The Kenmare five-star offers a daily lifestyle programme for guests. So what is it like?
Three hours of pure bliss, dedicated to you.
Now, that's a sentence we'd all like to hear once in a while, yet seldom take that time.
It's also the tagline of the ‘Sámas Experience’ offered at the Park Hotel Kenmare. Coming out of Covid lockdowns, working from home and having reduced social interactions, the idea of some 'me' time that doesn't involve running the gauntlet of an airport certainly ticked a lot of boxes for me.
To avoid as much travelling stress as possible (and lower my carbon footprint), I decided to go the whole hog and ditch the driving too, taking public transport all the way from Dublin.
I had toyed with the idea of bringing a bike on the train to cycle the last leg - after all this was a wellness break - but I decided my lack of fitness and the unpredictability of the Irish weather was a step too far to chance (the hotel also offers to collect from both the train station in Killarney and Kerry airport, incidentally).
Whatever way you venture to Kenmare, when you land at the hotel it's difficult not to automatically zone into relaxed mode.
Owned by John and Francis Brennan, the five-star sits in the town and overlooks Kenmare Bay. During the pandemic, the hoteliers believe people came to appreciate the outdoors even more, and demand for their popular Daily Lifestyle Programme has since been “exceptional”, they say – so much so that they now have two full-time Wellness instructors as part of the Samás Spa team.
I booked in for a two-day yoga retreat, and after a good walk post-breakfast, it was time to get started.
Each week the hotel has a range of complimentary activities for residents, including yoga, walks and meditation. The two one-on-one yoga classes I took with resident yoga teacher Veronica were the ideal antidote to my Saturday morning rush to a busy yoga class with the vague hope of switching off.
Veronica's approach is to help guests discover the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of yoga – beginners can start their journey well, and those who are more experienced can enjoy advanced dimensions such as meditation and Chi Flow mindful movement.
Then it was time for Samás. When the Park Hotel looked at building a spa, the Brennan brothers travelled the world to experience some of the best spas on offer, apparently. And it shows.
The spa doesn't have a plethora of facials or any manicures on offer, which limits it by some standards. But what it does, it does very well - a one-hour treatment means a three-hour spa visit.
My visit started with an hour in the thermal suite where there's a sauna, steam room, ice fountain, tropical rain showers and a stunning outdoor (heated) vitality pool that has an infinity edge allowing views through the trees over Kenmare Bay.
I could have spent hours here, listening to the birds and enjoying views of the lush green Kerry countryside.
With the phone fully forgotten at this point, it was time for an hour-long treatment with a facial, body scrub and massage to choose from. That was followed by another hour of relaxation in a day bed, sitting and enjoying the forest views and tranquillity.
The sleek, stainless steel 25m pool was empty when I visited and one of the best indoor hotel pools I've experienced, while a glass-walled sauna looking out onto the pool.
The hotel does take day spa guests, but like the rest of the experience, there's a sense that you have to be staying there to truly let the hotel envelop you.
Dating from 1897, the hotel itself offers old-fashioned comfort... in a good way.
The dining room is a formal affair, for example, but with the friendliest of staff serving seasonal and local food, with a choice of an a la carte or seven-course tasting menu for dinner. Breakfast is served here too, with stunning views over the gardens and lake and the formal dining experience lends itself to eating at a more relaxed pace.
John and Francis invested heavily in refurbishing the hotel during the pandemic, and they also bought The Lansdowne, a four-star sister hotel across the road. After its own reboot, a modern bar and restaurant is less grand but every bit as welcoming as its older sibling across the road, with a piano lounge recently added, too.
Don't expect a busy lobby milling with people who've popped in for a drink in the hope of bumping into one of the Brennan brothers. John did pop into the lounge on my second evening, and greeted everyone equally, but it's the staff and service that makes the hotel stand out. And it's a genuine friendliness and helpfulness that seems to resonate in the town too.
Without a booking for a hairdresser, for example, I failed to secure an appointment that evening, but it wasn't for want of trying by the locals!
The first hairdresser, who was booked up, sent me to another, who squeezed me in for a quick trim before their next appointment arrived. The next day when the first hairdresser spotted me in town they enquired if I'd had success and apologised again for not being able to accommodate me… nice touches by all.
I also managed to drop a bank card when heading out for a walk, which was found by a hotel guest and promptly returned to me by the hotel staff.
The Park Hotel Kenmare may be considered more geared toward American tourists than Irish, but when I stayed in late May there was an even mix. And while it may not be the most obvious choice for a yoga break in Ireland, the spa's emphasis on relaxation, coupled with the complimentary wellness activities, lends itself to a real opportunity to switch off without the hassle of leaving the country.
Nightly rates at the Park Hotel Kenmare start from €525 per room in high season to €375 in autumn.
The rates include a full breakfast, and participation in its Daily Lifestyle Programme with activities including hikes, yoga, cardio classes and meditation.
Private, one-to-one yoga classes with Veronica cost €50, while a 60-minute spa treatment costs €149 and includes an hour in the thermal suite and an hour in the relaxation room.
Margaret was a guest of the hotel. See parkkenmare.com.