Kenmare, Co. Kerry
This Victorian grande dame has a sexy side. Sure, traditions abound at this old railway hotel—coal fires, ceremonious dining, formal afternoon tea—but spa addition adds sensual appeal: minimalist design, fiber optic lighting, esoteric treatments. 18-hole golf course, 40-acre nature park. Best rooms face marsh and bay. Kenmare, two-minute walk away, is foodie heaven. 46 rooms, from $277.

Rathsallagh House, Dunlavin, Co. Wicklow
An hour's drive southwest of Dublin, this 580-acre operation is grand—winding mile-long entrance, surrounding 18-hole golf course—yet homey. Owners of the 1798 Queen Anne farmhouse greet all guests, "Mum" still makes the chutney and jam. Snooker, tennis, hotel bikes for countryside rides. Turf fires glow in two drawing rooms. Rooms with pillow menus (choose preferred degree of soft), double-ended baths, clunky TVs. New Irish cuisine sourced from 18th-century walled garden, local grass-fed lamb and beef. 29 rooms, from $306, incl. breakfast.

The Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow
A two-year-old Palladian tour de force surrounded by Ireland's most impressive formal gardens. Floor-to-ceiling windows flood roomy guest rooms with light. Gordon Ramsay restaurant, Irish pub, swank spa with crystal-lit black marble pool. Order a hotel-supplied picnic basket—Guinness beef pie, homemade pâté—for walk along River Dargle on old carriage path. You'll reach Powerscourt waterfall, Ireland's largest. 200 rooms, from $304, incl. breakfast.

Roselague, Manor, Letterfrack, Co. Galway
Salty sophistication in pink-hued Regency hotel poised on headland overlooking Ballinakill Bay. Dine on just-caught seafood, under chandeliers; windows frame Atlantic waters. Path to seashore for shell-hunting, dolphin-spotting; adjacent Connemara National Park for guided nature hikes. Relax in sun-trap conservatory, two refined parlors; guest rooms with deep tubs, fancy bed treatments, sea or garden views. Long-tenured local staff knows every heath and bog hereabouts. 20 rooms, from $120, incl. breakfast.

Seaview House Hotel, Ballylickey, Co. Cork
Bay-window beauty with Victorian sensibilities at head of Bantry Bay, surrounded by prim gardens and towering cypress trees. Conservatory restaurant for Irish comfort food, much of it drawn from sea; petit fours in fireside lounge. Old-school rooms with antique wardrobes, writing tables; request top floor for glimpse of sea through trees. Explore waterfalls, wooded glens on marked trails. 25 rooms, from $183, incl. breakfast.

The Shelbourne Dublin, Dublin
Cradle of Irish national identity overlooking St. Stephen's Green. (Country's constitution crafted here in 1922.) Rub shoulders with Dublin's intelligentsia at Horseshoe Bar; order Bar Number 27's most famous creation: Black Velvet (a Guinness and champagne cocktail). Rooms in Georgian yellows and pink face Dublin's historic (and noisy) public park. Discover your Irish roots using hotel's genealogy butler. 265 rooms, from $285.

Stella Maris Country House Hotel, Ballycastle, Co. Mayo
Fortresslike sentinel of the sea on wave-swept Atlantic coast, complete with hand-chiseled gun holes. Glass conservatory for fishbowl views of Bunatrahir Bay. Simple organic approach to cooking, with food sourced from village butcher, organic gardens, free-range chickens. Sea-view rooms with power showers. Long summer days—it's light until 11 p.m.—mean plenty of time for birdwatching, cycling, hiking, visiting nearby Ballycastle (450 residents, five pubs). 12 rooms, from $322, incl. breakfast.

Waterford Castle Hotel & Golf Resort, The Island Ballinakill, Co. Waterford
This 15th-century castle reigns over private 310-acre island, reached via ferry across River Suir. Imposing medieval look: turrets and gargoyles, tapestries and stag heads. Pianist accompanies locally sourced Irish cuisine served on crested china. Rooms evoke Jacobean era; book Glin or Otho for best views. 18-hole golf course shares isle with wild critters aplenty: deer, pheasant, foxes, swans, hares. 19 rooms, from $241.

Wineport Lodge, Glasson, Co. Westmeath
Wine lover's waterfront retreat on River Shannon backwaters. Contemporary cedar-clad hotel positioned for solar gain. Result? All rooms face sunset over Killenure Lough. Specially constructed wetland treats waste. Breakfast on your balcony, champagne and canapes in peat-fired lounge, then choose from wild and organic menu. Hike the lake, woodlands, and peat bogs, return to sleek wine-themed room with goose-down duvet. 30 rooms, from $241.

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