Weekend Away: River Court Hotel Kilkenny
The River Court Hotel sums up all that is wonderful, and at the same time slightly frustrating, about the medieval city. My family and I were treated to the best of old-world hospitality in beautiful surroundings, with the spectacular view of the castle ever present -- yet we were kept awake on our last night by the reveries of competing wedding/ hen parties in the bar below us.
The hotel may be all about the traditional Irish welcome, but it has had to move with the demands of these challenging times and the impact of such changes can be both enchanting and a pain in the nether regions.
We stayed in the Earl of Ormonde Suite, whose previous guests include President McAleese and her husband. On the rare occasions I have the opportunity to stay in hotels patronised by the rich, famous and powerful, I can't help but wonder if celebrities, such as our revered President, have lounged in the same comfortable armchair as me, enjoying an item from the complimentary fruit basket, just as I did on arrival.
I'm sure our nation's figurehead is far too lady-like to read a book while soaking in the Jacuzzi, and I am in no doubt that she took her shoes off when reclining on the canopied, four-poster bed after over-indulging at dinner. I expect she was far more likely to scribble intellectual things at the lovely antique writing desk. If only I was so refined.
One of the positive alterations to the River Court's venerable façade is the introduction of an Asian restaurant, Yindee's Downtown. Boasting a hugely talented Malaysian chef, we were treated to screamingly fresh sushi to start (€13 for a starter selection for two), followed by red and green curries that proved to be remarkably intricate in flavour -- warm and creamy with coconut milk, punchy with ginger and chilli (€22.70 for the seafood option).
Gerard Dunne, formerly head chef on the QE2, has been executive chef at the River Court's eateries for the past five years, and his influence is never more evident that in Rivercourt Restaurant. A medallion of milk-fed veal, chargrilled to just the right side of medium-rare, melted under my knife. The table d'hote menu, including amuse bouche and sorbets, costs €44.95 per person, but three and two-course options are available.
The pamper factor
My wife Deirdre ordered some reflexology in the Oasis Treatment Rooms (€60 for 55 minutes), a session which she reported back was performed by a practitioner of no mean skills. Her only complaint was that the relaxation area for post-treatment languor is beside the swimming pool which, if full of playful children or boisterous teens, could be less than relaxing.
I enjoyed a dip in said pool, along with a steam and some poaching in the Jacuzzi, all of which were most agreeable.
What to do
We thought a few hours of retail therapy at the town's new shopping centre, MacDonagh Junction, was in order, and found that there was something to keep all three of us entertained (and parting with our money) in the complex. After dinner that evening, we walked off our indulgences with a stroll along the banks of the River Nore as twilight descended, lulled by the sounds of lapping water and the gentle calling of swallows. A perfect end to a delightful evening -- until the wedding band started, more of which later.
On Sunday, my daughter Marnie and I went for a canoeing excursion down the same river, from gorgeous Graiguenamanagh to St Mullins, with Charlie Horan and the Go With the Flow team. Charlie has a wealth of knowledge about the history and wildlife of the river, and is expert at negotiating the various weirs and lochs. The trip took three hours (including a short stop for a dip -- it was a very warm afternoon). We disembarked rather gracelessly at journey's end with aching arms and smiles on our faces.
In fairness to the good people at the River Court, there was a sign at reception on our arrival informing all comers that there was a function taking place over the weekend, and if the noise proved too much, all efforts would be made to move guests to a quieter corner of the hotel.
It just goes to show that a little luxury goes to your head with alarming rapidity, because I was convinced that, being a guest in the hotel's flagship room, such trifling hindrances as noise pollution would surely never be a problem. I was wrong.
Rates start at as little as €50 per person sharing mid-week. Rooms can be upgraded to deluxe by adding a flat €25 nightly, and an additional €125 nightly will get you one of the hotel's two suites.
Various special offers are available at the moment: a two-night mid-week stay, from €149 per person sharing, includes two nights' bed and breakfast and an evening meal to be enjoyed on an evening of your choice. This rate also includes a €50 voucher to be redeemed against any Kilkenny Arts Festival event from August 8-12.
A half-day trip canoeing with the Go With the Flow team costs €49 per person at weekends and €45 mid-week.
The River Court Hotel, The Bridge, John Street, Kilkenny. Tel: 056 772 3388 or see rivercourthotel.com.