Liss Ard was “love at first sight,” new owner Michael Johnston told me when I visited in February. At the time, the place was teeming with snowdrops and builders busy as bees with renovations.
It’s not hard to feel that love. Walking the 183-acre estate in West Cork took us from rolling landscapes to heavenly forests, a reed-lined lake and James Turrell’s ‘Sky Garden’ – a 25-metre oval crater in which you can lie on rocks. plinths to look at the sky. Liss Ard is also full of stories – owners ranged from the O’Donovan clan to a Swiss spy; Festivals in the 1990s hosted Nick Cave, Patti Smith, Lou Reed and others. Bono also celebrated a big birthday here.
Johnston and his business partner Colin Best pocketed it all for a whopping £3.5million in 2021 and are turning Liss Ard – the former interiors he called “just tragic” – into a Blue bolthole. Book at Skibbereen.
“I want people to feel like they’re at their best friend’s villa or estate,” he says. Now that it’s reopened, I came back for a real stay.
Arrival & location
A Victorian mansion on a hill in West Cork… Liss Ard bets on all the character and drama it suggests. Located just outside Skibbereen, its estate gates lead to a drive of approximately one kilometer on a winding, well-maintained road through beautiful grounds, before arriving at the 19th century refuge.
The house looks nicely painted, with fresh plantings in progress and blue tits nesting in old stone walls. A sparse drop zone, however, could be softened with smarter planting. Service vans use the same space.
Inside, there’s a friendly welcome at a desk under a large window and help with carrying luggage to our suite, one of five bedrooms upstairs. If you’re using Google Maps, incidentally, plot a course through Skibbereen to avoid a tangle of country roads for the final leg of the journey. 7/10
Service & styling
Liss Ard reopened in April and features a stylish bar framed in wood decals, a lounge with open fires and shelves full of books, games and vinyl, plus striking artwork by Donagh Carey. It’s airy and not stuffy; the kind of place you would like to reserve for a party.
But for now, it doesn’t seem to be over. Bare hallways and console tables beg for a few plants and artwork, and two lounges at the end of the hallway feel like their use has yet to be determined (despite the small grand piano). They should wave for a read or a drink, but there’s little feng shui in matching furniture. Without carpets or fabrics, the restored wooden floors also transmit a lot of sound into the house. “It’s a work in progress,” GM Shelley Steadman tells me – additions are on the way.
Outside, the Sky Garden (which you can book for 20-minute slots), 12km of trails, Scandi-style wooden saunas and a lakeside workout studio are world-class. Smoking in the sauna, with a breathtaking view of a lake we then dive into, is a brilliant blend of luxury and nature, and a moment when Johnston’s vision comes into its own.
The staff are charming and friendly, but operations can take a bit of time to meet Blue Book customer expectations. We are seeing long waits for breakfast and some confusion as to whether the first few weeks were a ‘soft opening’ or not. 6/10
Twenty-six rooms include period suites in the mansion and “Cosy” or “King” living rooms furnished in a contemporary luxurious country style. Some of them have access on the ground floor, with patios near the walled garden; four allow pets. The Lake House Separate Rooms are scheduled to open in June.
We stayed in a Manor Suite, with a view overlooking the grounds. It’s a lovely space, with a modern, sleek four-poster desk that opens to a vanity unit, and a lovely large bathroom with a stand-alone tub, walk-in shower, and gold trim on the faucets, racks, and bathroom sinks. towels and the glass edges of the shower.
However, I think it needs more layers. There are no bathrobes or blankets, a small kettle and Nespresso machine feels like an afterthought in a cupboard with UHT milk and no snacks (a missed opportunity for fresh West Cork treats), and I spend time rearranging the furniture. It’s great to see refillable dispensers attached to the shower wall, but there aren’t any near the tub. 6.5/10
“Garden” is Liss Ard’s basement restaurant, with a particular focus on local, seasonal produce. This is West Cork, so lip service won’t be enough, and chef Alex Petit’s menus earn his two AA rosettes.
The room needs to be reworked in terms of sound and decoration, but it is coming, and the service is warm and knowledgeable. A Union Hall salmon amuse-bouche on a homemade crisp sets the tone, and the presentation of dishes such as scallops with asparagus, nettles and coco de Paimpol, St Tola goat cheese with a burst of beet meringue, or Provençal cod, is clever. without feeling precious.
There’s a delicious side of smoked potatoes with sour cream (don’t miss it), and the appearance of the chef to introduce our dishes is a nice touch. Celiac needs are well catered for which is reassuring, and you can also book lunch, afternoon tea or picnics. 7.5/10
Extended stays will be possible out of season; check out the “remote work” tab on their website.
Eat a second night at The Church, a popular Skibbereen restaurant rebuilt after a fire in 2006. The langoustines with monkfish (€22.90) are plump perfection.
The bottom line
Liss Ard’s gardens, paths and lakeside saunas are superb, and the catering is worthy of West Cork. But its design, service and experience have a long way to go before they reach the heights of the great immersive Irish stays like Marlfield House, Ballymaloe or Tankardstown. I feel more excited about the potential than the present, but when the interiors are complete, the service refined and the Lake House opens this summer, it should be a great place to spoil yourself.
B&B from €179 to €329 in mews rooms and from €249 to €495 in Manor Suites. Pól was a hotel guest. lissardestate.ie