The moment you turn your car into the drive of Mount Falcon Resort near Ballina, Co Mayo, you know that you are departing one sphere and entering another world of relaxation. And as you drive up the tree-lined avenue, and see the impressive grey stoned house through the leaves, you know that whatever state you arrive here in, you are guaranteed to leave here as someone who has had an experience that will reinvigorate, entertain, and occupy you.
Quite simply, Mount Falcon is one of the west’s best kept secrets. Although the hotel is a four-star property, it truly is a five-star experience. Luxurious bedrooms, soft beds, quiet carpeted corridors lead to nooks and crannies throughout this marvelous building. It is old world luxury in a modern setting. The service that you yearn for but rarely find elsewhere.
The beauty of Mount Falcon is that it feels like you are away from it all, yet it is just two hours down the road from Galway. For my visit recently, I left Galway after elevenses and by the time the first shadow of afternoon cast across the lake in front of Mount Falcon, I’d driven there, checked in, had a relaxing swim, enjoyed the spa and was ensconced in front of a roaring fire, with laptop fired up and a nice glass of wine in front of me. Pure bliss.
And as I relaxed in that wonderful room just off the main entrance hall, I could look out and see the wonders of wildlife outside. Squirrels, foxes, rabbits scurrying in and out of the forest that wraps around this beautiful estate. Fishermen returning with rods from a day on the Moy, eager amateur archers, budding Robin Hoods back from trying their luck with bows and quivers intact; families returning after bicycle rides through the woods; tired golfers after some practice on the nine-bay driving range. Here there was everything to see, and just as easily, there need be nothing to see as it is so easy to switch off in Mount Falcon, to occupy your own world and let your mind be filled with the wonders of the service and the ambience of this busy yet relaxing estate.
Mount Falcon was designed by the architect James Franklin Fuller who lists Ashford Castle and Farmleigh as part of the parcel of impressive building projects he oversaw for the Guinness family and for the Church of Ireland in the 19th century. It was then gifted to a bride when Nina Knox-Gore accepted the hand of Ultred Knox, and later since 1932 as the family home of Constance Aldridge who came there from England as the teenage bride of Major John Aldridge. They converted the mansion into a fishing and hunting lodge catering mainly for British and continental sportsmen.
Major Aldridge died in the 1950s but Constance lived here and presided over the lodge and its guests until 2000, when the property was purchased by the Maloney family who along with Mark Evans and Bruce Dunleavy oversaw its development into the luxury destination which celebrates its tenth birthday this coming year. This development was done without any major compromise on its illustrious history and its past connect with nature and fishing and wildlife.
While there, I took in some of this heritage when I went on a falcon walk with the resident falconer Jason, during which we strolled through the forest with a falcon perched on my hand. To experience the sheer power of these birds as they glide at speed weaving their way through the forest, through 400 metres of dense foliage to land on your hand within seconds is a real experience.
Mount Falcon has a collection of hawks, perregrine, owls, and falcons and the tour and talk by Jason was thrilling and informative. There is also clay pigeon shooting, an archery range, a golf driving range, a salmon fishery, an estate lake, and tours of the kitchen garden. Simply, something for everyone at Mount Falcon.
The service in Mount Falcon is of the old world variety — you feel you have been cared for when you stay here, that your every need is being met before you’ve even realised your every need yourself. Staff have been trained to preempt any request and they do so with an discretion and father touch bordering on on the intangible.
Dining at Mount Falcon is a beautiful experience. The main restaurant is the Kitchen restaurant, located in what was the original old kitchen of the house. Here the massive pantry and cooking areas have been transformed into a beautiful dining area which is particularly dramatic when illuminated at night. The Boathole Bar at the front of the hotel is also available for dining, appropriate enough given that it was one of the traditional entertaining rooms of the old house back in the day.
Much of the food prepared at Mount Falcon comes with the trademark idiosyncracies of a synergy between the chefs and the gardeners on the estate. Award winning chef Daniel Willimont brought me on a walking tour of the estate gardens where much is grown and developed for use in the hotel kitchens by head gardener Alex Lavarde. The gardeners take pride in the innovative dishes that emerge from the kitchen and each year they liaise with the chefs to experiment by growing a wide range of unusual varieties of international and domestic plants, vegetables, and herbs in the estate garden. Even the hotel honeycomb is produced by bees in the corner of the garden. In summertime, the estate garden is a sight to behold, an assault on the senses with colour and smell and taste.
And you can see this in the menus and taste it in the exquisite textures of the wonderful menu that Daniel and his team present for guests. It was a joy to see where much of the little twists in the food had emerged.
But Mount Falcon is not just the wonderful hotel. There are fantastic Lakeside, Courtyard, and Woodland lodges available for self catering holidays. These homes are fully-equipped. On my visit there, the residents told me about the roaring log fires they discovered when they checked in, the delivery of fresh dry wood to keep the flames going, accentuating the feeling that they were living in a home away from home, a part of nature. The Woodland lodges are built in the centre of a mature forest which is built around an original 19th century water tower. All of these beautifully appointed lodges are contemporary and extremely comfortable, with underfloor heating as well as the open stone fireplaces.
I cannot wait to return to Mount Falcon and to inhale its wonderful air of relaxation and freedom. I would heartily recommend that you sample it and bestow this feeling on yourselves.
For a break with a difference, Mount Falcon ticks every box.