Powerscourt Hotel: A short break in Ireland's newest Hotel of the Year
Deirdre Conroy checks in to Powerscourt, just crowned the AA's Hotel of the year for 2015/16.
Every icon has to start somewhere, and Powerscourt Hotel - this week named the AA's Hotel of the Year for 2015/16 - shares the sublime Wicklow landscape in which Richard Wingfield, 3rd Viscount Powerscourt, built his Palladian mansion, Powerscourt House.
Dating from the 1730s, the old mansion was adapted from the Italian designs of Andrea Palladio, and brought to fruition by architect Richard Castle, who also designed Russborough, Carton and Castletown in Wicklow and Kildare.
The modern hotel, set just a short stroll from the original, measures up. This is a rare 5-star, approached by a majestic avenue of ancient oaks and laid out in a valley surrounded by pine forest, rolling hills and fields. Inside the hotel, the craftsmanship so evident in Richard Castle's creations is emulated in detail and quality on marble, granite, brass and polished joinery.
There is no skimping on scale - the foyer spans the depth of the building, with the Sugarloaf mountain framed in panoramic windows. The lobby is divided into a casual dining area with comfortable sofas ranging around glowing fires. The welcome is personal, too. Few hotels can afford to employ adequate staff for parking and luggage assistance, but at Powerscourt, you are waited upon from the moment your car is taken away by a smiling valet.
Inside, each bedroom is a mix of seriously hi-tech and traditional comforts. I have stayed at the hotel in its previous incarnation as a Ritz-Carlton, so I skipped the training course in touch screen controls - the curtains, lighting, air-con, TV, radio can be operated from your bedside. One night does no justice to these rooms, the capacious, dream-inducing beds are the kind you would happily languish in all morning, as the rain pours outside.
My suite was bigger than a two-bed apartment. The dressing room would have accommodated two children, while my bathroom - well, here's the stinger, you also want to languish in the marble bath all evening watching the ingenious TV which is part of the mirror, if you're not snoozing in the deep comfort of warm bubbles.
After relaxing, my friend and I went exploring to find the best pre-prandial drink spot. There is a cocktail bar on the main lobby floor and a very authentic Irish pub, McGill's, on the restaurant level. I spied the picturesque burgers and chips being served in a place full of smiling Americans and lots of romantic-getaway couples.
My own guilty pleasure (actually, there was no guilt; just pure pleasure) was having breakfast in the room. At Powerscourt Hotel it arrives on a table, set up at the window, with expansive views across the valley. It would be nice to see the large circular lawn more cultivated to suit the elegance of the hotel interior, and the heli-pad and car parking to the front of the building also take away from the rustic beauty, but the views over Wicklow are sublime. After breakfast, it was time to test the spa, which uses Espa products. This is an exceptionally well-designed space and my facial treatment sent me to nirvana.
The relaxation area and vitality pool have stood the test of time, as has the swimming pool. If you can tear yourself away from the hotel, there are walking routes through woodland, and the original Powerscourt House and Gardens are a stroll away, with a café, lots of shopping and a garden centre. The original estate village of Enniskerry is also nearby. The idea for the original hotel was sketched out as a sweeping curvilinear building, with six floors concealed behind an arched façade, creating the impression of a three-story building. These Spanish arches are the reason it has been dubbed 'Spanish Palladian', though there is no such style in the canon.
The Ritz Carlton was a symbol of Celtic Tiger Ireland, but the new edition, a member of the Marriott's Autograph Collection, is a deserved AA Hotel of the Year.
Our dinner was in the hushed Sika restaurant, named after the Japanese deer which have multiplied throughout Wicklow. Dinner is €65pp and all ingredients are supplied by Irish, mostly local, producers, including rapeseed oil, unsalted butter and foraging. We had warm Irish lobster with Liscannor crab in almond milk to start and for the rainswept night that was in it, a comforting sirloin of Hereford prime beef, spinach, girolles and bacon jam - an unusual but interesting, accompaniment.
There should be a defibrillator on standby for the desserts! My mint parfait with Manjari chocolate mousse, Normandy sable and mango-lime sorbet set the heart racing, as did the fascinating Valrhona chocolate sphere, meadowsweet foam and raspberry ice-cream. Our server then poured the chocolate sauce to melt the sphere and reveal the goodies within. We also noticed some of our rugby warriors enjoying their last supper with loved ones before heading to the World Cup. There is a terrace overlooking the rear gardens which would be wonderful in summer.
Details: B&B at Powerscourt Hotel starts from €220 per room, midweek. To book, visit powerscourthotel.com.