The Parknasilla Resort and Spa in stunning Sneem has something for everyone, especially families, writes Eoin English.
You know you’ve had a relaxing break when you return after a three-night getaway feeling like you’ve been away for a week, even with three kids under 10 in tow.
Maybe it’s the setting amidst 500-acres of lush woodland on the scenic shores of Kenmare Bay.
Maybe it was the soothing spa and 18-metre pool, which boasts incredible views across the ever-changing Atlantic ocean, the rugged Beara peninsula providing a stunning backdrop.
Or maybe it was the attentive and obliging staff, from head porter PJ Walsh who fetched our bags from the car to the room, to the Pygmalion restaurant’s George White who didn’t miss a beat, or one of his colleagues who presented our two-and-a-half year old daughter with a flower for her hair during dinner one evening.
It made her night.
As far as the children were concerned, it was the self-serve pancake machine at the breakfast buffet, complete with a choice of maple syrup, chocolate or peanut spread.
Whatever it is, the four-star Parknasilla Resort and Spa in Sneem, on the south Kerry leg of the Wild Atlantic Way has it cracked.
We ventured deep into the Kingdom for a three-night stay with the children who had been warned to be on their best behaviour at the famed hotel, founded in 1895 and steeped in history.
Bought in 2007 from the Great Southern Railway company by developer Bernard McNamara, the 83-room hotel and resort, with 24-two bedroom lodges and 38 three bedroom villas, was bought again in 2012 by Irish registered company, Silork Ltd, and benefited from substantial investment.
The moment we arrived, the children were invited to join a guided nature walk for kids along the seashore.
We were shown to our spacious and plush interconnecting ensuite family rooms which drew gasps of excitement. The children were impressed too.
Floor to ceiling windows and a wrap-around balcony offered stunning views over Kenmare Bay.
The flatscreen TV in the childrens’ room, with access to more than a dozen TV channels, to music, movies and the internet, presented a real and present danger we might not get them out outside.
But with an 18-metre pool downstairs and 10 way-marked trails though the woodland, it took little persuasion.
For guests with young children, the fairy trail or PJ’s Treasure Trail, are a must.
We wandered through the woods, the early morning sunshine glinting through the leafy canopy adding a touch of magic to the experience, and watched as the children searched frantically for the fairy houses, some complete with balconies and swings, set discreetly into the trees.
Despite our best efforts, we didn’t spot any fairies but we left dozens of seashells and quite a bit of loose change on their doorsteps. Several visits to the pool also proved popular.
Hotel guests with young children are encouraged to dine in the Pygmalion Restaurant from 7pm.
There was no live music the night we dined there, but on the Saturday, we were dragged to the restaurant door to listen to the piano player perform the smash hit, Let It Go, from Disney’s Frozen, another nod to Parknasilla’s younger guests.
While the hotel was busy with children, and maybe I’m oblivious at this stage, it didn’t have that manic feel.
There are enough comfy nooks and crannies in the hotel, like the adult’s only Centenary Lounge, for couples staying without kids to enjoy some peace and quiet.
You could spend three days tucked away in Parknasilla and never venture off the grounds, enjoying its playground, its spa treatments, exploring the wide-range of woodland trails, one of which takes you into the walled gardens of Derryquin Castle.
For the more energetic, you could try the longer walks onto the islands, a spot of tennis, football, archery or golf.
You can even take a guided tour with Sunfish Explorer (www.sunfishexplorer.com) in their self-drive electric kayaks around Parknasilla from its own beach. No experience is needed and kids go free with each adult. Wet gear and lifejackets are provided.
But we jumped in the car for Moll’s Gap and thanks to investment in the Wild Atlantic Way, the drive was smooth and comfortable.
We stopped on the way back at Peter and Margaret Kerssens’ Strawberry Field pancake cottage on the Sneem Road.
I couldn’t recommend the smoked-salmon, leak, spinach and cream cheese savoury pancake enough.
However, we ran out of time to visit Blueberry Hill Farm ( www.blueberryhillfarm.ie ), a guided family-fun farm visit experience where you can feed the animals and collect eggs.
We spent an afternoon at Star Outdoors ( www.staroutdoors.ie ) in Kenmare, just outside the town on the Castletownbere Road, which offers a range of water-based activities from a cruise of Kenmare Bay, to sailing, pedal boats, banana boats, water trampoline and slide, and water skiing.
For those who’d prefer to stay on dry land, the centre also offers crazy golf, archery, orienteering, paintball and bike hire.
You can mix and match your activities over a morning thanks to a range of family friendly packages, and Con’s Restaurant serves food throughout the day.
You should also download the Derrynane App Seashore Nature Trail ( www.derrynane.ie ) to discover the wildlife secrets of Derrynane National Park’s stunning special area of conservation, a 40-minute drive from the hotel.
The app, developed by award-winning wildlife documentary maker, Vincent Hyland, who lives locally, features a 20-stop audio tour with video, bird song, and wildlife photographic guides.
Kenmare has a range of top class restaurants and shops. The Ring of Kerry is on your doorstep.
You could spend a week touring the area, taking in Waterville and maybe a visit to the Skelligs.
Some 80% of Parknasilla’s guests are Irish, and most are repeat visitors. I understand why.
George Bernard Shaw wrote of his time there: “I tell you this place does not belong to any world that you and I have ever worked or lived in....it is part of our dream world.”
Try as I might, I couldn’t put it better.
The hotel closes for the first weekend in January and will reopen the first weekend in March.
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