During a romantic mini break with your other half, in one of Ireland's most stunning stately homes, the last thing you expect to see is the world's most famous newlyweds sitting across from you at breakfast. But that's exactly what happened to me this week, during my two-night stay at Ballyfin - an imposing neo-classical stone mansion tucked into the lush Co. Laois countryside - and, for four days, the site of one of the world's best-kept secrets. Because unbeknownst to us - and every eager pap and newspaper editor in the land, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West were holed up in our hotel!
When we checked into Ballyfin, just an hour's drive from Dublin, on Monday morning, we were quietly told that there were some 'special guests' on site. So far, so normal for a five-star mansion renowned for its peace and serenity. But it wasn't until late afternoon when, as we sat enjoying coffee in the luxurious Gold Room (decorated with a huge glass chandelier once owned by Napoleon's sister! How very Versailles…) that we discovered just who 'they' were.
Press reports had claimed they were honeymooning in Cork; others had them sipping Guinness in Limerick. But here they were sitting quietly chatting, looking like any other young couple in love. For their four-night stay here, each had taken a personal assistant while Kanye also had a bodyguard (although their entourage kept a low profile). So with just 15 bedrooms on offer (and five of those taken by the newlyweds' entourage) it really was just them - and us!
Much has been made of the couple choosing a quiet Irish honeymoon; after all this is 'Kimye' - think super yachts and late-night visits to the hottest nightclubs. But what surprised us the most was how normal they appeared - Kim had ditched the high heels and skintight dresses for jeans, flats and no make-up (but still looked gorgeous) while Kanye appeared to live in his black jeans. And cue the cute factor: nearly every time we caught sight of them they were hand-in-hand as they wandered around the hotel.
But then the pair have been to Ballyfin before - Kanye was bowled over by its sumptuous interiors, grand entertaining rooms and fabulous wrought-iron Turner conservatory during his stay in 2012. And after just a few minutes you can understand why - the interiors may look like you've wandered into the most opulent of museums but the rows of Hunter wellies in the entrance hall, the jars of homemade cookies in the library and the super-friendly staff take the intimidation factor down several notches.
We checked into the pretty Sir Charles Coote room, complete with silk upholstery, French antiques and original 18th-century marble bathtub (Kim and Kanye had one of the hotel's two lavish suites). They didn't join the other guests for pre-dinner cocktails in the library, although they did head down to the dining room for lunch several times. For dinner, they mostly ate in the gorgeous Gold Room (Kanye's favourite, apparently), enjoying a menu that included Carlingford Lough Lobster Bisque, Irish Black Dexter Fillet of Beef and Valrhona Chocolate Delice, all prepared by Bronx-born chef Ryan Murphy.
Better than a super yacht any day.
The Sir Charles Coote Stateroom costs from £1,200 a night; www.ballyfin.com