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WHERE did it all go right for Kilkenny?

The city is one of Ireland’s most expensive for hotel rooms, turns into ‘Temple Bar’ on Saturday nights, and seems to mount a festival every other weekend. That’s not even starting on the number of visits ‘Liam McCarthy’ has made to Langton’s.

More populous counties like Meath, Kildare and Wexford must wonder how the Cats got hold of their pixie dust. But there are basic reasons for Kilkenny’s success. There’s the irresistible atmosphere of a modern city knitted into a medieval core. One minute you’re eating pan-fried hake with chorizo puree cooked by Maria Raftery, at Zuni, the next you’re stumbling upon Harry Clarke’s stained-glass windows in St Canice’s cathedral.

Heritage isn’t confined to the city. Think of Dunmore Cave, the ‘lost town’ of Jerpoint Park, or that extraordinary crusader effigy, the Long Man of Kilfane. New food and craft trails threaded through the county are the match of any in Cumbria or the Cotswolds.

Kilkenny is compact, close-knit and historic, but it boasts a remarkable number of contemporary hotels in or around the city centre. We checked into the four-star Kilkenny Ormonde, shoehorned into the thick of things on Ormonde Street.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Check-in is a dream. I arrive with a rental car that needs dropping off at the Dublin Road roundabout, so my first question at reception concerns directions. “Let me call them to pick the car up,” says duty manager, Roy Kavanagh. It spares me an hour of hassle in Friday evening traffic.

Service is a hallmark of our stay. When I call down for a cot, it arrives in less than five minutes. The following morning, we need our toddler’s sleep-suit laundered before his nap. It is collected, washed, dried and returned before 11am. I’d love to say that’s normal for a four-star hotel, but, unfortunately, it’s not. We’re made to feel like guests rather than reservation numbers.

THE ROOM

With kids in tow, we stay in interconnecting ‘superior’ rooms — 217 and 218. They’re large for the central location, with double and single beds and decent bathrooms. Satin throws and aubergine curtains splash colour about the interiors, and there’s a small flat-screen TV. It’s comfortable without being luxurious — the main selling point is the space.

Kilkenny is a party town at weekends, so bear that in mind when you book. It’s great if you’re painting the place red, but, if not, you may be woken by the muffled throb of music, and the steady stream of guests returning to their rooms in the wee hours. I felt like giving the kids the run of the corridors at 7am the following morning, but managed to hold myself in check.

THE FOOD

There are several foodie stops worth trying in Kilkenny City — amongst them Zuni, Campagne and the very choclatey Café Mocha. With this in mind, we opted not to eat dinner at the hotel’s Savour Restaurant, and to make the most of our time in town.

We did show up for breakfast each morning, however. Our juice was from concentrate and the toast was served in a basket (which meant it was soft and floppy within minutes), but we enjoyed a tasty selection of mini-pastries and pain-au-chocolats, hefty helpings of bacon and sausages, and I made up for the lack of fresh OJ with a bowl of fresh fruit salad from the buffet.

“Will I send some breakfast up to mum?” asked Mags, our waitress, when I appeared on Saturday morning with the kids. Brownie points were showered upon her.

THE AMENITIES

It’s hard to get a hotel pool just right. On the one hand, you want it long enough to satisfy guests who swim laps. On the other, families like splash pools, warmer temperatures and different depths to suit their little Octonauts. And everyone likes a bit of atmosphere and evocative lighting.

The KO spa and health club, reached via a chilly corridor under Ormonde Street, ticks most of the boxes. The main pool is 21m long, a smaller kids’ offering is comfortably heated, there are various bubbles and steps, and children are permitted from 9am to 7.30pm on weekends. Adults can enjoy the place to themselves outside of those times, or stowaway in the sauna, steam room or Jacuzzi.

WHAT TO DO

Location, location, location. It’s the critical factor with any hotel, and the Ormonde’s location — just off High Street — is an absolute peach. Sure, our room overlooks a car park, but the trade-off is a three-minute walk to Kilkenny Castle, and a short hop (or stagger) to pubs like Langton’s, Cleere’s or the brilliantly eccentric Hole in the Wall.

Much as the city has going for it, however, it’s also worth taking a day to explore its gorgeous network of surrounding towns and villages. Think of the Reptile Village in Gowran, the cafes and crafts shops of Thomastown, the Discovery Park outside Castlecomer, or Inistioge, with its beautiful arched-bridge over the River Nore — its summer festival takes place over the June bank holiday weekend.

For more on Kilkenny, check visitkilkenny.ie or trailkilkenny.ie.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Kilkenny Ormonde has a midweek madness offer bundling two nights’ B&B and one dinner from €109pps in May and June. 056-7750200; kilkennyormonde.com.

ANYTHING TO ADD

A few housekeeping notes. Firstly, parking at the Ormonde is across the street in a multi-storey, and charged at €5 per day. Next, although there is free Wi-Fi in the lobby, internet access in our room was via a cable connection — not ideal for smartphones, iPads or working with a laptop away from the desk.

But, all told, this is a confident hotel in a very confident Irish city.


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