Weekend Away: The K Club, Co Kildare
Fires crackle in quiet corners, the welcome is warm but unfussy, and there's not a hint of Argyle knitwear in sight as we check into Ireland's poshest country club on a Friday evening after work.
"Why go to a golf hotel if you hate golf?" a friend had asked before I left. There was one simple answer: it was a cunning ploy to stop my angler husband Peter taking it up.
He's fished his legs out on the Liffey all summer and barely caught the bones of a sardine tin.
"That river's not right this year," he keeps saying, threatening every so often to pack it in for a set of clubs. But for some time, he's wanted to try out the private, mile-long stretch of Liffey acquired by Michael Smurfit when he bought Straffan House in 1988, and which turned Tiger Woods into an angling fanatic when he stayed.
It might be a band-aid solution but if it keeps him hooked, it's worth a try.
Room to book
Is the Anna Livia suite bigger than our own house, we wonder, as we peep around corners and doors in this lavish, antique-laden maze of rooms. You could comfortably live in the bathroom alone, a vast square of black and white tiles with a proper full-size bath, hand-painted walls and marble floors.
With a price tag of €795 per night, it could have done with a duvet on the king-size bed, and the mini-bar was a little dull, but when we mentioned these short-comings to staff on our first morning, they were instantly rectified -- the mark of a truly five-star hotel.
Even the simplest of rooms at the K Club exudes elegance, with fine works of art on the wall, sash windows dressed in gorgeous drapes and cosy armchairs made for leisurely afternoons.
Forking out the guts of €80 on a tasting menu nowadays might sound like an exercise in extravagance, but anyone who takes food seriously should try chef Finbarr Higgins's cooking at least once.
From his palate-tingling Dordogne foie gras to the plump Bere Island king scallops with onion ice-cream, this intensely flavoured seven-course menu is as close to culinary heaven as I've ever come.
Sadly, breakfast was a more pedestrian affair and we were surprised that it wasn't cooked to order.
What to do
We dodged the golfers and took to the river bank for an afternoon of glorious fly-fishing. You don't have to be an angler to appreciate that there's something very special about this lovely stretch of river.
There's plenty of wild brown trout in it, but it's also stocked with some serious whoppers which are easier to catch (those American millionaires can't leave empty-handed).
Just as rewarding is a stroll around the walled gardens before a divine afternoon tea (€29 per person), which is fast becoming a Sunday institution among the ladies of Kildare.
The pamper factor
The spa at the K Club is a bit of a conundrum. One minute it's a dreamy sanctuary of white-robed females gleaming in the after-glow of an invigorating body scrub. The next, it's full of screaming kids leaping about in the hotel pool.
If it's seclusion you're after, pop down after children's hours (10am-12pm and 2pm-4pm). I'm convinced my aromatherapy facial (€110) took a few years off me and I wanted to come back the next day for a massage but couldn't justify the cost.
This might be the K Club, but if they want to keep the tills ringing, prices will have to be pared back to bring them into line with the real world.
Apart from breakfast, there were minor annoyances such as the shortage of herbal teas in the spa relaxation room. Despite all the luxury and excess a weekend here guarantees, our abiding memory will be of the wonderful staff who went out of their way to make us feel at home.
Why go now
If an overnight is out of reach, the K Club hosts the Taste of Kildare tomorrow, when Kildare's finest chefs will showcase their cooking and local artisan producers will set out their stalls.
Organic meat pies, award- winning sausages, Golden Hill ice cream, gourmet crêpes and the freshest smoothies will be served up with duck races, boat trips and bouncy castles to work it all off. Entry is free but parking costs €10.
A double room including breakfast at the K Club costs from €295. A two-night spa break with breakfast, lunch on arrival, dinner in the River Room restaurant and two spa treatments is currently on offer for €515 per person sharing. Three hours' fishing costs €60 per guest; €75 per non resident.
The Kildare Hotel and Country Club, Straffan, Co Kildare. Tel: 01-601 7200; kclub.ie.