Leave the hectic city centres and forget about Fifth Avenue — Gorey, Marlfield House, and Esmonde St have it all, writes Carolyn Moore.
If I said I’d recently treated myself to a stylish winter shopping break, you’d surely assume I meant a weekend in New York or Paris.
But there’s a fabulous shopping destination that’s much closer to home, and during a recent stay at luxurious Marlfield House, I spent a day discovering why the Wexford town of Gorey has become the ultimate boutique break.
Home to half a dozen boutiques, each with a strong point of difference, Gorey’s Esmonde St is not so much a boutique mile as a boutique few hundred metres, but it’s jam-packed with independent retail goodness.
From exceptional mother-of-the-bride options at La Crème, to the renowned occasionwear at Ruby Rouge, via the edgy, international flavour of Place, there’s something here for everyone. The expertise and passion of the owners, plus the close proximity of the boutiques in this retail cluster, makes for a remarkably stress-free shopping experience.
Anyone who’s done a frantic few days in New York knows Christmas shopping breaks are seldom relaxing, and if you’re looking to unwind, retail generally isn’t part of the equation. But a luxury stay in Gorey affords you the opportunity to combine the two. From many parts of the country, Gorey is an easy, manageable day trip, but whether coming from the capital or further afield, it’s worth indulging in more than just retail therapy. If you can make Marlfield House your doorstep for a few days, you really are in for a blissful experience.
When my husband and I arrived, we found the stunning regency house shining like a beacon on a grey, wet afternoon. We were greeted in the hallway by warm smiles and a roaring fire and offered the option of upgrading to a state room for the night and moving to a classic room next morning. As they were happy to do the moving for us, we were happy to accept.
With 19 rooms as unique as the house itself, plus a stylish, modern two-bedroomed Gate Lodge that would be the perfect base for a girlie getaway, Marlfield House epitomises the quiet luxury you’d expect from a Blue Book hotel and a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group.
Torn between lounging in our room — with its gorgeous antiques, a bed wider than it was long, seating by the fire, and French doors overlooking the lake — or exploring the house, we choose the latter; but a stay here is not about what you do; it’s about what you don’t do. Which, ideally, should be not much of anything.
We did pull on our wellies for a walk — there are woodlands, a rose garden, and a kitchen garden from which we tried to predict what might be on the menu that night — but on a mucky day there’s nothing better than just sitting by the fire.
Because it was Wednesday, we ate in the less formal Duck restaurant — in winter, the fine-dining Conservatory opens Thursday to Saturday — but after a lazy afternoon, it was just what we needed. For lunch, the topped flat breads would have tempted, but for dinner, steaks, roast meats, and fish dishes take centre stage.
This veggie tucked into the fruits of the kitchen garden (delicious roast beet and pumpkin) for starters, followed by creamy mushroom ravioli and a comforting rice pudding. Pleasantly stuffed, we retired to the lounge for some expertly made, authentic Old Fashioneds (none of your maple syrup nonsense here, thank you) before bed.
For me, the mark of a truly excellent hotel is the quality of breakfast, and Marlfield didn’t disappoint. After fresh scones, sourdough and eggs, and as much poached fruit as I could manage, it was time to put the retail ‘R’ in this R&R&R break, and Gorey is a shopper’s dream – or perhaps I should say a fashion lover’s delight, because this is no mindless retail frenzy.
The buying skills of Niamh in Ruby Rouge and Julianne in Place were particularly impressive.
Ruby Rouge — their girly dollhouse aesthetic having undergone a chic revamp — have evening options from Irish designers Fee G and Caroline Kilkenny alongside edgy Turkish brand Setre.
Their daywear delivers too, with standout pieces from French label French, and boho luxe Spanish brand, Meisie.
A few doors down, Place has evolved from a gallery space selling the occasional beautiful garment into a one-stop shop for fashion-forward, conscious consumers. Stocking cult brands like Cubic London, the transseasonal Keepsake from Australia, and Scandi favourite Coster Copenhagen, the biggest surprise is the accessible prices.
While I’m trying on shoes, a customer tells the sales assistant she doesn’t know what she’d do for gifts without Place, and with accessories starting at €15, it’s easy to see why. Given both stores were busy on a miserable Thursday morning, clearly I’m not the only one who thinks they’re doing something right.
After a tasty lunch in the Kitchen (the ‘roast in a roll’ is the popular choice here, but it was their inventive and original salads that tempted me), we had a browse in the charming Book Café, before taking ourselves, and our new reading material, back to the fire at Marlfield.
Our classic room was smaller but every bit as comfortable as the state room; though we didn’t spend much time there as an early dinner in the Conservatory restaurant called. Formal but friendly, it’s a lovely, intimate space and the food was exceptional, with star ingredients like Toonsbridge mozzarella and Skeghanore duck really allowed to shine.
Of my own volition, I’m headed back to Marlfield House later this month for a festive afternoon tea, and before I leave Gorey I’ll be hitting Esmonde St like it’s Fifth Avenue.
It may not be shopping local, per se, but having discovered the joys of the boutique experience, getting away from the soulless high street and chaos of the city at Christmas is just what the doctor ordered.
For more information:
<a rel="nofollow" target="_blank" href="http://www.marlfieldhouse.com">Marlfield House Hotel & Restaurant</a>,
<a rel="nofollow" target="_blank" href="http://www.rubyrouge.ie">Ruby Rouge Boutique</a>, place.ie, thekitchengorey.ie, visitwexford.ie
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