But when we had to pick a place to meet up for just one weekend with American visitors, Killarney was the first choice. It has so much to offer, from history and heritage to world class hospitality. To the Kingdom!
The original Muckross Park Hotel had a thatched roof back in 1795 and was made up of the a pub and about six bedrooms. Fast forward a few millennia and it is a positively palatial first impression. Set in the Killarney National Park, it is surrounded by serene scenes of nature. Head concierge Teddy greets us and helps with our luggage, chatting easily to our two smallies. We feel relaxed before we set foot in the place.
We had a junior suite that made the four-year-old go ‘wow’. Utterly luxurious, with loads of space, big bathrooms and the most beautiful views. Added touches like fruit, bottled water (for the kids) and wine (for us) were appreciated. King-sized beds, speedy wifi and I loved being able to adjust the room climate — no sweltering or freezing for us. The TVs had plenty of kids channels, and hallelujah, a good hair dryer.
The Yew Tree restaurant has accolades too numerous to mention — including an AA AA Rosette for Culinary Excellence. The resident pianist was in fine fettle when we arrived. We had the Four Course Table d’Hôte Menu from €45 per person and shared with the kids, plenty to go around. On the weekend we visited, head chef Mike Hayes gave his take on a dish made famous when Queen Victoria visited Killarney in 1861. The queen and her entourage took lunch on Dinish Island on August 27 and were served wild salmon. Being treated like royalty — I could get used to this. All locally-sourced ingredients, the meal was a real treat with András Toth, the sommelier, advising on the wine. If it wasn’t for those pesky kids I might have put him to the test a little bit more.
It was at breakfast here that I got addicted to the liquorice tea by Java Republic that I’m still trying to source, like a soppy addict. No one takes you seriously when you reveal your craving for a herbal tea. The buffet was magnificent, with extra touches like hot scones and really good fresh coffee. The cooked options were plentiful. The boys were more than happy with their chocolate pancakes and had fun making faces with fruit on them. Delicious and half healthy — can’t ask for much better that than.
Their Cloisters spa is well worth a visit as well. It was named Spa of the Year 2013 at the Germaine de Capuccini Spa Awards and at the time of typing is the highest rated spa in Killarney on Trip Advisor. Very Gothic, very tranquil. The vitality suite and spa garden are on the banks of the Blue Pool River in the National Park — if you can’t be calm here, you can’t be calm anywhere. Sarah looked after me and my face wonderfully. I had to be dragged out of there.
There is so much to do in Killarney one really is spoiled for choice. As we were showing off to the Yanks, we decided to book on the Gap of Dunloe tour. The hotel bus brought us to Kate Kearney’s Cottage where we were met by Laura from www.killarneyjauntingcars.ie. Her family has been operating jaunts for 220 years. Legend has it her father Michael Tangney Senior’s first jaunting car tour was in 1959, and highly glamorous as his passenger was the American actress Gloria De Haven. We weren’t all that glam but we were looked after like movie stars by our driver John and Tyrone the horse. John was studying for his junior cert when we met him and was a gem for information as we travelled through the gap in all its glory. It was a beautiful day and the kids were so excited. We trotted past the Black Lake, 60 ft deep John tells us, great for swimming. Fairytale locations like Echo Lake, Green Bawn cottage, and Serpentine Lake cast their spell. We could have been back on that 1959 trip for all the landscape has changed. John and Tyrone drop us at Lord Brandon’s Cottage with a packed picnic basket and instructions to ask for “Dermot or Ducks” at the boats.
Dermot it was, sporting a fetching t-shirt that said “One man’s junk is another woman’s treasure”. This was going to be a fun trip. There were two Californian ladies on board who were looking to buy a holiday home in Killarney. “We just fell in love with the place,” they explain. We all look around as we slip past the silent oak woods of Derrycunnihy. Who wouldn’t fall in love with this magical place? We continue all under the old Weir Bridge and on past Inisfallen Island, the kids waving at fishermen and other boats and trying to get their heads around the concept of 6th century monks actually living within the dramatic ruins on the little island.
We disembark at Ross Castle, the 13th century home of O’Donoghue, the chieftain, and have great fun playing knights with sticks for swords. Having an actual castle as a backdrop really added to the game, “I’m Mike the Knight, time to do it right!” was roared a few times.
Don’t go to Killarney without doing this tour, it was fabulous. You can also try a round of golf at the Irish Open Course 2010 & 2011, the Killeen Golf Course at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club. www.killeengolf.com. There are guided horse riding tours of the national park, you can go on the lakes in a kayak, or the hotel can organise a chauffeur guided trip around the Dingle Peninsula if you fancy going further afield. See www.tripadvisor.ie for more ideas.
We went cycling through the park as well on a fabulous contraption that let the two-year-old sit in a little 2-wheel trailer attached to the bike. He could see out and he had a ole nap for himself as well. It was the biz. Dave rented them out to us, he’s on the main road down from the hotel and regaled us with a few tall tales while fitting our helmets.
The hotel has a fitness and nutrition boot camp weekend on April 25, with TV fitness expert Karl Henry presenting a three-day programme which will involve a mixture of exercise sessions tailored for all fitness levels, informative talks and nutrition advice. Healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner are included plus a copy of Karl Henry’s book. The boot camp ticket costs €199 per person, to stay for the weekend, the two night package is €349 per person (€399 single occupancy) and includes a two night stay on Friday and Saturday, April 25, 26. See www.muckrosspark.com for more details. T:064 6623400, Email: email@example.com.