My weekend at Adare Manor - 'Every wish was the staff's command'
JP McManus has created what many believe is the world's top hotel, writes Mary O'Sullivan
We had just sat down for dinner and were perusing the menu in the Oak Room at Adare Manor when suddenly our lovely waiter for the night, Martin appeared before us bearing not just a reading light but a pair of disposable reading glasses.
It seemed my companion had muttered under her breath - I know I barely heard her - that she had forgotten her glasses. And so it was for the gorgeous weekend we spent in the recently renovated Adare - every wish of ours was the staff's command.
Up to that weekend, Adare, for me, was a pretty town/traffic nightmare on the way to Kerry. I always admired the quaint thatched houses and brightly coloured doorways from my slow moving car but silently hoped for an eventual bypass. It's always been a destination for American tourists, but for us Irish - not so much.
That is until multimillionaire JP McManus wove his millions and magic into the period home of the local earldom - that of the Earls of Dunraven - and created what many believe is not only Ireland's, but the world's, top hotel. On our doorstep.
Adare, which means 'fort of the oak', had been home for hundreds of years to the Quin family who became the earls of Dunraven in the early 19th Century and it was the second earl and his wife who built the unusual country house that JP took on (after it had been used as a hotel for some 20 years by an American group).
According to Gerry, the genial manager of the Gallery (aboe)where scrumptious afternoon tea was served, the earl and his wife created what is known as a Calendar House - 365 stained glass windows for the days of the year; 52 mantelpieces (for the weeks of the year) fed into 12 (for the months) chimneys; there are four towers (for the seasons of the year) and seven pillars (for the days of the week) in the great hall.
As a concept it seems a bit contrived but forget the numbers, everything about the manor is majestic. The sweeping driveway, surrounded by rolling lawns, up to the grand entrance where liveried doormen greet you by name; the imposing entrance hall which, despite its size, its stone floor and massive pillars, still manages to be warm and welcoming with a big open fire and sink-into sofas.
Then there's the Gallery - the second longest room in Ireland after Trinity's library - with its stunning stained glass windows and its carved choral pews dating from the 17th Century.
In sharp contrast to all that antiquity and splendour, modern comforts in the rooms are very high on the list of priorities; heat and air conditioning are all at the touch of a button, as are the curtains and lights. Other staples include high thread count bed linen and Acqua di Parma toiletries in the bathroom, both of which added enormously to our enjoyment of our gorgeous room, as did its elegant period details.
The food is also stunning. Breakfast in the Gallery was a feast of fresh juices, fruits, cereals, cold meats, cheeses, breads and pastries, so extensive and so delicious that my friend and I couldn't even contemplate the hot dishes, which included everything from pancakes and waffles to the full Irish to kippers, and steaks.
A short walk from the main house can be found the Carriage house - a light airy space ideal for the more informal meals (they have the nicest pizza) but the tasting menu in the Oak Room in the main house is a must; chef Michael Tweedie who hails from Wales via Ballyfin, is a genius. And he doesn't have any of the stereotypical qualities associated with chefs. He's barely 30, there isn't an ounce of flesh on him and he seems very jolly, running a very calm, seemingly happy kitchen.
Michael invited us to eat one of our seven courses in the kitchen and as his team bustled around, he told us how he had gone around the country in a camper van with his beloved pug poodle cross Frankie, sourcing the best suppliers - the perfect smoked salmon, the perfect lamb and other essentials.
And if you feel like a greedy guts tucking into his succulent creations, ranging from crab with caviar to scallops with eel apple and buttermilk to turbot with roe sauce to duck and celeriac, never mind the juiciest tarte tatin ever, the menu makes you feel better with the quotation "there is no sincerer love than the love of food" from no less a person than George Bernard Shaw. Great minds etc.
Between meals we did drag ourselves out to explore the grounds, and there is much to explore. Apart from the famed golf course, which has apparently seven different types of grass and two different coloured sand types (something to do with its appearance on TV), there are beautifully manicured topiary-ed gardens to the side of the house, a pet cemetery (where the Dunravens buried their beloved dogs and cats including Smugger, Nibs and Jock), a walled garden and a series of Ogham stones showing Ireland's earliest form of writing, which one of the earls had found in Kerry.
At the edge of the grounds is a gate to the delightful village of Adare itself. In their heyday, the Dunravens had provided much of the employment; they taught the local girls Limerick lace and many examples can be found on the walls of the basement where the luxurious spa is housed.
They also started a tobacco factory. Nowadays, there are craft and souvenir shops catering to the many tourists and lovely coffee shops - we particularly liked Stacpooles, an antique shop/cafe where the coffee is excellent and the genial George Stacpoole, who has lived in Adare all his life, is a mine of information whether about his antiques or the village in general.
To my delight I discovered Adare is also something of a fashion mecca, with several of the boutiques selling designer labels including Moschino, See by Chloe, Paule Ka and Sonia Rykiel. There are some wedding dress specialists and tons of options for mothers of the bride. Things can get fraught between a bride and her mother in the lead up to the big day and I can think of no better bonding exercise for a mother and daughter than a weekend at Adare. Who knows... they might also end up choosing it as a wedding venue.
The motto of the Dunravens - 'I wish to go beyond' - is etched into the stonework everywhere and the staff here certainly do go beyond for all their guests.
The five-star Adare Manor, set on an 840-acre estate, has enjoyed tremendous success, winning accolades both nationally and internationally, including global 'Hotel of the Year 2018' at the Virtuoso 'Best of the Best Awards'.
The culinary offering includes the luxury Oak Room restaurant for fine-dining; the Carriage House restaurant, terrace and bar, for a more informal dining experience; and The Gallery, where the very popular afternoon tea is served.
The resort is home to Ireland and the UK's first and only La Mer Spa and a championship golf course redesigned by award-winning designer Tom Fazio.
See more at adaremanor.com.
This feature originally ran in The Sunday Independent.