Weekend Away: The Village at Lyons, Co Kildare
A pair of imposing stone lions stand tall over the gatepost of this reinvented Georgian village as we drive up the long, tree-lined avenue, which leads to reception. Newborn foals prance in lush, green fields and the countryside shimmers in the soft drizzle of a Friday afternoon.
We step outside and soak up the fresh Kildare air and the sweet smell of burning wood, assured that a warm log fire is within reach. Inside the den, we check in, and eye up a nearby leather sofa beside the crackling fire-- a perfect pitch for drinks later on.
Sitting on a towpath of the Grand Canal, the 600-acre Lyons estate started off life as the home of the Aylmers, an old Kildare dynasty, and later the Lawless family, who were local lords. When the canal was built in the mid 1700s, the village sprang to life and a bustling community grew up along the bank, with a forge, hotel, police barracks and flourmill.
After a fire in 1903 and the closure of the canal to traffic in 1960, the village fell into disrepair, but in the 1990s it was bought back to life by the late Ryanair tycoon Tony Ryan, who transformed the demesne and turned the Lawless mansion on the estate into his family home.
With exquisite flair and taste, he built a new Georgian village from scratch on the fringes of the estate, with restaurant, accommodation and shops. Its thick, old stone walls and traditional craftsmanship belie the fact it is a Celtic Tiger creation. It is nothing less than an architectural treasure.
Room to book
Until recently, the sleeping arrangements at Lyons' Village were limited. There was Shackleton House -- a two-bedroom gem of a property with four-poster beds, gorgeous antiques and a charming cottage kitchen -- and a smaller one-bedroom apartment within the courtyard. Then, earlier this year, 14 swanky lakeside suites were unveiled in a newly-built coach house and stables.
Ultra-swish, with state-of-the-art fittings such as rainforest showers, Nespresso coffee machines and underfloor heating, they are made for young romantics who crave 21st- century luxury.
Dinner and breakfast (10am-11am) is served in La Serre, a handsome, green conservatory with a fascinating creeping fig and roaring fire. Our pick of the starters were risotto of crab, ginger and lemon (¤11), and chicken-liver
terrine, apricot and roast almond chutney (¤8). The rib-eye of beef (¤27) with chips and homemade ketchup was lightened by a leafy garden salad.
For pudding, the toasted almond panna cotta with hazelnut cake and pistachio ice cream (¤7.50) made a perfect ending.
But it was breakfast that impressed us most. It came with a generous jug of freshly squeezed juice, a basket of croissants and pastries straight from the oven, and a fruit salad of mangos, berries and melons with yogurt and honey. Eggs were perfectly poached, and the toast hot and crispy.
What to do
Lyons is a serious hit with brides-to-be, who swoon at its canal-side, leafy setting. The weekend we visited, foodie princess Clodagh McKenna was buzzing about with a group of junior chefs, who were on a day's training at The Village's state-of-the-art cookery school. Upcoming courses with her include Spanish suppers (June 23; ¤70) and Sunday lunch (June 25; ¤140), or you can book in for a residential stay (¤600 for a two-night stay/three-days tuition) and really hone your skills.
Every Friday, a country market is held on the grounds stuffed with local delights. There are lots of lovely strolls along the canal nearby too. In a tiny churchyard on nearby Oughterard Hill lies the grave of Uncle Arthur, founder of President Obama's favourite sup. Or you could blag a snoop at Tony Ryan's palace, complete with private cinema, pool, stud farm, trout lake and personal landing strip. No frills there then!
When it went on the market for ¤80m in 2009, it was the highest price ever asked for an Irish house. Today you could pick it up for a mere €50m
We had planned a bit of a spree in the General Store at Lyons, but were disappointed by the range of goods and left with no more than a few designer oven scourers. Don't go expecting Avoca, which happens to be just up the road in Rathcoole.
A night in the new suites costs ¤180 for two, including breakfast. Shackleton House, which sleeps four, costs ¤300pn. An early-bird dinner runs Weds to Fri, from 6pm to 7.30pm, with three courses for ¤30.
The Village at Lyons, Celbridge, Co Kildare. Tel: 01-630 3500; villageatlyons.com.