WEEKEND BREAK: To the manor born at Kilmokea Country Manor

IF HUMANS were programmed to hibernate, I’d happily hole up in Kilmokea Country Manor until my fat stores ran out.

It’s easy to see why its owners quit a hectic London social scene for this glorious rural idyll in Great Island, Campile, Co Wexford.

Having long harboured a dream of owning such a property and opening up its delights to visitors, Mark and Emma Hewlett bought the 18th century Georgian rectory and its seven acres of heritage gardens in the late 1990s.

I sampled its ample charms in February and it truly is a little slice of heaven — imagine what’s its like on a nice summer’s day!

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Arriving at the manor in Arctic conditions, we — myself, himself and the three cherubs — bundled into a warm and elegant reception bristling with old-world elegance.

Emma, who helped heft our baggage, showed us to our rooms before inviting us for afternoon tea in the downstairs drawing room. I say tea, but it included coffee, juice for the kids and scones, cream and jam. We devoured the home-baking in front of a blazing fire while the kids rooted out a few toys. “This is the life,” my four-year-old said, and, sinking deeper into the elegant but cosy sofas, who were we to argue?

THE ROOM

When bringing the kids, the sleeping arrangements can make or break the trip — get it wrong and nobody sleeps. Ideally, what you need is adjoining rooms and Kilmokea can offer that.

The grown-ups and the baby (travel cot supplied) had a sumptuous ensuite double room while the kids were delighted to have their own space next door. The beauty of staying in the main house (there are self-catering options in the adjoining Coach House and the Garden Suite) is the adults can enjoy dinner and drinks while the children are tucked up in bed, with baby monitors to keep tabs.

AMENITIES

You need never leave the grounds of Kilmokea Manor if your wish is simply to relax.

There’s an indoor swimming pool — a bonus you don’t expect in the environs of an historic country house — a Jacuzzi, a sauna, a tennis court and a croquet lawn. A combination of kids and bad weather can be a nightmare, so access to a pool is a godsend.

If you really want to indulge, Emma offers a range of treatments including aromatherapy and reflexology. I put down a very relaxing hour enjoying an aromatherapy massage on a bed of heated jade stones.

If you prefer to get out and about, take a stroll through the magnificent gardens, home to more than 130 rare species of plants, the result of decades of hard work by head gardener Maurice O’Shea and his father before him. My kids thought they were in fairyland. Beatrice Potter would have been enchanted.

Back at the manor, there’s a games room, placed strategically next to the dining room, where kids can play pool or table tennis while the adults finish dinner.

THE GRUB

I could get very used to the views from the Regency Peacock Dining Room, looking out over a beautiful walled garden. A light fall of snow added to the magic.

We ate in the kind of surrounds those lucky enough to live upstairs in the Big House regularly enjoyed while the servants toiled downstairs. This time however, the hard work was done by Emma, and fellow-chef Geraldine. Drawing on their own organic vegetable beds for many of the ingredients, they produced mouth-watering dishes served with great flair and in such a convivial atmosphere that we opted to eat in again on the second night of our trip. There were no disappointments. Wines ranged from about €20 up to €250. We chose Pèppoli chianti classico 2009 (€24.95) and thoroughly enjoyed it.

To complete the perfect dining experience, Emma had catered for the children at an earlier setting, giving us time to bed down the baby and get the two older kids settled in front of the fire by the telly. This gave the rare but delightful pleasure of actually tasting the food we were eating without constant interruption and general mayhem. I highly recommend it. There’s also an “honesty bar” for those who like a night-cap, a pay-as-you-go self service.

Breakfast ranged from juice as fresh as it claimed to be, to warm home-baked breads, pots of tea and coffee, fresh fruit, granola and organic yoghurt, or if you wished, the traditional full Irish.

Visitors to the gardens can avail of The Pink Tea Cup Café which serves lunch from 12 noon.

WHAT TO SEE

If you wish to go further afield, Kilmokea is ideally located for a drive around the splendid Hook Head peninsula, or a visit to the JFK Arboretum — which has a great children’s playground — or the abbeys of Dunbrody and Tintern (not the original, which is in Wales) or the beach at Duncannon, where the nearby Roches Pub does a tasty chowder. If gardens are your bag, then, there’s the Wexford Garden Trail (see www.wexfordgardentrail.com). Golf courses also abound.

If you’re travelling on to Waterford, there’s a continuous car ferry service across the River Suir from the village of Ballyhack to Passage East.

THE BOTTOM LINE

It’s a unique opportunity to see how the Other Half once lived and while it’s a real treat, it won’t cost an arm and a leg. B&B pps: €75-€150; single supplement, €30-€50;

Dinner: (three-course): €50-€55 table d’hôte.

Tel: 051-388109; Fax: 051-388776. Kilmokea Manor caters for small wedding parties/receptions. Open Feb 1- Nov 30.

ANYTHING TO ADD

Kilmokea Manor is one of a family of historic private homes around the country (see HiddenIreland.com) where visitors can escape the blandness of modern hotel rooms for charming individual settings. It was my treat of the year. Grand, rambling and imbued with a sense of history and romance, it would sit well in the pages of an Austen novel.


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