Driving in from the village you pass the ruins of a castle, built in 1210 by The Knights Templar under the leadership of Strongbow, before swinging around to the imposing Georgian front entrance of the Manor House. Inside we are ushered to our rooms with cheerful professionalism, a feature of the hotel throughout the weekend.
Merging old and new architecture is never easy, however, it is something that the Castlemartyr Resort manages with considerable aplomb. The centrepiece is an old 17th century Manor House which is characterised by high, ornate ceilings and a sense of old fashioned grandeur. By contrast the new part of the hotel is modern and contemporary in feel with a strong emphasis on wood, light and glass. The combination works well and the hotel retains the opulence of a period country house, yet the bedrooms feel more modern and light. An integration of contrasting landscapes is also required within the extensive grounds, which incorporate a mix of formal parkland with mature oaks, a large tranquil lake with swans, formal Italianate gardens, and patches of natural woodland carpeted with bluebells and ransoms.
The contrast provides a fantastic setting.
There are 103 rooms in the hotel and Junior Suite 306, to which we were politely escorted, has a small balcony overlooking the golf course. The rooms are generously proportioned with large, separate sitting room complete with couch, solid writing desk and television. The bed is generous and stylish and provided a superb night’s sleep. Nice touches include a rain forest shower and Stephen Pearce crockery. The touch screen beside the bed opens and closes the heavy window drapes at a touch.
The Bell Tower Restaurant is an exceptionally elegant space in which to dine. High points of a five-course meal included salt cured foie gras mousse, with apple jelly and a hazelnut and celery cress salad and hake with fennel salad and an aubergine, caviar olive oil emulsion. Head chef Kevin Burke’s food may be classical in mood, but having access to excellent local produce he is not averse to using simple ingredients in simple combinations. His baked yoghurt doughnut, pineapple and pink peppercorn sorbet was exceptional. Overall the food is rich, very precisely cooked and is of an extremely high standard. The hotel also offers private dining.
The spa is smoothly competent, quiet and relaxing and as a novice to the world of hot stone treatments I emerged with muscles looser and tension eased. Elaine went for a pink kaolin wrap and declared herself equally pleased. Perhaps the only minor gripe is the standard tinkling of new age music in the background. The relaxation room is pleasant and you can gently repose whilst sipping a smoothie. The bar, although quite grand, is small enough to be intimate, with some well chosen contemporary art.
Having the village of Castlemartyr within easy walking distance of the hotel is a bonus. Within the village is Pat Shortt’s bar and he can often be found here joining in one of the frequent traditional Irish music sessions. The chef is Mike Hanrahan, a former member of Stockton’s Wing. His menu focuses on local ingredients with fresh fish from Ballycotton, Ardsallagh goats cheese and fresh meat from the local butcher.
Midleton is home to Irish Distillers, makers of Jameson Whiskey and a historical tour of the distillery followed by a tasting of some of its product is well worth a visit.
The Belvelly Smoke House produces truly world class smoked salmon, mackerel, butter and oats and is run by the mildly eccentric, but highly entertaining, expert smoker Frank Hederman.
Room rates range from €165 to €545. A special two-night package with breakfast and a three course meal on one evening, costs €160 pps until Jun 30. www.castlemartyrresort.ie; 021-4219000
With its formal setting this is an ideal location for weddings, which are a core element of the hotel’s business and indeed during our stay there was a wedding in full swing. For those wary of sharing a hotel with a possibly boisterous wedding party, the scale of the hotel is such that both parties can enjoy their respective weekends without interfering with the other.