by Katie Weber The Good Hotel Guide (GHG) has been my best source for finding unique, small hotels, inns and B&B”s in Ireland, and Great Britain for many years. I first used it during my honeymoon in the early 1990″s and found a dramatic difference in the quality and overall experience between its hotels and those recommended by other guides. The reasons for this are twofold. First, it is difficult for a hotel to get into the Guide. To be included, plain old travellers like you and me, must stay in a hotel, and be impressed enough to then sit down, write out a review, and send it in to the Guide. If enough travellers recommend a particular hotel, the property is then checked out by an anonymous inspector and if it passes muster, included in the Guide. Second, the GHG, unlike most of its competitors, accepts no payment of any kind from hotels and that includes advertising and hospitality. The Guide pays the cost of its inspections, all of which are anonymous. Operating in this way, it has built up a reputation for independent and reliable judgement. Its editors, Adam & Caroline Raphael have a long and distinguished history of quality journalism, working over the years for The Economist, The BBC, The Guardian, and The Observer. The result is that the GHG is a treasure trove of weekend breaks, one night stays, and holiday locations. From lakeside country houses to seaside B&B”s, townhouse hotels to wonderfully eccentric guesthouses, there is something for everyone. Travellers have different needs, tastes, wishes and pockets, so the range of places in the Good Hotel Guide is wide. Classic country houses are listed as well as simple, rural guesthouses. Restaurants-with-rooms are included, as are pubs with good food and accommodation. Budget B&Bs are also there alongside historic houses and informal homes away from home. In the cities, modern designer hotels sit alongside more traditional establishments. The Guide conveys the spirit of each place, written with wit and evocative style. Perhaps the best thing about the Good Hotel Guide is that it is a delight to read. As noted in The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Half the fun of this book comes from reading the comments, which usually have the warm, entertaining quality of letters from an old friend.” There are approximately 850 hotels listed in the 2008 Guide, more than 70 of them in Ireland. Here are excerpts from reviews for two of them: Ballinderry Park in County Galway In “glorious isolation in the eerily desolate countryside of east Galway”, this “beautifully proportioned Georgian building” has been restored from ruin by George and Susie Gossip, “a charming couple”. The Gossips”receive guests in Irish country house style, with an honesty bar, “disguised as a cupboard”, and communal dining. “The restoration owes much to George”s good taste,” says an inspector in 2007. “The drawing room, with a roaring log fire, is cosy on a chilly day. Our bedroom was not large, but warm; a cleverly installed bathroom.” Mr. Gossip, who lectures on cooking game at the cookery school at Ballymaloe House (qv) in the off-season, serves a set “but flexible” four-course dinner (tastes are discussed, and vegetarians catered for). “I had expressed an interest in game and was served with woodcock, shot on the land by the man himself.” “Well-behaved” dogs allowed. A fine stopping place for any aficionado of the Irish country house. Flemingstown House in County Limerick “Superb. Imelda Sheedy-King is the perfect hostess. Top-quality dining at a reasonable price.” A tribute in 2007 to this “flawless” guest house on a working dairy farm near an important medieval town. The 18th century building, “comfortable rather than luxurious,” has a “cosy lounge with mostly 19th-century pieces.” The “energetic” hostess, “the heart and soul of the place,” welcomed returning visitors “with extraordinary warmth, and insisted on helping with our luggage.” “Attention to every detail makes your stay special.” Bedrooms are spacious: “Our well-lit room had a cheerful air, a crystal chandelier, superb views across field to the Ballyhoura mountains. “Dinner, in a room with big stained-glass windows, is “the highlight of a stay; scrumptious and plentiful.” Mrs. Sheedy-King”s five-course menu (up to four choices for each course) features traditional dishes, e.g. leg of Irish lamb with mint sauce. Her sister”s own Cheddar cheese might be offered. “Give plenty of notice that you wish to dine, and bring your own wine.” Breakfast has home-made breads, cheeses, jams and cakes; fresh juices and a range of cooked dishes including pancakes with banana and grapes. Families are accommodated. They can explore the farm and watch the cows being milked. The local pub has live music on weekends. For the past 32 years, the GHG has specialized in discovering outstanding places to stay for its thousands of devoted readers. For its American readers, it has the added virtue of taking them on a trip to Ireland, England, Scotland or Wales that they will never forget. Stay in just one place recommended by this Guide, and you will never go back to your old way of choosing hotels. The Guide also contains discount vouchers, worth $250, which enable visitors to get 25% off the normal rates at participating hotels. The Good Hotel Guide Great Britain & Ireland 2008 can be bought via its website: www.goodhotelguide.com or directly from the publisher, The Good Hotel Guide, 50 Addison Avenue, London W11 4QP, England. It is also available via Amazon.com

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