When I set off for Ireland, I hadn’t intended to arrive during a watershed moment in the country’s history. And yet, as I made my way through the Georgian townhouse-lined avenues and cobblestoned alleys of Dublin, I quickly realized that I was witnessing first-hand a city undergoing monumental change.
Walking from Parnell Square, one of Dublin’s prettiest residential areas, to the Creative Quarter, I passed posters urging “Vote Yes”—and others, sometimes in front of churches, that implored “Vote No.” Although the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment had been definitively won by 66.4% a few days earlier, these banners still stood on lampposts and storefronts, like soldiers at attention—perhaps as a testament to the momentousness of the result. Despite the “No” posters, pride and positivity seemed to emanate from every person that I talked to, from cab drivers and tour guides to young people in hotels and pubs.
This sense of progress and new beginnings is just as present in Dublin’s culture as it is in its politics. Next year, the opening of the Museum of Literature Ireland, or MoLI, will be a groundbreaking addition to the city’s attractions and a must-visit for travelers and locals alike. As the first comprehensive exhibition of Ireland’s renowned literary history (which includes such authors as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett), MoLI is slated to become a landmark museum with large-scale, interactive exhibits, as well as the very first edition of Ulysses.
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Creative prowess in literature and music has always given the city a certain cool factor, but with several buzzed-about hotel openings, Dublin’s sense of style is maturing. Of particular note is The Alex, a newly renovated property with Art Deco furnishings and a young crowd on Merrion Square. Twenty minutes away, in the Ranelagh neighborhood, The Devlin—sister property to the boutique hotel The Dean—is sure to attract a chic set with its rooftop bar and subterranean cinema, when it opens in September.
With one of these new properties—or an elegant classic like The Merrion—as home base, travelers can explore the city’s developing food scene, which is garnering acclaim for its inspired chefs, sophisticated recipes and farm–to–table thinking. While the hot spots from Dublin’s first generation of post-recession restaurants remain as popular as ever (think The Pig’s Ear, The Winding Stair and Sophie’s), their offspring have made it very difficult to decide where to have dinner (try Mr. Fox, The Legal Eagle or Roberta’s).
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Nowhere is the cuisine more promising than in the kitchen at Ballyfin, the stunning 19th-century country estate–turned–hotel just a 90-minute drive southwest from Dublin’s city center. Ballyfin excels at pampering its guests, and there are few reasons to venture off-property during your stay—not least thanks to the dynamic cooking of head chef Sam Moody. With 614 acres of woods and gardens at his disposal, Moody serves complex and surprising dishes that are conceived every morning, when he negotiates his request for fresh ingredients with the formidable head gardener.
While I was at Ballyfin, I spent an afternoon in Chef Moody’s kitchen to observe his technique (and be fed). I sipped rosé and perched at a narrow bar by the stove to watch as he pulled “bits and bobs” from the fridge and threw them together into delicious appetizers, like puffed quinoa crackers laden with tender steak tartar and bright green asparagus sprinkled with salty homemade breadcrumbs. The highlight of my impromptu meal was a farm-fresh egg, fried over caramelized shallots and dressed in roasted chicken jus, topped with the most generous serving of shaved black truffle that I have ever seen. At his former post at the Bath Priory, Moody won and maintained a Michelin star for five years. The team at Ballyfin eagerly anticipates that he will win one here soon.
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Beyond the kitchen and the main house, with its lavish bedrooms and beautiful communal spaces, Ballyfin has now added its first villa-style accommodation. The recent opening of the one-bedroom Gardener’s Cottage has created a private “home-away-from-home” experience for guests who truly want to get away from it all, with walks in the orchard and sunset Champagne on the porch. The cottage also has a private hot tub for relaxing after a full day of outdoor activities, which include horseback riding, falconry, shooting, fishing and bicycling around the lake.
From the countryside to the city, there’s never been a better time to go to Dublin. The charming people, the reverence for storytelling and, of course, the Guinness all still await those who visit, but now, the flourishing of fresh perspectives, new ideas and economic growth have given the destination a complexity that begs to be explored. For the savvy traveler, Dublin should be at the top of your list.
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