Switching off from it all in County Kerry

Carrig Country House Hotel just off the Ring of Kerry: 'It's as if the natural landscape defiantly resisted my uninterrupted 'hotlines' to cyberspace to get me to stop, breathe, and ground myself between earth, sky, water and mountains

I LEFT the cyber world with all its virtual distractions and came back down to Earth — not with a crash, but with a gentle soft landing — at Carrig Country House Hotel, off the Ring of Kerry.

I had come equipped with my iPad and iPhone, you know (as well as himself), for my weekend away. But the spectacular beauty of the location overlooking Caragh Lake and the warm welcoming engagement of the owners, Frank and Mary Slattery, teased me back to the real pleasures, of the real world.

That, and the on/off Wifi cover; it’s as if the natural landscape defiantly resisted allowing an uninterrupted ‘hotline’ to cyberspace — to get me to stop, breathe, and ground myself between the earth, sky, water and mountains.

It didn’t take long to literally “switch off”. We met a couple around the open fire in the drawing room, first night, who themselves were getting away from a busy life with young children, because they were just “meeting on the stairs”. They were savouring every last minute of their stay on Sunday, as we reluctantly hit the road.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

It’s location, location, location. As we entered the driveway off the road, halfway between Killorglin and Glenbeigh, we got a sense of what it must have been like for the former owners of the Victorian hunting lodge down through the years, since it was built in 1850 — a hidden gem for the privileged British where they could shoot and fish.

They left their mark; the house is on four acres of lush gardens, featuring sub-tropical plants brought back from the colonies, which Frank and Mary, its first Irish owners, spent a decade reclaiming since they took over 18 years ago.

They also built on a new wing in 2001, which they tastefully adapted in period style to the original, featuring 16 bedrooms overlooking Caragh Lake, where the grounds slope terrace-like, right down to its edge.

Carrig lives up to its country house label — an opportunity for us to play at being gentrified, sinking into soft armchairs in front of an open fire in the drawing room, with daily newspapers and magazines at hand, and where at night, an aperitif and an amuse bouche are served, in delicious anticipation of the sumptuous dinner in the adjoining dining area.

But there’s no stiff upper lip here; the quirky personality of both owners is reflected in how they have adapted the house; former bathrooms in the original hunting lodge have been transformed into snugs — one as a little after-dinner room and another a card room. The tiniest, a nook the size of a big wardrobe, features a candle-lit love seat, where a couple can whisper sweet nothings, or predict each other’s future with the resident tarot card pack and accompanying guide.

THE FOOD

The award-winning Lakeside Restaurant (it has taken an AA rosette for culinary excellence every year since 2008), is sited, as its name suggests, overlooking Caragh Lake. From white linen tablecloths to the almost three-dimensional luscious pomegranate wallpaper, designed by 19th century artist, William Morris, and heavy pea-green silk drapes, the ambience of the house’s laid-back grandeur carries through to the dining room — where non-residents are also welcome to experience the four-course Table d’Hote menu, or an à la carte version, all served by the friendly local staff and cooked by head chef Patricia Teahan, who also lives nearby.

Recommended by the Michelin Guide and the Good Hotel Guide, it does not disappoint, from the wide- ranging wine selection (I had a deliciously crisp 2010 Pouilly Fumé) to a melt-in-the-mouth starter of monkfish tail tempura with broccoli purée pickle; a main course of Atlantic haddock with fried polenta, lemon dressings and steamed Cromane cockles with fresh veg, and a dessert of a trio of their home-made ice cream.

Breakfast, served in the same room, keeps up this standard with a range of cold buffet and ‘The full Irish’ options. It was porridge, with home-made brown bread and loose leaf tea for me.

THE ROOM

No swipe card — but a real key and real lock — justly befitting for the antique-furnished room number 10. But wow, it’s the panoramic view of the lake, just a hop and a skip from the window, that is the centrepiece here.

No plasma screen — there is a separate small TV room in the house — a clever reminder of the olde worlde ambience. A lovely large soft bed and a big brass power shower that would have the Victorians ripping off their bodices in ecstasy, adds extra luxury.

WHAT TO DO

As a hideaway on the iconic Ring of Kerry and the Atlantic Way, it’s the perfect base for numerous local outdoor pursuits, including walking, angling, cycling, mountaineering and kayaking. With 15 golf courses within an hour of Carrig Country House, it can sometimes be like the United Nations in the dining room, says Frank.

We availed of an option to have a massage by Niamh, which loosened us up nicely before embarking from the house gate on a two and a half hour loop walk — lined with foxgloves, wild lilies, fuschia and rhododendron — around Caragh Lake, inspiration to the famous works of Irish artist Pauline Bewick, who lives near that route.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Frank and Mary are extremely hospitable and you can ring them at 066-9769100 if you have any queries, aside from checking online at www.carrighouse.com

They are only open from early March to early November, after which they hibernate, like the surrounding landscape!

Special packages include:

* Two nights bed & breakfast, with two four-course dinners, €235 per person sharing

* Three nights bed breakfast with dinner on two evenings and a complimentary option of a one-hour round of golf; horse ride on Rossbeigh Beach of a one-hour body massage, from €345 per person sharing.


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