Something for the Weekend: Where east beats west
Aidan Coughlan on a part of the world that tends to be overlooked
East Cork is very much the George Harrison of Irish tourism – boasting a wealth of talent, but long overshadowed by its overachieving neighbours. And while it might not boast the sweeping landscapes of the west or the vibrant cultural life of the city, you get the sense that this beautiful little pocket of the country would be far more widely revered if not for the local competition.
The looming profile of the castle against the night sky, and the ornate, beautifully-lit frontage give Castlemartyr Resort one hell of an intro. Our bags are taken as soon as we step out of the car, the doors are flung open in front of us, and it's made abundantly clear that we're going to be well looked after over the next couple of days.
"Ah, Mr Coughlan," the concierge beams as I identify myself, with a warmth and familiarity that leads me to wonder whether this is an old childhood pal with whom I'd lost contact. And minutes later, with hardly any of the usual faffing, we're being shown to our room by an equally affable porter.
It's warm, it's friendly and it's just what the doctor ordered after a full day of work followed by a long trek on the crowded Friday Dublin-Cork train.
Upon first glance, the room appears magnificent due to its sheer scale – separate rooms for the sleeping and living areas, a writing desk, enough wardrobe space for Elton John, and enough bed space to get lost in. Touchscreen panels to control the lights and curtains are a nice touch too – but ultimately it's nothing that you wouldn't expect in this price bracket.
The Knight Bar is the centrepiece of the in-house experience, serving coffee and lunch by day and drinks and trad music by night, while the Living Room provides you with a place to sit with a newspaper and escape the world. Golfers can enjoy a magnificent 18-hole course, or just dabble about on the putting green, while those who don't fancy a swing can walk around the course on clearly marked walkways. There's also a gym and a pool for those who feel the need. You know the type.
It starts with plinky plonky music, and ends with a feeling of deep, satisfied relaxation that you just can't get from a city-centre facility. I receive a stunning aromatherapy massage from the amiable Amie, who spends 45 minutes rubbing away my problems until there's absolutely nothing left. Worth every penny.
After an in-room breakfast involving decent but unremarkable Eggs Benedict, we eat in the Bell Tower Restaurant on Saturday night – and while the place is sorely in need of an interior designer to lend it some personality, the chef, at least, is on top of his side of the deal.
I enjoy a fillet steak that finally gives me an understanding of the phrase 'melt-in-the-mouth', while my partner hits the jackpot with her plaice and a chocolate pave desert. The wine list is comprehensive and expensive, but has provisions for those who don't want to break the bank.
Some of these five-star retreats are havens for gaggles on girly weekends; Castlemartyr, meanwhile, is where the yummie mummies take their own mothers to unwind and relax. This older crowd contributes to a relaxed, friendly tone right throughout the place – and while that's a good thing, it's worth noting that it's not a place to go if you're up for a mad one.
Things to Do
If you've got the car, Castlemartyr Resort is within handy distance of the Jameson Distillery in Midleton and the Ballymaloe Cookery School – if not, you're probably best off enjoying the spectacular grounds, and maybe taking the five-minute journey into town for a pint in Pat Shortt's bar.
There's tending to the guest, and there's tending to the guest six times within a few minutes. Its incessant nature makes conversation just a little bit difficult, and even insisting that we're "quite alright, thank you very much" doesn't seem to get the message across.
NEED TO KNOW
How much does it cost?
Rooms start at €141, but our junior suite was €191 per night. The Grand Suite costs a hefty €441. Meanwhile, a main course at The Bell Tower is between €20 and €30, while the 50-minute aromatherapy massage is €90; and green fees are €30 (€40 on Saturday) during low season.
Castlemartyr Resort, Castlemartyr, Co Cork; 021 4219000; www.castlemartyrresort.ie