I, as co-pilot, had been placed in charge of navigation but, apparently, I’m not very good at it. When we found ourselves down what some might class a grass-lined boreen somewhere around Ballinrobe and I chanced a ‘aah sure aren’t we away for the weekend anyway and it’s great not to be rushing?’, it was the final straw. Sat nav number two was plucked from the pocket, plonked on the dash’ and I was studiously ignored until we rolled into Westport.
Any driving-induced crankiness vanished when even by fading light and through misty rain, we could still see this was one of the most beautiful towns in Ireland. I’m a big fan of Kenmare, but Westport is the one town in Ireland that gives it a run for its money. Designed in 1780 by James Wyatt, its layout follows the principles of urban design espoused by the 13th century Normans. The Carrow Beg river is at the heart of the town and is lined with stone walls, broken up by a series of stone bridges and tree-lined with promenades running alongside. After managing to snaffle an early bird menu despite being past cut-off at the wonderful Sage restaurant, we ventured next door to McGings for a quick drink before taking the last leg of our four-hour journey, the five minutes from Westport to Knockranny House Hotel. Already I knew this weekend would be too short…
Westport — despite its chilled out vibe and bijou shops, is not a town that you’re allowed to chill in these days. Mention to anyone over 50 that you’re going there and they’ll nod ‘and I’m hoping you’re doing Croagh Patrick’, anyone under 50 and it’ll be ‘oh and are you going to cycle the Greenway’, the Greenway being the Great Western Greenway which is a 42km cycle and walking route from Achill to Westport. That first morning we spent breakfast looking out at the mountain from the dining room at Knockranny and somehow, maybe, it was because it was Lent but Catholic guilt prevailed and soon the hiking boots were out. Strong winds meant (I truly believed at one point that I would be blown off the mountain) that we only got half way up but it was a memorable experience. I’m not a regular hill walker nor religious devotee, but there was definitely something very mindful about having to focus on just one step at a time as you tried to ensure that you weren’t knocked sideways by a harsh wind. When we eventually got to the halfway point, known as the Ridge, there was a real sense of achievement and in spite of the brewing storm, the view down to Clew Bay was stunning.
You know you’re in a good four star hotel when you have to keep on reminding yourself that it isn’t a five star hotel. Our classically furnished bedroom with mahogany king size and single beds, pelmetted drapes, two armchairs, upholstered foot stools and spacious writing desk was so big that we didn’t really use the living room section of our suite. And, a jacuzzi bath, double shower and double sinks meant that the marble-tiled main bathroom was nearly the size of our bedroom at home. I’m old school when it comes to hotels and resent having to ring reception for ironing boards, hairdryers or a needle and thread, and there was no need here as everything was to be found in the double wardrobes in the suite lobby. It made a big change from a well-known four star hotel in Dublin where you have to buy sachets of shower gel from a vending machine in the corridor as there are no basic toiletries in the bathroom. The Knockranny House Hotel suites also stocked a small library with everything from a Samuel Beckett biography to Raymond E. Feist novels. I thought the living area would have benefitted from fresh flowers to bring it to life. My husband told me to cop on: “It’s still a tough environment for the hotel industry and once again, remember this isn’t a five star hotel.”
If quality food and wine take priority for you on a weekend away, you have to try Knockranny. If you can ignore the pressure to cycle, ramble and hillwalk, it’s the ideal place to while away a wet weekend beside a roaring fire with a good book. The Brehon bar also has one of those well designed comfy yet sophisticated hotel bars where time could pass far too quickly. Head barman Owen Hughes is also Fáilte Ireland’s Licensing World Bar Manager of the Year while Sommelier Nicolas Faujours was awarded Best Sommelier in Ireland and Head Chef Seamus Commons, best chef in Connacht at the latest Restaurant of the Year Awards. Watching one of the Six Nations games while feasting on plates of Commons’ calamari, mussels and stripsof rare steak was a pretty fine way to relax afterCroagh Patrick.
Foodies are clamouring for places on Knockranny’s gourmet food series where different food and wine events take place over the course of the year. The weekend that we were in Westport the Wine Weekend was on, meaning that instead of Commons’ taking the lead and Faujours choosing wine to suit the chef’s tasting menu, it was the reverse: the menu was driven by the wine.
In a dining room off La Fougère Restaurant, a group of us dined with Nick as he led us through an array of Slovenian, Austrian, Italian, German and French wines that were accompanied by a 12 course tasting menu that went from turbot lobster bisque truffle to rabbit and then peanut butter lollipop. Our wine writer Leslie Williams will be writing further about the Knockranny cellar in the coming weeks.
The hotel also has a spa, Spa Salveo with a vitality pool, hydrotherapy stations, a thermal spa suite, relaxation areas, fitness suite and treatment rooms. There’s also a mud-chamber and dry flotation facilities. ‘Kerstin Florian’ products are used in the spa and the hotel also has new hair salon so you can have a quick blow dry after a treatment or post-Croagh Patrick and pre-dinner.
Next up on the Knockranny Gourmet Series is a Seven-Course Tasting menu created by Seamus Commons and a tutored wine tasting with sommelier Nicolas Faujours. They are taking place this weekend and again on May 24 and June 14. Each menu is tailored using in-season, local (where possible) ingredients, many from the hotel’s garden. The package also includes a nights accommodation with breakfast.
Guests over 18 years enjoy complimentary access to Spa Salveo’s Vitality Pool & Thermal Suites. Dinner must be booked prior to arrival.
Great staff. Genuinely helpful and friendly without verging on false.