Who A-dares wins

Pól Ó Conghaile visits a manor with the X-Factor and a ‘gourmet summer’ to savour

FEW Irish five-stars have this kind of caché. Mention Solis Lough Eske, or the Heritage Resort, and people may wonder what you’re talking about. But everyone knows Adare Manor. This is where JP McManus holds his charity golf classics, where celebs like Bill Clinton and Catherine Zeta-Jones have stayed, where Louis Walsh took his X-Factor stars. But does it have the X-Factor itself?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

There’s a fantastic story behind Adare Manor. Its entire existence, in fact, comes down to the fact that Windham Henry Quin, the second Earl of Dunraven, suffered from gout. Prior to contracting the illness, the Earl had by all accounts been a vigorous outdoors man. Confined indoors, however, he redirected his energies into building a Limerick mansion straight out of an Ann Radcliffe novel.

Adare Manor, dating in its current form from the 1830s, is the result of this vast scheme. Driving towards it from the entrance gates, the neo-gothic splendour hits you full whack. Sure, there’s a hulking modern extension, but passing the parterre gardens and stepping into a foyer bulging with stone columns, dark oak and a dripping chandelier, you certainly feel like you’ve arrived.

AMENITIES

Having the kids with us, we skipped the golf courses for a simple walk around the estate. A dramatic old Cedar of Lebanon leaning over the River Maigue is said to date from 1645, and we also spent time poring over the little gravestones in the pets’ cemetery and deciphering inscriptions built into the manor’s façade. Horse-riding and fishing are also available.

Later, mum took a stress-relieving massage (€100 for 55 mins) at the Treatment Rooms, which she floated back from on a high.

My five-year-old daughter and I were less impressed with the swimming pool, which felt to me like an add-on, rather than an integral element to the hotel. It was too chilly for Rosa to swim in, though when I mentioned this to staff, they promised to investigate.

THE ROOMS

We stayed in Lady Caroline’s bedroom, an outrageously ornate boudoir featuring an oak-panelled, Pugin-designed fireplace and bay-window views over the river.

Rosa was in her element, snuggled up like Sleeping Beauty beneath the stucco angels over her bed. Sam, our one-year-old, kept climbing into the fireplace. Mum and dad took the adjoining double.

Adare Manor also does standard, deluxe and stateroom accommodation, and there is a selection of villas and townhouses available on the estate too.

WHAT TO SEE

The village of Adare is one of the most popular destinations in Limerick, and the hotel is nicely positioned for a trip to the city’s Milk Market, perhaps a visit to the Munster Rugby Museum at Thomond Park, and the brilliant new mountain bike trails in the Ballyhoura Mountains (ballyhouramtb.com).

There’s also plenty to see in Adare Manor itself. Constructed as a calendar house, the building boasts 365 stained glass windows and 52 chimneys and is rife with eccentricities, from the motto in the balustrade to the carved little creatures Rosa kept discovering in stone features and oak trimmings. The minstrels’ gallery and drawing room are stellar spaces — don’t leave without seeing both.

THE RESTAURANT

Leaving the kids with a babysitter, we ate at the Oakroom Restaurant. It’s a strange space, with a totally different atmosphere depending on whether you sit in the bright main room, or a darker, more titillating colonnade on a lower level, beside the vaulted front windows.

The food was deeply classical, the epitome of top-end hotel dining, with highlights including a crab, scallion and chorizo risotto starter and a couple of spontaneous frozen champagne Bellinis. Guillaume Colombet, the food and beverage manager, brought a classy blend of attentiveness and charm, and you can also try an eight-course tasting menu (€70pp without wine).

THE BOTTOM LINE

Adare Manor has a ‘gourmet summer’ special offer, featuring two nights’ B&B and an eight-course tasting menu on one evening, from €420pps. Contact 061 605200; adaremanor.com.

ANYTHING TO ADD

Since the late 1980s, Adare Manor has been owned by the Kane family of Florida.

The recession hasn’t been easy on the hotel, but as with all of the top five-stars in the country, its rates will only creep north as the economy improves. It’s a once-off opportunity to visit.

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