And we’re back! Ireland’s tourism and hospitality industry rebooted on Monday, with a ripple of giddy enthusiasm across the country, as byways and motorways whirred with the national great escape.
Keen to add my name to the reservations list, this week I headed to Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands to check-in, and check-out, if the nation’s much-heralded all-new hotel guest experience is really all that new…
Base for my comeback was Wineport Lodge; the Lough Ree boutique bolthole which has earned nationwide red carpet kudos as the original filming spot for “The Restaurant”. I arrived on a blustery Monday, expecting to hopscotch from the car- park to reception via a trail of Covid-19 social distancing signs. But refreshingly, there’s a rather blissful absence of that now ubiquitous shade of yellow. And it’s a similar story inside.
GM Norma Wilson and her front of house team are welcoming a gentle of flow of guests and receptionist Doireann chaperones me immediately to me room. It’s there, I’m given the classic hotel lowdown, before being requested to sign the personal details form sitting on my desk, and pop it back at my leisure. I’d pretty much made my first ‘new normal’ check-in without even realising it! Indeed, it seems Wineport have transitioned intuitively to the new safety guidelines - perspex panels discreetly in place - but without too many clinical bells and whistles.
“We’ve kept as positive as we possibly could have throughout this whole process,” explains Wineport owner Ray Byrne.
The pandemic actually coincided with our plans for a full refurbishment in our bar and restaurant, so we’ve tried to embrace the challenge of the crisis while having faith in our very loyal Irish market
It’s a trust that seems to be rewarded. Their occupancy for July already sits at 70%, that’s impressively just 10% down on last year - especially given the lack of that global market head start.
Though the hotel, like many others, has invested massively in outdoor seating (including three very cute couples’ glasshouses) given the bluster, I dine indoors for both dinner and breakfast. The latter is probably the ultimate test of the Irish getaway experience and while Wineport used to offer a buffet, as a first time guest, it’s not a gaping absence I clock. Instead, I enjoy a full table-service, enjoying a wellness spread of gluten-free oats and hot-smoked salmon. It wraps up a stay which after a three month lockdown was dare I say, pretty utopian. The new- normal? Hey, maybe it’s even better than ever.
Panoramically perched on the shores of Lough Ree, Wineport Lodge offers a unique getaway haven in our much-overlooked lakeland region. All rooms offer scenic views with private balconies or the shore-side gazebo offering prime spots to soak in sunset views. The hotels also features outdoor hot tubs, a Voya spa and guests can even avail of an in-room seaweed bath for €25. Treat yourself in the stellar restaurant before exploring the area on the complimentary BMW bikes. From €85 pps, wineportlodge.ie
Kingdom Escape Historic hues blend with high-end luxury at Cahernane House Hotel, which sets the benchmark for the Irish country house escape. Set on its own private estate on the edge of Killarney National Park, the manor is blissfully secluded but just a 20 minute wander into Killarney town centre. Rooms are prim and plush, and guests can dine on local produce in the award winning Herbert Restaurant or unwind with a cocktail in the gorgeous Cellar Bar. From €85pps, cahernane.com
Nestled in the heart of the Golden Vale and within spinning distance of the Wild Atlantic Way is Limerick’s stunning Mustard Seed. The house sits on twelve acres of manicured lawns while its private orchard and working kitchen garden ensuring a gourmet dining menu that’s high of flavour, low on miles. Suites here offer a deluxe Downton Abbey vibe while the property’s courtyard mews, with garden access, makes for one of Ireland’s finest dog-friendly getaway options. From €70 pps, mustardseed.ie
For decades, family-run Aherne’s in Youghal has been a bastion of hospitality. And fine-dining. Their famous Seafood Bar and Restaurant, is an East Cork institution, specialising in locally sourced and freshly trawled seafood (think lobster, oysters, crab, prawns, black sole, monkfish &amp; turbot). Coastal lovers can enjoy the pick of local walks, from Youghal’s strand boardwalk or the cliffs at Ardmore, Knockadoon or Ballycotton. From €80 pps, ahernes.net For more details on boutique Irish escapes, visit irelands-blue-book.ie