Weekend break: Sheen Falls, Kenmare

Kenmare’s five-star hotel has a long tradition of country sports, but Denise O’Donoghue preferred the luxury of its great indoors.

A downpour might not be a feature of your perfect relaxing getaway, but there’s a lot to be said for a guilt-free stay indoors and a chance to truly relax without feeling compelled to go forth and make some memories by partaking in a selection of typical tourist activities.

Generally people like to pack a lot of those activities into an overnight stay, or even just a day trip, to feel like they made the most of the trip. The downside is that you often come home more tired than before you went away.

That’s one of the thoughts that crossed my mind on a recent visit to Kenmare during a typical summer washout.

Ahead of the short journey west from Cork, I had to choose how I would spend some of my time on the hotel grounds.

The choices were difficult — I was a novice at both horse riding and clay pigeon shooting, and I was tempted to try my hand at something new and challenging.

Days later, as I was eating a delicious lamb lunch while looking out over an overcast, sodden Kenmare Bay, I thanked my lucky stars I had opted for a spa treatment instead.

A warm, dry, and relaxing experience trumps getting soaked to the skin any day for me.

That’s one of the many perks of staying in the Sheen Falls Lodge. It embraces the changeable Irish weather and provides plenty of options to entertain and satisfy guests of all ages within the building and in the surrounding grounds.

Activities on offer include golf, fishing, falconry, kayaking, and tennis.

Outside the grounds, the hotel staff will help arrange chocolate making, boat trips, mountain climbing and more.

I started the day with the previously mentioned lunch (€49 for two courses), a shank of Kerry lamb cooked to perfection by head chef Philip Brazil.

With fires lit around the hotel and rain lashing against the window, my full belly led to a tranquil feeling of contentment. 

That feeling soon turned to smugness as some of my companions were led one way for their horse-riding lesson in the rain, and I went the other way for a deep-tissue massage, which costs €85 for an hour of bliss.

Thanks to the great spa facilities at Sheen Falls, I have learned that the best way to unwind after a hearty meal is with an hour-long treatment at the hands of a skilled masseuse.

Mairead and her arsenal of aromatic oils expertly banished all tension from my body and loosened each and every muscle. In a zen state of mind, I emerged from the Easanna Spa 60 minutes later ready to face the rest of my laidback day.

My next stop was just outside where, sheltering under an archway from the rain, we met some of the full-time residents of the hotel. 

Arizona, an imposing Harris hawk, was the first we were introduced to, soon followed by his far friendlier feathered friends, a group of owls.

The largest of these was a wise-looking grey guy appropriately named Gandalf, but I soon befriended a tiny, less intimidating one named Mr D, who has an equally little secret — in a previous life prior to his maturation, he was known as Daisy. 

He didn’t seem too ruffled about his identity change or the new people he was meeting, and soon settled down on my arm, enjoying the attention and petting he was receiving.

Owls are a much friendlier bunch than I had anticipated.

My brief outdoor activity involving the owls was an enjoyable aside to my day of interior habitation, and — following a flurry of selfies with my winged companions — I soon found myself in a firelit room awaiting even more food.

It was, unbelievably, considering my long day of relaxing, still afternoon at that stage, so I indulged in a decadent afternoon tea in the library (€55 for two people). 

A constant supply of tea, cakes and books is surely the closest thing to heaven you can experience in this lifetime.

I sank back into the leather sofa and, as I worked through layers of sandwiches, scones and sweet treats, I examined the shelves around me. 

Guests at the hotel are encouraged to make use of the library during their stay, and there is a broad selection of books on offer. From WB Yeats to JK Rowling, bookworms can easily while away an afternoon here.

A culinary highlight of the afternoon tea were the delicious smoked salmon sandwiches. The salmon was caught in the roaring Sheen Falls just outside the window and smoked in the hotel’s own smokehouse.

It was with joy that I spotted it on the menu with scrambled eggs when I arrived for breakfast the following morning. The hearty breakfast was a perfect end to a perfect stay.

The night before was spent in my deluxe room, sipping a Nespresso from the machine on the desk, enjoying some Lorge chocolates which were handmade in Kenmare, and soaking up the exquisite view through the windows.

All but one of the 66 rooms in the hotel offer a view of the water.

The modern yet cosy decor of the rooms is a subtle reflection of nature just outside, all soft greys, rustic purples and muted greens. It serves to draw the eye to the beauty outside, with which no artificial decoration could conceivably compete.

I emerged from my almost-entirely indoor 24-hour hibernation to find the sun had finally made an appearance and I was presented with a stunning view of the rugged mountains leading down to the glistening bay from the main door.

The weather was amazing, so we took the scenic route home. You know, to make the most of the trip.

There really is nowhere quite like Kenmare, in the sun or the rain.

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