Pampered in Portmarnock: The hotel that's giving Malahide a run for its money
Short breaks in Ireland
The north Dublin coastal village of Portmarnock gives Malahide a run for its money, writes Leslie Ann Horgan.
Set the mood
Despite occupying a prettier perch on the north Dublin coast, Portmarnock has long played the wallflower to its bigger, bustling sister of Malahide.
Now, however, a significant investment by a new international owner in the Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links - known to locals as the Country Club - means her dance card is fast filling up. A new chef and spa have been installed to make the hotel attractive to an audience beyond those with an interest in the Bernhard Langer-designed golf course.
The tasteful interior décor is as manicured as the greens outside, so whether it's tea or a tee-off you're after, you'll find your needs are catered for.
It truly was a guilty pleasure to go to a spa when the sun was shining, but the treatment area proved to be light and bright and not the low-lit grotto I expected.
A small spa by any measure - the relaxation area holds just four beds - the treatments are nevertheless top quality, using Elemis and Carita products. I was put off by the intimidating-looking machine involved in the Elemis Bio-Tech facial (one hour, €100) but my therapist convinced me to let her incorporate its electronic probes - which help your skin to better absorb moisture, she revealed - into a regular facial.
Though I was tempted at times to use the probes on the boisterous children playing on the grass directly outside my treatment room, I still left feeling relaxed and looking decidedly fresher-faced.
We hit Portmarnock on a rare sunny day, when the sparkling sea could easily have rivalled the Costa del Sol. Whatever the weather, you can enjoy a stroll on the 5km-long dune-laden Velvet Strand, drinking in the magnetic views of Ireland's Eye and Lambay Island beyond. Make a pit stop at Il Panorama Café (ilpanoramamacafe.com) which boasts a curious blend of Italian foods with Australian names. My pick was the tasty Melbourne panini - with prosciutto, rocket, tomato and Grana Padano cheese - for €5.20.
Fish lovers will delight in the menu by chef Tom Walsh (above) at The 1780 Restaurant, which - at a reasonable €42pp for three courses - includes two fish options for starters and three for mains. The monkfish cheek with fennel-marinated courgette in a clam-and-saffron broth was our flavoursome favourite.
It may boast a modern glass entrance that would impress Dermot Bannon, but the hotel's original building was erected in the early 19th century as the home of the Jameson distilling family, who had a nine-hole golf course on their St Marnock's estate. Today, the Jameson bar - complete with oak panelling, sash windows and a signature whiskey cocktail - occupies the oldest part of the building.
We left our post-lie-in breakfast until the last minute - arriving just 15 minutes before the 11am cut-off - only to find that an entire wedding party had done the same. Avoid queues, and get your hands on some of the tasty-looking pastries we missed out on, by rising earlier.
Get me there
The Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links is 13km from Dublin city centre and 10km from Dublin Airport - short drives both. Locals can make use of the 32 bus which stops outside, while Portmarnock Dart station is about 4km away. One night's stay for two, including dinner in The 1780 and breakfast, is priced from €237 per room. The hotel is currently offering a 'Celebration Sale' rate from €109 per room, for B&B based on two sharing.