The real deal

Claire Droney gets a luxury tour of Killarney — the kind Queen Victoria received.

THE Laurels Singing Pub, The Danny Mann, Scruffy's and Revels — I’ve been on lots of hen parties in Killarney and thoroughly enjoyed some great nights out in its myriad pubs and clubs. Somewhere on the edges of my consciousness I always knew about the Killarney National Park, the jaunting carts and Muckross House, but I never quite had the time to visit them. It’s fun to act like a tourist in Killarney, a town I thought I knew like the back of my hand.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

It’s a sunny Friday evening as I arrive at the hotel. It may be only twenty years old this year, but the Killarney Park Hotel retains the charm of a much older building, with log fires and antique furniture in abundance. There are plenty of nooks to hide away in, including the dark, red-leather seated library, with guests enjoying drinks or reading in the evening sun.

THE ROOM

The hotel offers a selection of contemporary or traditional junior suites. The contemporary suites are larger, with wall-mounted flat-screens in every area, and a remote-controlled TV rising from the end of the bed. But I am a vintage girl at heart and opt for a traditional Junior Suite on the top floor of the hotel.

The room is enormous, with a fireplace and separate TV/ DVD area, and a huge pristine bathroom. There are two Queen sized beds with white duvets and brocade coverlets, cosy bathrobes and slippers and the bathroom houses two sinks, a Jacuzzi bath and separate jet shower. It is totally silent up here, and when I open the windows, all I can hear is the sound of horses clip clopping through the streets.

The porter returns later to switch on the gas fire, and I peruse the list of slightly outdated selection of DVDs available from reception, which include ‘What Women Want’ and ‘In Her Shoes’.

THE FOOD

I breakfast in a huge high-ceilinged room where it is all crisp white linen and velvet cushioned chairs, and the fire is so hot I wear a t-shirt. All the dishes are made-to-order. I enjoy apple and cinnamon pancakes and fresh bacon and toast.

The buffet table contains raspberry compote in yoghurt, mini-pastries and scones with home-made raspberry jam, amongst an array of other delicacies.

The Garden Bar is a people-watcher’s paradise bustling with hotel guests and daytrippers alike. Over a tempura of cod with pea puree (€15.60), I spotted Bill Cullen and Jackie Lavin enjoying drinks with friends in a dark corner of the bar.

The curried vegetable fritters with feta cheese and homemade piccalilli (€9.60) are strangely more-ish, especially when washed down with a glass of Prosecco (€11).

WHAT TO DO

I forgo the hotel spa and have an early-morning dip in the outdoor hot tub, followed by a splash-about in the adults-only section of the pool area which has a plunge-pool, waterfall pool and Jacuzzi.

Later, I opt for a bus and boat trip which recreates part of a trip made by Queen Victoria on her visit to Killarney in 1861. This is the Killarney of vintage advertising posters, all glittering lakes and pleasure boats. Starting at Ross Castle, we disembark at the tiny Inisfallen Island for a walk through the ruins of the monastery. I trail my fingers in the cool waters of Lough Lein, passing the rhododendron-ridden outskirts of Dinis Island, and pootle through the shallow waters near Brickeen Bridge. At Dinis Cottage coffee shop, I watch backpackers chat, and cyclists whizz through the park.

The final leg of the trip brings us to the private pier at the Lake Hotel, where I have afternoon tea in the Piano Lounge (€16) and browse through the old letters from past guests underneath the glass-topped tables.

The next day’s jaunting cart trip through the Killarney National Park sees joggers and baby-walkers enjoying the sunshine, and the Jarvey stops the horse at certain points to tell us about the sights.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Although it is expensive, the five-star Killarney Park Hotel is a pristine, faultless and friendly hotel that has maintained the standards it established 20 years ago. It might be worth taking advantage of some of the special packages on offer to celebrate its 20th anniversary this year. One night dinner and B&B in a standard room costs from €160 per person sharing.

ANYTHING TO ADD

This weekend opened my eyes to the delights of Killarney. The locals may have cornered the tourist market, but it’s far from twee. There’s far more to Killarney than pubs and shopping in the Outlet Centre. On the drive home, I stop at Killarney Antiques and Collectibles, and emerge with an antique mirror, given to me gratis by the owner, because, in his words ‘It’s your lucky day’.

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