BANTRY enjoys a glorious location, ringed first by lush, wooded slopes and then by wild, bare mountains, at the head of 35-kilometre-long Bantry Bay, one of the finest natural harbours in Ireland. The prime viewpoint is naturally occupied by Bantry House, which with its sumptuous interior and garden is one of West Cork’s few unmissable historic sites. At the junction of several important roads, Bantry is also a substantial market (Fridays) and service town, with plenty of amenities for visitors.
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Bantry House is one of Ireland’s most compelling country houses, both for its lavish art works and for its magnificent setting, among formal gardens overlooking the bay. Built in the early eighteenth century and extended a hundred years later, it was spared destruction during the Irish Civil War, when it acted as a hospital for the wounded of both sides. Many of its beautiful furnishings were gathered by the Second Earl of Bantry on his nineteenth-century grand tour and boast name-dropping provenances, such as the gorgeous Aubusson tapestries made for Marie Antoinette on her marriage to the future Louis XVI. The highlight is the dining room, which resembles an extravagant stage-set: rich, Chartres-blue walls, a marble colonnade and vast seventeenth-century sideboards carved with cherubs and classical scenes. There’s a very attractive café, with tables under the house’s west balcony, which serves tea and simple lunches.