Liss Ard Estate is a special place with many unique experiences


The last time I visited Liss Ard Estate, it was in a slightly less boujee form: camping. Ten years ago, on the property’s previous incarnation of West Cork as a festival venue, I had rocked out with Patti Smith and Cork band Fred before retiring to an adjacent field – and my pop-up tent – ​​for the night. But this week, after Liss Ard’s recent purchase and refurbishment, I was heading back to Skibbereen Estate and Ireland’s Blue Book Retreat to experience what I hope will be the ultimate upgrade.

Liss Ard is undoubtedly an evocative sight in any season, but on the best Sunday in summer, its Georgian magnolia facade bursting across its tree-lined driveway is pure sight. The 19th century estate was purchased by Californian Michael Johnston and his business partner Colin Best last year and inside, the infectious Newport Beach native and his team are there to greet us, welcome Prosecco at the ready . The lobby is sleek, light, and airy with the almost heavenly feel of Dr. Eva’s Solar Alvura, but without any residual anxiety about impending calorie counting. I soon have my hands full with my key, a map of the property, and a welcome cookie for my dog ​​Vipp (Liss Ard is dog friendly), which soon makes him head to reception for a few seconds. There’s an instant, non-stuffy but polite energy here at Liss Ard, though I’m slightly confused trying to save my Prosecco tip glass thanks to an over-exuberant golden retriever.

The 19th century estate was bought by Californian Michael Johnston and his business partner Colin Best last year.

Follow-up discussion

Liss Ard offers twenty-six freshly refurbished bedrooms split between the Georgian mansion proper, the courtyard that flanks the main building and Liss Ard’s Victorian Lake House, conveniently located along the shore. Vipp and I were staying in the mews where the dog-friendly rooms have wooden floors as well as convenient private access to the courtyard gardens – perfect for a quick leg stretch. It’s a plush, boutique bedroom with a cloud-shaped king bed, walnut bedside tables, and a marble bathroom with a rain shower and gold fixtures. Back at the mansion, Edel went to bed in one of Liss Ard’s generously proportioned suites, which featured a four-poster bed, original fireplaces, and a cozy sitting area with views of the estate. Simple elegance is Liss Ard’s goal and you instantly feel that sense of calm, even without the aid of Prosecco.

The boutique-style bedroom is equipped with a cloud-shaped bed.  Photo: Niamh Whitty/
The boutique-style bedroom is equipped with a cloud-shaped bed. Photo: Niamh Whitty/

At your service

With 200 acres of true Garden of Eden allure, Liss Ard entices guests with on-estate experiences such as romantic garden walks, canoeing, night kayaking and gourmet picnics in West Cork. The hotel’s wellness options are also appealing, and include a lakeside sound bath and yoga tea ceremony. However, given the beautiful blue bird day we were basking in, we opted to snuff out in the beautiful lakeside sauna at Liss Ard before taking a refreshing dip. Dog in tow.

Vipp, of course, waited patiently outside and we enjoyed our fifteen minute sauna cycles in the panoramic cabin, before joining Vipp outside with a dip in the lake. It was the most glorious way to relax, to connect with nature – and my madra.

Another impressive feature that Liss Ard boasts about is her Sky Garden, an outdoor landscape installation by renowned California artist James Turrell. We make our visit at dusk where, via a burial passage at the Newgrange, we ascend into a crater of verdant grass centered around a tandem viewing pedestal. Lying down, the crater rim acted as the perfect lens as the constellations appeared before our eyes in the most magical display.

The dog-friendly hotel is even a treat for furry friends.
The dog-friendly hotel is even a treat for furry friends.

food drink

Liss Ard’s culinary hub is its Garden restaurant where Executive Chef Alex Petit’s menu features a fine selection of local West Cork producers as well as plenty of fresh produce grown on site.

The basement dining room with a red brick floor, bistro-style chairs and marble tables may have seemed a little chilly to me at first, but I quickly warmed to its continental charm once which I stopped comparing to my own preconceptions about country house dining.

My meal started with a deluxe chowder featuring John Dory, shellfish and caviar, topped when serving with a light citrus sauce topped with vermouth and dill. A lovely sublime dish. For my main course, I opted for the sirloin served with tender broccoli, béarnaise and crisp “charred” new potatoes served with dollops of thyme creme fraiche. The steak lacked that outer dish that I always savor, but it was a nice cut of meat and perfectly washed down with a Malbec. The dessert was a chocolate delight which was just as delicious by name and it all topped off a meal, which with the exception of the gluten free bread was top drawer.

Breakfast was even more glorious, not least because it was served outside on the lawned garden terrace so Vipp could join us. As a celiac, who avoids full Irish fare, the breakfast options can be a bit boring for me, so it’s always nice when an exciting gluten-free option catches my eye: my grilled buckwheat pancakes stuffed with cheddar ripe and mushrooms were a seriously more start to the day, while Edel went for Union Hall sourdough kippers. All outdoors on a glorious morning, this was West Cork revival at its best.

Room for improvement

Liss Ard is on point with so many of its offerings that there were only a few, perhaps subjective, adjustments that we observed during our stay. With such a recently purchased and freshly renovated property, don’t expect the generational character of heirlooms and taxidermy to ooze from the walls here, but rather that minimal elegance that provides an air of soothing sanctuary. At times, however, this minimalism can border on sparse, and some common spaces and hallways could benefit from more character: perhaps a lounge chair or a bold piece of art. Liss Ard’s character will mature over time but it already feels like he has the potential to be bold.


It’s a special place and there’s a welcoming energy that starts with owner Michael Johnston and seems to run through the friendly and conscientious team. The accommodation and catering were superb and these unique experiences, from the lakeside saunas to the Sky Garden, kept our stay to new crescendos. And I hope yours too? This has been my best stay of the year so far and I highly recommend a getaway. Additionally, while accommodation rates have climbed recently, rates starting at Liss Ard starting at €199 for summer and €149 for fall represent good value for money at this time. There is a supplement of €25 for stays with a dog; treats and a blanket are provided.

Tom was a guest of the property for the purposes of this review.


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