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Checking into the Montenotte, a hotel with a view and its own private cinema in Cork

Tom Sweeney hopped on a train and fled south just before the autumn lockdown for a taste of the high life at the award-winning Montenotte Hotel

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The Montenotte Hotel and its sunken Victorian Garden. Photo by Tony Dunne

The Montenotte Hotel and its sunken Victorian Garden. Photo by Tony Dunne

The Cameo Cinema at the Montenotte Hotel. Photo by Tony Dunne

The Cameo Cinema at the Montenotte Hotel. Photo by Tony Dunne

Merchant Suite at the Montenotte Hotel. Photo by Tony Dunne

Merchant Suite at the Montenotte Hotel. Photo by Tony Dunne

Leisure Club at the Montenotte Hotel. Photo by Tony Dunne

Leisure Club at the Montenotte Hotel. Photo by Tony Dunne

Montenotte Hotel entrance at night, complete with tree-hung chandeliers. Photo by Tony Dunne

Montenotte Hotel entrance at night, complete with tree-hung chandeliers. Photo by Tony Dunne

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The Montenotte Hotel and its sunken Victorian Garden. Photo by Tony Dunne

I’m sitting on the terrace of the Panorama Bistro, admiring the sunken Victorian garden. I’m also admiring a pint of Heineken, which will soon be sunken too — well, sunk in one.

More alcohol has been squirted on my hands than has gone down my throat since Covid closed the pubs, so this is like a long-awaited reunion with an old friend, one of whom I happen to be meeting for lunch.

I opt for the fish and chips with minted pea puree and remoulade sauce, which proves to be a wise choice. My pal — the only Ibrox Park season ticket holder in Cork, which is why he’s known as the Lone Ranger — tucks in to the charcuterie board of choice cuts from the city’s English Market and declares it unbeatable (like his team this season, but the least said about that, the better).

Looking beyond the garden, which for decades lay hidden beneath an impenetrable jungle of weeds and bushes until it was rediscovered and restored to its former glory, I see a train pulling in to Kent Station.

It was there, 26 years ago on my first visit to Cork, that the Tannoy bing-bonged a welcome I’ll never forget: “This is an Iarnród Éireann passenger announcement. The next train to Cobh will be a bus, owing to ring-tailed lemurs on the line.”

Weird, but weirder still was that no one blinked an eyelid — they simply shrugged and shuffled off to the car park.

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The Cameo Cinema at the Montenotte Hotel. Photo by Tony Dunne

The Cameo Cinema at the Montenotte Hotel. Photo by Tony Dunne

The Cameo Cinema at the Montenotte Hotel. Photo by Tony Dunne

I later learned that the lemurs at Fota Wildlife Park (www.fotawildlife.ie), 13 minutes down the track and great for a fun-filled family day out, occasionally escaped on to the rails, causing delays and cancellations.

I’ve escaped too, on my first foray out of Dublin in months. Stepping off the 11am train from Heuston, I felt free at last, like Andy Dufresne when he emerged from that sewer in The Shawshank Redemption.

That’s no reflection on Irish Rail, I hasten to add — today’s gleaming carriages are a million times better than those scabby old orange ones that used to ply the route, and make for a super-comfortable journey of just under three hours.

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Merchant Suite at the Montenotte Hotel. Photo by Tony Dunne

Merchant Suite at the Montenotte Hotel. Photo by Tony Dunne

Merchant Suite at the Montenotte Hotel. Photo by Tony Dunne

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A waitress takes away our scraped-clean plates — that’s how good the food is at the Montenotte — and returns with a cocktail menu in case we’re interested. We aren’t, and ask her to bring two more pints.

However, a look at the list reveals a Hollywood theme, with several concoctions that credit the films that made them popular, such as a White Russian, as drunk by The Dude in The Big Lebowski.

The movie connection doesn’t end there, as the hotel has a swanky private cinema, The Cameo, with free evening screenings for guests. It’s also popular with non-residents for dinner dates with a film thrown in.

Returning from the loo, I peek inside The Cameo and there, glowing in a corner, is a help-yourself popcorn machine.

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Leisure Club at the Montenotte Hotel. Photo by Tony Dunne

Leisure Club at the Montenotte Hotel. Photo by Tony Dunne

Leisure Club at the Montenotte Hotel. Photo by Tony Dunne

The paired seats are like sofas, with a handy little tabletop and lamp between them. Sink into one of these and you could easily fall asleep and wake up just as the closing credits start rolling.

The Lone Ranger, who lives up the hill from the hotel, is a member of its Motion Health Club and has a swim in the 20-metre pool a couple of mornings a week and the occasional neck and shoulder massage in the Bellevue Spa.

Being prodded and kneaded isn’t for the ticklish. I’ve avoided massages since that time in a hammam in Istanbul when the masseur dug his thumbs into the sole of my right foot and got a kick in the throat.

Bellevue Spa breaks are popular, especially for girlie getaways — the luxury package for three friends sharing a triple room includes a 50-minute treatment, three-course dinner, overnight stay and breakfast the following morning and costs from €540 (€180 each).

There’s a quarter-of-an-hour to go before our allotted 105 minutes on the terrace are up (thank goodness that restriction isn’t returning), time enough for one last lager while we lament the cancellation of last October’s Guinness Cork Jazz Festival.

During the 1996 festival, I wangled a free ticket to see Birmingham swing band King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys on the understanding I would do a review for the next day’s Evening Echo.

I had a rake of pints before, during and after the gig, and by some miracle got up at 7am after only four hours’ sleep to write a glowing critique. Unfortunately, I was still half-cut and waxed lyrical, not about King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys, who were brilliant, but about Big Cheddar and the Cream Crackers, who existed only in my Heineken- addled head.

It was my first — and last — go at being a music critic.

After lunch, The Lone Ranger heads home for a snooze and I nip upstairs to have a look at my suite, which I had only glimpsed while dropping off my bag.

It’s the size of an apartment and big enough for the Cork Barrack Street Band to parade around without the trombone player poking everybody in the back of the neck. The massive bed has more pillows than Penneys, and the double bathroom has enough fancy toiletries to take home and open a market stall.

It’s far from such plush surroundings I was brought up, but I’m beginning to feel like one of the city’s merchant princes — the mansion house from which the hotel evolved was built in the 1820s for a super-rich butter merchant.

I feel a food coma coming on, so it’s time for a siesta before deciding what to do in the evening after dinner in the Panorama Bistro.

My favourite pubs are closed, so I plump for the pictures. The Cameo is showing Forrest Gump, but there’s no associated cocktail on the list. Maybe when the Montenotte — which was named Best Boutique Hotel in last year’s Irish Hotel Awards — re-opens on June 2 they will have remedied that and added one named Rum Forrest, Rum.

* For rates and information on special overnight and weekend packages, see themontenottehotel.com.

This article originally appeared in The Herald.


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