Horse Country and Mount Juliet – Straffan (Kildare) and Thomastown (Kilkenny), Ireland

Golf and Riding in the Heart of Thoroughbred Country

South of Dublin, counties Kildare and Kilkenny are home to many of Ireland’s 300 stud farms, offering a poetic landscape of endless rolling green pastures. Think County Kildare and think thoroughbred, in particular the Irish Stud Farm and the internationally famous Curragh Race Track (home of the Irish Derby the last week in June and often referred to as the Churchill Downs of Ireland).

Some of the country’s most famous horses have been born and raised on the impeccable grounds of the government-owned Irish Stud Farm, the standard for all other stud farms in the country, if not the world. Only in Ireland will you find such a passion for horses, a bond that can be traced back to ancient Celtic myths. On the farm’s almost 1,000 acres are the delightfully surprising Japanese Gardens, laid out in 1910. Ireland’s finest and arguably the most beautiful in Europe as well, they follow the soul’s journey from oblivion to eternity. The same feeling of well-being can be found in the Kildare Hotel and Country Club, the “K Club.”

A 19th-century manor house is the hub of this 330-acre deluxe sporting resort that looks every bit as gorgeous as the Irish Stud Farm, with miles of bridal trails for its own stable of beauties. But golf is the magic word here, as the K Club’s 18-hole course is the only Arnold Palmer-designed golf course in Ireland and is consistently rated as one of the country’s top twenty courses. The club is close enough to Dublin to lure day-trippers, but why not unwind in God’s country for a few days and take up the club’s private beats rich in salmon and trout?

Another luxurious horse-country and golf retreat is Mount Juliet; once the largest pri­vate estate in the country, its handsome, ivy-walled stone manor house was built by the Earl of Garrick more than 200 years ago. Its 1,500 acres include unspoiled woodland, pasture, formal gardens, and—the landmark for which it is acclaimed—a manicured 18-hole championship golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus.

Dubbed the “Augusta of Europe,” its world-class par-72 course has hosted the Irish Open three times. Indoors, cozy, handsomely appointed bedrooms with fireplaces and large windows overlook the rolling grounds that lead to the hotel’s Ballyinch Stud Farm, where thoroughbreds graze idly in lush meadows. Riding stables provide mounts for forays on trails without end, private beats on the River Nore allow 4 miles of trout and salmon fishing, and spa facilities for the massage-inclined mean guests can indulge in everything or nothing at this premier sporting estate.

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