Travel

Experience a real-life Downton Abbey at the Park Hotel Kenmare [Archive]


It’s just a 90-minute drive from Cork city to the Park Hotel Kenmare — the undisputed jewel in Kerry’s crown.

Kenmare is a picturesque town, a postcard perfect image of rural Ireland. It is no surprise that every year droves of American tourists travel to the Brennan brothers’ five- star hotel to soak up the sights of the rugged west.

Irish people too come from far and wide to see the offering from the famous duo behind RTE’s hit show At Your Service.

A Victorian landmark set on 12 acres of breathtaking land, the Park Hotel is the perfect location to let your mind wander.

Looking up at the hotel from across the lake, it was easy to pretend we were staying at Wuthering Heights or Downton Abbey.

We were greeted at reception by hotel manager Rory O’Sullivan, who sent our bags to the room and chatted amicably with us. The staff at the Park Hotel are extremely professional and a great asset. Everyone we met made us feel as though we were the only people staying and they were ready to cater for every whim.

The highlight of our overnight stay was the SÁMAS spa. Both Greg and I had never been to a spa before so we had no idea what was in store for us. To be honest, we expected it to be awkward. How wrong we were.

We were booked in for the SÁMAS Experience (€145), which is a three-hour treatment comprising of three elements: Thermal Suite, SÁMAS Treatment and Pure Relaxation.

Heather at reception explained the whole process to us while we filled out a health survey. We would spend one hour in the Thermal Suite, where we were free to make use of the steam room, sauna, ice fountain, tropical rain showers and the outdoor heated vitality pool. Afterwards we would be met by our masseurs who would carry out our chosen treatments. Finally we would spend the last hour relaxing, listening to music and enjoying the serenity of our surroundings.

We chose our treatments after some appreciated and well-needed advice from Heather. I chose the nurturing massage, which promised to remove tension and encourage deep relaxation. Greg opted for the opposite, the invigorating massage, to stimulate and uplift the whole body.

With our treatments chosen, we were lead into separate male and female areas to change into our swimwear and begin the SÁMAS Experience.

Making the most of the thermal suite, I soon relaxed in the calm surroundings of the spa. After a few minutes I discovered my favourite part of the first section — I ventured out to the vitality pool.

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The outdoor heated pool is an infinity design, boasting stunning views of the hotel grounds. With trees surrounding the pool, it truly feels like the hotel’s best kept secret. The majority of my time in the thermal suite was spent here, soaking up the rare Irish sunshine while enjoying the panoramic views over the hotel grounds and Kenmare Bay.

After an all-too-short hour, I was greeted by masseuse Lorraine who led me downstairs for my nurturing massage.

Beginning with a foot wash and a cup of herbal tea, Lorraine immediately set me at ease. I told her I had never had a massage before so she considerately guided me through the process. I soon surrendered my senses to the soothing experience.

One blissful hour later I was brought to the relaxation area, where I was left to unwind after the massage. I hadn’t realised how sore my muscles were until their constant ache was banished by Lorraine.

I rejoined Greg after our SÁMAS Experience ended and he was equally positive about the afternoon. Angela had boosted his energy with the stimulating massage and he was buzzing. We were left in no doubt that the descriptions of the massages were accurate. I was left relaxed and dreamy while Greg was energised and ready to face the day.

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That evening we had dinner at the Terrace restaurant. The Terrace is the informal dining option — the hotel also has a formal dining room.

I chose the wild mushroom tart (€11) for my starter. Proportionally it would have been perfect as a main course option. The pastry was exquisite. Flaky and crumbly, it was perfect with the tasty mushrooms inside.

I opted for Veal Milanese (€19) for my main course and it almost defeated me. The deliciously tender meat is deceptively filling and I was almost unable to face dessert. Almost.

There are few places that can produce a great crème brulee and the Park Hotel is undoubtedly among the best. Despite my full stomach, if a second or a third were put in front of me I would have gladly finished them all.

From the sounds of satisfaction across the table, I can safely assume that Greg also enjoyed his meal of steak tartar (€12), rump steak burger (€19) and crème brulee (€9).

The Terrace restaurant is extremely affordable and is a great mid-market option for guests who wish to avoid fine dining.

After a satisfying day of food and pampering, it was a joy to sink into the memory foam mattress and drift into a deep, restful sleep.

With the Wild Atlantic Way being advertised as the ultimate Irish tourism experience, the Park hotel is ideally located to make the most of the initiative. If you’re in need of rest and relaxation, a romantic break away or a family vacation then the Park Hotel is the perfect spot. Its versatility is its strength and it’s sure to be a popular destination this summer.

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This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner on 19 July 2014

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