Aghadoe Heights Hotel: A breath of fresh Kerry air
I know there are many GAA fans out there who would lynch me for saying that when I leave my native Cork and cross the county bounds into the territory of our neighbours and arch rivals Kerry, my heart lifts.
I just love the Kingdom sense of humour and the way they say it as it is.
So when the three flatmates of bygone days were planning our biannual get together, we settled on Killarney, where there's always a buzz, and the five-star Aghadoe Heights Hotel.
The welcome was warm and genuine and the soft Kerry accents were everywhere in evidence. I may be losing my marbles, but I could have sworn the female voice in the lift saying 'doors closing' and 'going up' had a Kerry lilt as well.
To enable us to be together for the duration, we were lucky enough to be billeted in the luxury of the penthouse suite.
The interior of the hotel is subtle and enveloping and Pauline Bewick paintings adorn the corridors but there's an even more luxurious feel about the penthouse which has been thoughtfully decorated to blend in with the uninterrupted vista of the nearby lakes and mountains.
The moss greens, teals and peat colours echo the subtle shades of nature.
We had our own living room, kitchen, study, bar and dining area with a 12-seater table for our guests. That we didn't have any guests is completely irrelevant.
The manager, Jason Higgins, born in Wales to Irish parents, was on hand to deal with our every whim. A pure charmer even if he does don the red jersey at rugby matches and shouts for Wales.
The pieces de resistance were the hot tub and outside flat-screen TV and on both nights we reverted to our juvenile ways, giggled our way to the tub with our vodkas and reminisced about our youth. The figures have altered considerably but the craic is the same.
After a breakfast of assorted pick-me-up shots (non alcoholic), pancakes and the full Irish, we dragged our weighty bodies down to the spa. I had the elemental nature massage and Rita, my masseuse, massaged my pains and aches away, concentrating on my back area. One of the flatmates had a two-hour facial called 'Eternal Beauty of the Lotus' and looked at least 10 years younger afterwards. (She'll love me for that.)
We spent hours relaxing in the thermal suite on the heated loungers with only a large expanse of glass dividing us from the great outdoors and we agreed it's a great substitute for a sun holiday. The heated loungers provide the same sensation as that of lying in the sun with the added bonus of there being no danger of sunburn if you fall asleep.
Then it was time for a swim in the pool and some chilling out in the relaxation area where we were fed fresh fruit on skewers. Well, we weren't actually fed them like in Roman times, we ate them ourselves.
We took an afternoon trip to Kenmare who were hosts to a food carnival with 'stunning scenery, fun and fabulous food meet'. There were cookery demos, wine tastings, craft beers, children's workshops and a carnival. The town was hopping. We sampled chocolates, black pudding, smoked salmon and kangaroo for fear of going hungry. After all, our huge breakfast had been all of three hours earlier.
And then it was back to Aghadoe and a few aperitifs on our balcony overlooking Bricin Bridge where the three lakes, Lough Leane (the lower lake), Muckross lake and the Upper lake, meet.
Just outside the hotel is the first point on the Ring of Kerry and Ross castle was a shining beacon across the lake from our balcony at night.
On our first night we had an excellent dinner in a restaurant in the town but it was topped by the meal we ate in the Lake room in the hotel on the second night.
We enjoyed pan-fried scallops with a citrus and ciabatta salad accompanied by a summer truffle dressing, followed by roast loin and slow-cooked flank of lamb with basil and parmesan polenta cake, shallot relish and mint and apple jus. A five- course dinner there is excellent value at €55 and it was all served in a convivial atmosphere with everyone asking us what we had done for the day. The restaurant was buzzing with a mixture of residents and locals. As I sat outside on the balcony indulging my nicotine addiction, I overheard two men who didn't know each other agreeing that you "couldn't beat this hotel for relaxation".
The next day we tackled parts of the ring of Kerry. First up was a walk to Bricin Bridge and the meeting of the waters. We were told that at the bottom of the lakes is the site of Tír na nÓg where Oisin, son of Fionn, was lured by the beauteous Niamh cinn oir in the belief that he would remain forever young. And he did until he surfaced to visit the real world. We could understand why he fell for it -- it's a stunning spot.
A visit to nearby Muckross house which stands near the shores of Muckross lake is a must. It was completed in 1843 and is very much a step back in time. All the rooms have been renovated in period style and downstairs is like a scene from Downton Abbey. Queen Victoria visited in 1861 and was a guest of the then owners the Herbert family, for whom it was built. They landscaped the garden in her honour and planted azalea and rhododendron in abundance and it's still beautiful today. There is a working farm project next door where you can see weaving and pottery making first hand. We also took in the Torc waterfall, another of Kerry's many beauty spots.
We recovered from all the exercise and fresh air with more hot tubbing .We had settled in so well and felt so completely at home that on our last morning one of the 'girls' told PC, aka Padraig Casey, the dining room manager, that she'd have the 'usual', to which he quipped in his own inimitable and jocular fashion, that he wasn't privy to her daily breakfast habits.
As we took our leave, he handed us bottles of Kerry water, to rejuvenate us. If it could do it for Oisin, there's hope for the three of us. Anyway, a trip to Kerry always does that for me.
The Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa,
Lakes of Killarney, Co Kerry
Email: reservations@ aghadoeheights.com
Family breaks from €260 per adult (children go free) comprise a two- night break in a lakeside family room, breakfast each morning and an in-room movie night with homemade pizza, soft drinks and popcorn for the family .
Overnight spa getaways from €200pp include overnight accommodation in a spacious guestroom, luxurious kingsize beds, crisp bathrobes, fluffy slippers, Aveda amenities, complimentary internet access and breakfast fit for a king.
It also includes full use of the award-winning spa and the different elements of the thermal suite, and either a stress-relief massage or pure focus facial. Herbal teas, fruit juices and fruit kebabs are served throughout. The package includes a gourmet dinner in the Lake Room Restaurant prepared by executive chef Philip Brazil and his team.
For penthouse packages contact the hotel.
Sunday Indo Living