Saturday 21 July 2018

'An awesome reboot' - Inside Adare Manor's multi-million euro makeover

A 22-month reboot has catapulted Adare Manor back to tourism's top table. Pól Ó Conghaile checks in...

Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

"This bedside tablet controls your world in here," says the receptionist who walks me from Adare Manor's Great Hall to my lodgings, a €1,450-a-night Dunraven Stateroom.

The tablet, fully charged and unbesmirched by so much as a single fingerprint, operates everything from temperatures to lighting and bathroom blinds.

"Just like home?" she smiles.

"Well, my home would fit inside it," I joke, casting an eye from king-size bed, with its sparklingly white duvet cover and regal 'A' monogram, through period windows to the fabulously pedantic French Gardens outside.

The Dunraven Stateroom at Adare Manor
The Dunraven Stateroom at Adare Manor
Adare Manor
Great Hall, Adare Manor. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Spa, Adare Manor
Rory McIlroy takes a shot at Adare Manor, as the 2020 JP McManus Pro-Am was launched. Photo: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Mackerel, cucumber, avocado, soy, caviar - Adare Manor, Oak Room restaurant
Gallery, Adare Manor
Liam Ford and friend at Adare Manor (falconry). Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Adare Manor in mid-refurbishment. The resort re-opened in November, 2017.
Adare Manor. Photo: Jack Hardy
The award-winning 'Japanese Garden' cocktail at Adare Manor
The Drawing Room at Adare Manor
The Gallery, Adare Manor
Deluxe King bedroom, Adare Manor
DIning at the Oak Room, Adare Manor
Afternoon Tea at Adare Manor

"A lot of people say that," is the gracious reply.

Clearly, this is nothing like my home. That's why I'm so excited to check in. Adare Manor is back in business after a no-expense-spared, 22-month restoration. It has been refurbished right down to the last pane of glass and piece of parquet flooring. It boasts a brand new ballroom and bedroom wing. Its golf course has been wholly reconstructed. There's no other way to put it - this is an awesome reboot.

I don't actually use the tablet, incidentally. I'm not sure it's needed. But it points perfectly to the hi-tech wizardry subtly underpinning the resort's richly restored heritage. As does the deep, roll-top bathtub sitting next to mirrors that steadfastly refuse to steam up when I shower. Or the presence of pleasing brass dolly light switches next to motion-sensitive night-lights that cast a low glow when I swing my legs out of bed during the night.

Or afternoon tea in the Gallery (below), where I segue between slathering homely hedgerow jam onto a scone, and biting into a playful choux pastry taste bomb. Or the roaring fires, suits of armour and understated contemporary fabrics. Whereever you look, old and new blend beautifully.

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Gallery, Adare Manor

Dating from the 1830s, Adare's original manor house was developed by the 2nd Earl of Dunraven with the Latin motto, Quae Sursum Volo Videre ('I wish to see what is beyond'). For Adare Manor 2.0, marketing manager Sarah Ormston tells me, the team wanted to go further, encapsulating Irish identity, intuitive five-star service and a marriage of rich heritage and state-of-the-art luxury.

They even have a new tagline: 'Beyond Everything'.

"What we have here is special and unique," Paul Heery, Adare's new General Manager, tells me over a drink in the Tack Room - a cellar cocktail bar designed by London's David Collins Studio. Wearing that 'A' monogram as a lapel pin (it crops up everywhere), Heery lauds a stunning architecture and history, and seems genuinely humbled to be involved.

"We're in a room going back to the 18th century, and that carries an awe with it," he says. At one point, he pulls out his phone to show me a video of the clubhouse burning - it caught fire last winter, delaying the opening.

"We were so close," he sighs. "The cushions were in. Hoteliers like to be in control, but you're watching something you have no control over... it was heartbreaking."

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Adare Manor in mid-refurbishment. The resort re-opened in November, 2017.

Amazingly, the rebuilt clubhouse is also now open for business - along with a spanking golf course its owners hope will host the 2026 Ryder Cup. It was launched this April with a four-ball featuring Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley and Shane Lowry. As you do.

Heery isn't the only one who has the air of a custodian. From marketers to managers, chefs to sommeliers, the staff I meet seem genuinely invested in the place - in the notion that Adare Manor and its estate were here long before them, and will be long after they go. "It's the building and the beauty," Heery muses. "And to have an owner who did what they did."

Ah yes, the owner. Adare Manor was famously acquired by JP McManus and family for a reported €30m in 2014. At that point, the old hotel - call it Adare Manor 1.0 - was a flagship Irish five-star, but had clearly begun to tire. You couldn't ask for a better white knight - a wealthy Limerick family with a sense of legacy.

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Great Hall, Adare Manor. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Over two years, the resort was rebuilt from the bottom up, in places surpassing even the spectacular revamps of Ashford Castle and Ballyfin. The McManus family has been hugely involved, I'm told, right down to the fabrics, but nobody - and I mean nobody - will discuss the budget.

Staff squirm so much, in fact, I feel crass even asking. It couldn't be done for less than €75m, one industry source tells me. Another reporter suggests up to €100m.

"There are only three people who know," one local confides. "Mr McManus, his wife, and their accountant."

"Stand and look at it!" Paul Heery says, when I put the dreaded question to him. "Look at the detail, the thought that has gone into this restoration!"

Whatever the cost, he implies, it was worth it.

I tend to agree. Every tourism destination needs elite, world-class resorts. They are the Rolls Royces, the marquee names and magazine cover stars that form our highest expressions of hospitality (just like my home, remember?). They are exclusive, unreal playgrounds of the rich and powerful, sure - but they also bring global publicity, hundreds of local jobs and a big economic boost.

What matters is not the cost. What matters is the execution - and whether all that money marries with taste. You could shell out a fortune on a bling-tastic eyesore with golden toilet seats and Swarovski Crystal hot-tubs, after all. But try selling that to the readers of Condé Nast Traveler or Travel + Leisure.

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The Drawing Room at Adare Manor

Granted, there are moments when this graceful mask slips. I understand the branding logic to 'Beyond Everything', for instance, but for me the tagline strikes a bum note, pushing the polished tone a little too close to pomposity.

The new resort layout also delivers guests to the hotel through a blocky, uninviting tunnel, which I feel could be softened. Sceptical Irish visitors may tire of the almost evangelical devotion to the cause, too.

Feeling my way through it, I think the pool (below), spa and changing areas are too small for a 104-bedroom hotel of this calibre. They are perfectly plush, but the La Mer spa has just five treatment rooms, the pool is a tiddler, and the sauna has a single bench (when I swim, the water is on the chilly side, too). I understand the spatial constraints between the historic house and River Maigue, but given the spend lavished elsewhere, these facilities feel too hemmed-in for purpose.

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Spa, Adare Manor

Mostly, however, Adare Manor blends extravagance and elegance brilliantly, and it never threatens to tip into outright bling.

Ridiculous care was invested in the refurbishments - over a dozen craftsmen from Dublin-based Lambstongue were retained to conserve the historic windows alone, for example. Showpiece rooms like the Great Hall, the Hogwarts-esque Gallery (above, the longest in Ireland after Trinity College's Old Library), or the daylight-flooded Drawing Room are simply astonishing - combining breathtaking antiques, design flair and architectural splendour to pack a punch right up there with, say, Ballyfin's Library or The Merrion's Georgian Drawing Rooms.

The attention to detail seems to deepen the longer I stay. Silk wallpaper commands me to run my fingers across it. There is a cinema with Italian leather seats, perfectly weighted ice cubes clink my pre-dinner drink, and curvy, contemporary Ballyhoura Ceramics pop up among fleshy portraits and a Pugin Fireplace in the Oak Room restaurant.

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DIning at the Oak Room, Adare Manor

"It's a chef's dream," says chef Michael Tweedie, showing me around state-of-the-art kitchens, producing a sample plate of foie gras terrine, chicken liver parfait and poached rhubarb as he cooks.

I'm no golfer either, but simply walking the 842-acre estate, past the River Maigue and its centuries-old Cedar tree, I feel utterly removed from real life.

So yes, Adare Manor 2.0 has nailed its landing. Now, to that legacy. Because great hotels are not remembered for big budgets or bedside tablets. They are remembered for emotional connections and how they make us feel. Adare Manor feels like another world. But that receptionist was right. It also feels just like home.

Four to try...

Parkland perfection

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Rory McIlroy takes a shot at Adare Manor, as the 2020 JP McManus Pro-Am was launched. Photo: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
 

Adare Manor’s Tom Fazio-designed golf course was completely reconstructed over two years, from bentgrass greens with SubAir aeration systems to 220,000 tonnes of Scottish sand in the bunkers. You don’t have to stay to play, but a round costs up to €340 in summer — so make every shot count!

A Heart of oak

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Mackerel, cucumber, avocado, soy, caviar - Adare Manor, Oak Room restaurant
 

The manor’s lush, whispery, oak-panelled original dining room today offers fine dining from chef Michael Tweedie. A six-course tasting menu at the Oak Room will set you back €120pp, with local ingredients from Galway smoked mussels to Tipperary quail and Irish artisan cheeses.

Bird’s Eye views

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Liam Ford and friend at Adare Manor (falconry). Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
 

Shooting, archery and falconry are among the ‘country pursuits’ available to guests — an experience with Liam Forde and feathered friends, including Caelin the Golden Eagle (above), was a highlight for me. Did you know they can dive to catch prey at 150mph? Bookings at adarecountrypursuits.com.

Cocktail champs

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The award-winning 'Japanese Garden' cocktail at Adare Manor

Pre-dinner drink? Adare Manor’s staff won six awards at the National Cocktail Championships and Bartender Awards. The winning drink,  by mixologist Ariel Sanecki, was the Japanese Garden — a mix of Star of Bombay Gin, sake, fresh lime, rice milk, yuzu puree and matcha green tea syrup (pictured). It costs €15.

Top Tip

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Afternoon Tea at Adare Manor

Want a taste of Adare Manor without splashing on an overnight stay? Two words: Afternoon Tea. €50pp nabs you a pew in the Gallery with a tiered tray of sandwiches, scones and sweet treats (the choux bun, with green apple compote and caramel cream, is the devil). Be warned - it books out far in advance.

How to do it

Pól stayed as a guest of Adare Manor, where B&B ranges from €500 per night for a Classic King and €595 for a Deluxe to €1,450 for a Dunraven Stateroom and €2,250 for a Signature Suite in May. Rates are cheaper off-season, and more expensive in summer.

Call (061) 605200 or see adaremanor.com.

Read more:

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