Killarney: How to be treated like a queen in the real kingdom
Short breaks in Ireland
Obviously all any mother wants for Mother's Day morning is breakfast in bed and a homemade card from her little darlings.
Obviously. But questionably cobbled together toast and possibly cold tea aside, all mothers know that the greatest gift you can actually give them (give any parent, for that matter, particularly those with small children), is some alone time.
Mostly, as parents, we aim low on this respect. Going solo to the bathroom. The legendary cup of coffee actually finished in one sitting. I have a friend who considers a solo trip to Aldi the height of self-care/me time. An entire weekend to ourselves? The stuff of dreams.
When the invitation to visit the Muckross Park Hotel & Spa arrived, it was a last minute thing, with the recent mid-term break in full swing. All friends and family had their plans already locked down, so I decided to do something I had never done before and travel alone. I am aware that a stay in a five-star hotel in one of the most naturally beautiful spots in the country isn't the stuff of gap years spent trekking alone through far off continents, but to me, it felt somewhat revolutionary.
It being Kerry, I presumed I would definitely need my car in order to fully explore, but further investigations revealed that my hotel was a mere 4km from Killarney, but also sitting right on the border of Killarney National Park - so both town and country were on my doorstep.
Instead of driving I booked a train - as every parent knows, a treat beyond measure: essentially several hours of complete solitude. My advice would be to book your seat, as I travelled down on a random late Wednesday morning and back on a Friday afternoon - yet both trains were busy.
The occasion was the launch of a partnership between the five-star Spa at Muckross Park with The Organic Pharmacy, a high-end luxury skincare and beauty brand dedicated to organic health. With followers including Kylie Minogue, Sarah Jessica Parker, Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna and Claudia Schiffer, it is certified by the Soil Association, currently the world's highest organic standard.
I should confess that I have something of a terror of facials. Talk of extractions, and post-treatment break out seems deeply unappealing. I also had a rather terrifying experience once which involved metal balls channelling an electric current being rubbed over your face.
"I hope you've no fillings," the therapist announced breezily at the outset. "That can be rather painful".
This was an entirely different experience. The Spa at Muckross looks out over the surrounding countryside, it was lashing rain that day so sitting in their relaxation suite I felt particularly cocooned. My therapist was nothing short of a genius.
No, your skin feeling rough and dry isn't just the signs of age she informed me, you might just need to consider expanding your skincare range beyond a basic cleansing and moisturising routine. Margo Marrone, the founder of The Organic Pharmacy, is a homeopathic pharmacist; their products mix organic medicinal herbs with homeopathy. The facial began with a product I would now consider a game changer, and at a price point of around €50, quite a bargain for such a luxury range - the carrot butter cleanser.
Although a cleanser, it's a balm that feels more like a moisturiser, possible to use last thing at night as your only product. As well as the carrot butter cleanser, a double rose rejuvenating face cream was recommended.
After all the pampering it was time for some fresh air. There are several ways you can tour Killarney National Park. Originally, I hoped for a bike but the weather was mixed so I opted for a jaunting car driven by a jarvey. A small cart drawn by a horse, partially covered, it was much more weather appropriate and meant we covered far more ground than I would have been capable of on a bike.
First up was Muckross Abbey, an old monastery which dates back to the beginnings of Christianity in this country. The impressive remains include a courtyard at the centre of which is a huge ancient yew tree.
Next up was Muckross House, built for the Herbert family, situated on the shores of Muckross Lake. Completed in 1843, it was actually the fourth house the family occupied in Muckross over a period of 200 years. If time allowed, this would warrant an entire day in itself. A tour of the house lasts about an hour, and there are extensive grounds and a garden restaurant to be explored.
Queen Victoria visited Muckross House in 1861. She was received on the grass before the front entrance by a collection of noteworthies. Her arrival had inspired a huge interiors project - numerous new pieces were commissioned, the curtains still hanging in the dining room were made especially for the occasion.
After a walk in the garden, it was back to my jarvey and up to Torc Waterfall. The waterfall itself is a short walk from the car park through the forest, worth it alone for the greenery on display here.
I didn't have time on this trip, but if you are venturing a little further afield, and the weather is suitable, attempting a climb of Carrauntoohil is an incredible experience. With almost zero real fitness levels, no proper gear or no mountain climbing experience, myself and a friend managed it years ago with local guide Con Moriarty and it is to this day one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done on holiday.
Pre child, we used to visit Kerry almost every year - but a drive to Dingle when she was just six weeks old when she cried the entire time of what became a seven-hour drive (!!) put a stop to that. But this trip completely reignited my love of the kingdom, and I am planning a trip of the Ring of Kerry for this summer.
Muckross Park Hotel & Spa may be five-star, but it has the easy-going cosy welcoming atmosphere of a smaller family hotel, and as such will make a perfect starting point - if I can ever bring myself to travel with others again.
Book three nights at Muckross Park with breakfast each morning, dinner on one evening and a free upgrade to a Superior bedroom with wine and chocolates from €300pp. Midweek rates from €80pp, including breakfast and free spa access.
There's a spa offer from €250pp sharing midweek and from €257pp sharing weekends. The offer includes a two-night stay with breakfast each morning, free use of spa facilities, a 50 minute spa treatment per guest and a choice of afternoon tea/ main course in Monk's Lounge.
For more information visit muckrosspark.com or call 064 66 23456.
Sunday Indo Living