Bright lights and big Dublin city

There’s nothing better than being someone else’s guest, says Mark Evans as he checks into the Castleknock Hotel.  

IT’S USUAL on this page to find an intrepid reporter, with family in tow, marvelling as they find themselves attaining something between calm and nirvana during a hotel stay. The pursuit of ‘relaxation’ during a weekend break away from our own home is one which we Irish relish, determined to rid ourselves of the stresses and strains caused by weekday life and work.

Luckily for us, Irish hotels know the antidote. No doubt you’ve read and envied our intrepid reporters, and their families, as they unwound in languid pools, or forgot about the rat race during forest walks, or lost themselves in the simple luxuries of being someone else’s guest, or burbled with joy over fine food. Hotels usually know what we need.

The challenge facing Castleknock Hotel and Country Club was to know how to cater for this particular intrepid reporter, one who came armed with the usual stresses, plus a heavily pregnant wife and two young children, travelling all the way from the Rebel County.

We found the hotel easily enough, once we entered the Red Cow Interchange and exited the M50 at the right locations. A winding tree-lined road out of Castleknock village delivered us to the beautiful hotel building, looking far fresher than its 10-year age and far plusher than its four-star status suggests.

I never doubted that we would enjoy our stay. The question was would the usual hotel amenities allow each of us to say we had attained a state of relaxation.

The kids reached it first. It was the bedroom; they had it all to themselves. A ‘secret’ door led to their parents’ interconnecting room. One room filled with scattered toys and laughter, the other harboured kicked-off shoes and contented sighs.

You could feel the speed of life gear down. It was a two-roomed netherworld with a population of four (and a half).

There was an optical illusion downstairs in the foyer. The entire ground floor seemed to be open plan, with the rest of the building held up by narrow columns and the elevator shaft. It made for a wide open space in which to expand the mind through conversation and a well-earned drink. We had a burger dinner at the bar before retiring to our ‘cool’ rooms.

After a hearty self-served breakfast, the kids upgraded their state of being from ‘relaxed’ to ‘blissful’ with a splash about in the pool.

Their mother decided to leave the boys to it while she indulged in a spa package. The 18-metre swimming pool certainly has a wow factor, with its 220-degree view of the golf course, lake, and countryside. The only quibble with the leisure centre was that the changing rooms are on the small side.

We teamed up again for lunch and watched golfers pitch and putt to the 10th and then drive off the 11th tee.

It all looked very stressful, which must have meant that I was well and truly settled in. The boys’ mother joined us, declaring that she had been turbo boosted to nirvana through the mysterious powers of massage and some soothing music.

Apparently, the hotel spa’s hour-long ‘Mellow Mama’ treatment was “simply heaven”. She cooed over various Mama Mio sample bottles and tubs of creams and ointments.

There were plenty of things we could have done after lunch: take a short walk up the hill to the clubhouse; drive to either Liffey Valley or Blanchardstown shopping centres; swing by the Phoenix Park, which we had passed on our way in; or be courageous enough to venture into Dublin city centre itself. A democratic vote demanded that we hold dear to our new-found states of relaxation... we went back to our rooms and played war, while mum had a rest.

Evening time saw us put on our glad rags for our dinner reservation at the hotel’s award-winning restaurant, The Park. It was there that I finally succumbed. Candlelight, soft music, and the attentive but not intrusive staff all helped to unravel the tension from my body and unspool my stresses.

And the food… superb. The smallies devoured their pasta dishes. The biggies left hardly a morsel after their surf-and-turf combos. A large glass of house red made a fantastic meal pure joy.

We retreated to the comfy Fionn Uisce bar, with its leather couches and heavy drapes. There we chatted to a family who had literally “walked across the road” to have their dinner at the bar. You know the place is good when the natives treat it as their local. The place was busy with get-togethers and night outs and dates, buzzing with as much life as any trendy watering hole in the capital.

It would be remiss of me not to point out my second and final quibble. There aren’t enough floor staff. Several times I had to endure a long wait for service at the bar. It wasn’t that it was three deep at the counter - I suspect the staff were focused more on diners at both bars and the two restaurants.

With everything else so perfect and easy to access, a few more personnel would prevent anyone getting distracted from their well-earned R&R.

After checking out on our third day, we got to Blanchardstown in about 15 minutes for some retail therapy before heading south for home.

Even the hustle and bustle of a shopping mall wasn’t enough to sap our composure. The kids didn’t even protest (too much) when they were led around Mothercare.

All passengers were asleep before we cleared through Kildare. And who could blame them. We had been charmed by Castleknock Hotel, zipping home relaxed and refreshed.

I was another intrepid reporter only too glad to sing the praises of a hotel where relaxation is as much a part of its offerings as a comfy bed.


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