The Heritage Golf & Spa Resort, Co Laois
Could anyone fall in love with the Heritage at first sight? Sprawling around the village of Killenard, this uninspiring hotel is surrounded by a spa, clubhouse, restaurant and pub on a campus conspicuously lacking the heritage of its title, or the polished design of other Celtic Tiger resorts like Fota Island or the Ritz-Carlton.
I'm blown away by the greeting, however. A smiling concierge opens our doors, the car is valet-parked without fuss or charge, and we're ushered in to the hotel's finest space -- an atrium stretching three storeys high and awash with natural light. There, we're attended to by receptionists who care who they are checking in (later on, one of them even phones to tell us she's on call over the weekend should we need anything).
We felt special, in other words -- exactly as you should do at a five-star hotel.
We're upgraded to the Emo Suite, a palatial series of rooms overlooking the golf course and Slieve Blooms. It's a penthouse I'm only too happy to experience, but could never afford.
The decor is a grab-bag of classical extravagance, with sumptuous, tasselled curtains and gilded frames rounding off a room furnished with antique cabinets, a writing desk and a king-size four-poster. A kitschy gas fire and plastic showerhead don't quite fit -- but the mix of faux and authentic appears to be a theme throughout the hotel (in the atrium, you'll find plastic plants and imitation urns set alongside the fine marble staircase and mahogany furniture). All in all, it's a very comfortable space. The following morning, I asked for a look at some of the deluxe and superior rooms, and was pleasantly surprised to find them understated and elegant, occupying the smaller spaces very well.
The pamper factor
My wife, Lynnea, had a full body massage (€85) at the spa, and she raved about it. There's a menu of more than 70 treatments in rooms set among features such as a sauna, mud chamber and 'experience' showers (ice rain, soft tropical rain), but her masseuse was worth travelling for, she says.
Meanwhile, Rosa -- our four-year-old -- and I put the pool to the test. I loved the complimentary 'wet-kit bags', and despite being put out by the amount of signage (permanent and temporary) alerting us to slippery floors, we enjoyed our swims hugely. Rosa's tip? Ask at the office, and they'll switch on the bubbles. I'm happy to report too, that the top-notch service kept on coming. In the bar, when I asked for a serviette to wipe Rosa's face, the waitress offered to dampen it. Oscar, the restaurant manager, arranged gluten-free cookies for my wife. We got a tour of the campus by golf buggy, a fridge we ordered to our room arrived promptly, and Rosa's name appeared, to her delight, on her bedtime biscuits.
There's no shortage of food options at the Heritage, from a bar menu that includes 'halfway house' items for those wanting more than a scone but less than a steak, to fine dining at the Arlington. Guests can even order takeaway from the Italian restaurant and steakhouse, Sol Orien's, to their rooms.
We ate at the latter, calling in advance to flag Lynnea's coeliac diet, and great lengths were gone to in providing for that -- down to a special sauce for her 10oz fillet steak (€26). I ordered penne with chorizo, goat's cheese, coriander and chillies (€14). We felt it all to be good value for the price.
The Heritage boasts an impressive, Seve Ballesteros-designed parkland golf course, and there's also a driving range, a par 3 course, and a unique golf school with an indoor putting green and cameras. The clue to this resort is in the title -- it's tailor-made for a golf and spa break.
If you're not a golfer, you can go for a stroll or jog along the hotel's four-mile walking track, which is floodlit and overlooks the course. There's also croquet, bowls, a huge indoor arena (which doubles up as children's activity centre), a small cinema and a well-stocked basement playroom.
The Heritage went into receivership this June. It is not the first Celtic Tiger hotel to do so, and I'm assured that business will continue as usual. But no matter how you cast it, receivership ain't good optics. I should also mention the underground tunnel connecting the hotel to the leisure centre and spa. Although a smart concept, in practice this is a long, concrete passageway that -- despite the presence of several plants -- feels echoey and dank. The paint around some of the air vents was a little grotty too.
Without doubt, the best memory we've taken from the Heritage Resort is its service.
The Heritage has a Weekend Pamper or Golf Break, including one night's B&B in a deluxe room, dinner and a choice of spa treatments or a round of golf at €210pp. Midweek, there is a special offer of two nights' B&B, one dinner and a spa experience or round of golf at €199pp.
The Heritage Golf & Spa Resort, Killenard, Co Laois. 057 864-5500; theheritage.com.