They’re at the forefront of our hospitality and tourism industries and understand the value of a comfortable bed, a perfectly executed dish or a friendly face better than most.
Some of Ireland’s best-known hoteliers and restaurateurs are old pros when it comes to anticipating a guest’s needs and sending them home with the warm glow of our world-famous Céad Míle Fáilte.
But when the shutters go down and the lights are dimmed in some of our favourite establishments, who hosts the hosts?
When they take a break from the demanding work and unsociable hours that are central to the hospitably industry, where do they go to relax and unwind?
In a world where people’s leisure is their livelihood, it should come as no surprise to learn those in the business are enlightened and savvy when it comes to finding the best new hotel, chic resort, or the hideaway that only locals know.
We spoke to some of Ireland’s best-known hosts about where they go to escape.
From great new finds in the City of Light, to wonderful low-key ski resorts, to their favourite home-made gems, they share their holiday secrets.
Few people know France like Nick Munier.
The son of a Frenchman and English mother, childhood summers were spent in the Normandy beach village of Luc Sur Mer, to which his grandparents, like many Parisians, would flock for holidays.
Munier has maintained his love affair with France ever since and it’s the art and cultural references of Paris that feed his imagination in business.
The blues and silvers of classic French perfume bottle Rive Gauche inspired his first venture, Pichet.
And when he left to open his current restaurant, Avenue, in Temple Bar’s Crow Street just over a year ago, he again turned to the city.
His most-loved haunts are a world away from the identikit chains of the city’s main tourist hubs.
“My favourite place to stay is Le Pigalle on Rue Frochot in the ninth arrondissement,” he said.
“It opened over a year ago and the people who run it are very artistic and forward thinking. They use a lot of designs and graphic art from local artists and the rooms are full of quirky things.”
All of the rooms are unique and some even have bunk beds, he adds, while the restaurant is also worth a detour.
“The food is utterly French — modern but with a bistro feel to it and you can eat there right up to 2am.
"The room prices start at €135 which is pretty good for Paris and not far from Moulin Rouge if you wanted to take in a show there.”
To eat, Nick loves the recently opened bistro Papillon on Rue Meissonier, named after chef Christophe Saintagne’s favourite movie.
“He worked under (revered French chef) Alain Ducasse before opening this place. The menu is superb, all of the freshest French food.
"It’s not at all touristy, they have a great small team there and they are putting some amazing flavour combinations on the plate.”
For a more nostalgic and inexpensive experience, Nick recommends the legendary Bouillon Chartier on bustling Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, beloved by Parisians.
Don’t be put off by the queue, which moves quickly for tables at this huge establishment, he says.
“You can’t go to Paris without going there once. It’s been trading over 100 years and in this massive old building.
"They do over 1,500 covers every day and the waiters dress in classic uniforms and write your order on your tablecloth. It’s a unique experience, and cheap as chips.”
Closer to home, Nick loves time out at Limerick’s One Pery Square (“a lovely place, with a restaurant that keeps evolving”) and the spa at Monart in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.
Not that there’s been much downtime since he set up Avenue.
“We’ve just developed and launched a completely new menu so it’s pretty full on at the moment, we’re very excited.”
As part of the family behind Cork’s much-loved Hayfield Manor Hotel, Annemarie has an innate understanding of the importance of a great welcome.
Like many repeat visitors to Hayfield, it’s something which will draw her back again and again.
Love and marriage to a South African, Ettienne Van Vrede — the hotel’s general manager — means Cape Town has become a regular destination, and Annemarie has discovered many of the Cape’s best haunts.
The chic resort of Camps Bay has become a favourite, offering the family some rest and relaxation at the end of an Irish winter.
“It’s outside Cape Town and is a real holiday fun place,” she said.
“We go there every year, usually around March. We even got married there. We tied the knot in a villa overlooking the sea and had a party in the house afterwards.
"We go back every year and because we’ve become so familiar with the place it means there’s little or no advance planning, which is lovely.
“For anyone considering a visit I’d strongly recommend The Bay Hotel, which is located right on the waterfront and is very beautiful.
“Further down the Cape, I’d also suggest Plettenberg Bay, a stunning beach town on the south coast.
"We spend part of our break there because Ettienne’s parents live there. They’re fantastic cooks and we don’t have to do anything,” she says.
The couple also try to squeeze in a winter ski break — usually in Austria or Switzerland.
But they tend to opt for smaller resorts away from the busier, better-known places.
“I think when you work in hospitality you tend to want to go to the calmer, quieter places on you own downtime.
"This year the extended family went to Champery in Switzerland, which is a lovely, village, and stayed in a 12-bedroom hotel. We picked it because there was very little snow in many resorts and it was a real find.
“I do tend to be drawn towards family-run hotels because of my own background. You see yourselves in the people who are hosting you and connect with them,” she says.
Elsewhere, Annemarie’s a big fan of Milan and recommends the city’s Design Expo for its impressive exhibitions and installations.
“I go every year. I tell everybody it’s work, and it is, but for me it feels like a holiday. I get lost in the world of Italian design.”
At home, she’s currently smitten with Donegal after a recent visit to the county.
“Many Irish people have never been and it’s a very special place. We recently went on a road trip across the country and it was wonderful, so quiet and remote. Dunfanaghy in particular is a very beautiful place.”
He’s at the helm one of Ireland’s best-loved resort hotels, Kelly’s in Rosslare, and like many Irish hoteliers, Bill Kelly doesn’t get much opportunity for time off.
Fortunately for Bill and his family they share a passion for skiing so holidays revolve around a winter break on the ski slopes of the French Alps.
Rather than the better-known resorts, however, they prefer the low-key charm of Praz-sur-Arly.
Their extended family has many fond memories of winters in the charming village nestled on Mont Blanc in the Rhone-Alps region.
For the Kellys, it provides a perfect alternative to the bigger, busier and better-known resorts like Megeve and Chamonix.
“We close Kelly’s over the Christmas period and that’s when we take our family holidays - my wife, Isabelle, is French,” said Bill.
“We love the simplicity of Praz-sur-Arly and have been going there for years. We bought an apartment there with Isabelle’s parents a few years ago, which has proved to be a godsend, although we’ve had some beautiful holidays in hotels like Les Fermes de Marie.
“There’s nothing like a ski holiday to get all the family together - I don’t think a sun holiday would do that in the same way.”
There, they treat themselves to dinner at the award-winning Flocons de Sel in nearby Megeve, where owner Emmanuel Renaut is a good friend.
“We know him since the early days before he got the Michelin stars.”
Indeed, the acclaimed chef has travelled to Ireland to share culinary secrets with guests at Kelly’s.
As those who’ve browsed through Kelly’s impressive wine list will be aware, wine is Bill’s other great passion, and no family holiday would be complete without a visit to his brother-in-law Vincent Avril, whose winery in Chateauneuf-du-Pape has won numerous awards.
In Ireland, Bill is a fan of Dublin’s Merrion and Fitzwilliam hotels for the best accommodation during one of his frequent business trips to the capital.
Home holidays have been rare in recent years but there are a couple of gems that he enjoys.
“I do love the Irish country house experience and a couple of places such as Ballymaloe House and Mount Juliet really excel at it.”
Ronan Ryan and Pamela Flood
She’s best known as a TV presenter but Pamela Flood has joined husband Ronan in his latest venture, Counter Culture.
Their focus on fresh and healthy comfort food has proved a hit among Dublin diners.
And such has been the growth in their corporate catering that they’ve just relocated from the city’s Powerscourt Townhouse Centre to the larger kitchen of its new home in nearby Mercer St to keep up with demand.
Combined with being parents to three young children, it’s unsurprising that holidays are close to home and the moment and treats are treasured.
They’re both fans of Dungarvan and specifically chef/proprietor Paul Flynn’s The Tannery.
“The restaurant is well known and deservedly so, but the townhouse accommodation is a real find,” said Ronan.
“It’s not formal like a hotel can be, but the rooms are tasteful and full of quality. We love that part of the world and are due a trip again soon.”
“I first went to The Tannery when I was working on a show called Marry Me,” added Pamela.
“I remember looking at the food during filming and thinking: ‘I want some of that!’ I wasn’t disappointed, it was absolutely amazing.
"I think it’s a lovely area, really cracking,” she said, adding that the couple are very familiar with the natural beauty of the West Waterford/East Cork countryside, with its dramatic River Blackwater and Comeragh Mountains.
In Dublin, Ronan and Pamela love keeping up with the latest restaurant openings and one former colleague’s, in particular, has caught their attention.
“I once worked with the chef Geoff Nordell and have been keeping an eye on where he’d go next,” said Ronan.
“I really like what he’s doing with Bow Lane on Aungier St. He’s taken on the great British bar menus from years ago and given them a new twist.
"The food’s great and the place itself is really atmospheric. It’s the kind of place you can go as a group to eat without facing a €100 per person bill at the end of the evening.”
Whenever he’s in London, Ronan finds time to eat the creations of one of his own favourite chefs, Richard Corrigan.
“I’m a huge fan,” he said.
“Richard has a few restaurants in London, but my favourite is Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill in Mayfair. I could eat oysters all day long, though Pamela wouldn’t touch them, and I love the oyster bar - it’s like an Irish home away from home whenever I’m over there.
“London is such a brilliant city for food but very competitive too - it would be very easy to get swallowed up. But Richard is a big fish in a massive pond.”
I could eat oysters all day, though Pamela wouldn’t touch them. I love the oyster bar, it’s like an Irish home from home
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