Weekend away: Castlemartyr resort Co Cork
I am no longer, after a motoring crisis of confidence in Spain a long time ago, the primary family driver. I generally sit in the passenger seat fiddling with the radio and giving out about Joe Duffy.
But for the second half of our journey to east Cork from Bray, via Waterford, I was allowed to take the wheel.
And I did fine until it got dark, rainy and miserable and I missed the turn-off for the new Waterford Bridge (already nicknamed the Cat Flap). This meant we had to detour through rush-hour traffic and, at this point, the mood in the car turned sullen.
"This place better be good," a 13-year-old opined from the back. The pressure was on.
I don't like being fussed over. It never happens at home and it unnerves me. I like to carry my own bags, but George, the doorman, had the sort of authentic Cork charm that made me feel as though I'd just become re-acquainted with an old friend, and any refusal to part with our luggage would have been bad manners.
So I did and I was glad, because the room was a generous four-minute stroll from reception and I didn't want to get lost a second time.
"The room better be good," a 13-year-old opined. More pressure.
Your room, sir
The room was impressive and the décor on the right side of fussy: nice soft furnishings, fine linens and a grand chandelier that must be a bit peeved to be permanently residing in a bathroom.
Spacious too, with a giant flat-screen dominating one wall, a couch for vegetating on and a desk for those who are silly enough to work when they're away for the weekend.
Oh, and there's a second loo, which is a necessity when you are travelling with two self-obsessed females, one of whom is desperate to look younger and the other determined to look older.
The master bed was, well, masterful and a 13-year-old opined that her bed better be good too. It was. Pressure off.
We spent the Saturday morning getting our bearings. But first we over-indulged at breakfast. That's allowed. The 13-year went continental ("it is good"); Herself purred over the eggs Benedict and my salmon omelette was damn fine.
The waiters were attentive, but not over-bearing. If the coffee was less wishy-washy, it would have been as close to a perfect breakfast as I've had.
God's fresh air
There are 220 acres of mature landscapes to explore outside and, rather than ramble aimlessly, we took a horse and carriage around the estate. Driven by Rory, it was not only a bracing hour outdoors on a chilly-cum-damp October morning, but also a curious tutorial in local history.
But there are plenty of other ways of raising an appetite. Clay-pigeon shooting, estate treks, fly-fishing, archery and cycling are all on offer. And then, of course, there's golf.
Best of all, though, you can take the resident Irish setters, Earl and Countess, for a brisk constitutional. More likely, they take you.
When the rain comes
If it's wet, and it often is, there is a top-notch, but not inexpensive, spa. I had the full body massage, which lasted 50 minutes, cost €90 and was very thorough. It made me feel good, but that might have been psychological.
The pool is a cheaper way of feeling good and, at 20 metres, it never got close to being crowded when I was there.
In times of yore
Long before it was a hotel and even before it was a Carmelite boarding school, which it was for much of the 20th century, the Castlemartyr estate was the rather swish address of Earl Richard de Clare, known to his mates as Strongbow. Sir Walter Raleigh lived there too and Oliver Cromwell, who happened to be passing one day and cannon-balled the place to bits, as you do.
The house that forms the heart of the current hotel was built by the Boyles and this subsequently became Castlemartyr College. The old dorms were torn down in the '90s and the extravagant Capella Hotel arose from the debris.
It is now owned by the Dromoland group.
Out and about
West Cork gets most of the good press. But east Cork, though very different, has some treasures of its own. Ballymaloe, if your pockets are deep enough, is a must, if only for lunch.
For spectacular views and life-affirming walks, motor to Ballycotton (most famous, probably, for the film Marlon Brando didn't make there).
Further east again is Youghal, a traditional seaside town down on its luck, but worth it for Aherne's Seafood Bar and a beach that doesn't know where to stop.
And the second city
Despite its reputation for producing bolshie sportsmen who don't want to play for their country, and its aptitude for over-estimating itself, Cork is still a terrific city to visit. If you're stopping for a quick bite, I'd recommend Boqueria tapas bar on Bridge Street, and the Long Valley on Winthrop Street for a truly unique drinking experience.
Only a 40-minute motor from Castlemartyr, you can detour to catch Fota Wildlife Park and Midleton (terrific weekend food markets) on the way back. Buses serve Castlemartyr village from the city centre every hour.
I had a starter to die for: pork belly and black pudding in a pastry parcel.
Most memorable of all, though, was Gunter, our waiter, who was not only a true professional but a bit of a philosopher as well. He even gave me his specs to read the wine list.
A weekend for two, with breakfast and one dinner, costs €224pps.
I'm being picky, but it can be a trek from your room to reception, bar and restaurants. And it would be sensible too if light meals could be ordered from the bar. They'll do something if you ask, but a bar menu would be great.
We trekked in the dark (mostly) across to the golf clubhouse on the Sunday night for just that. On a summer's night that makes sense, but not in bleak mid-winter.
Castlemartyr Resort, Castlemartyr, Co Cork. Tel: 021 421 9000; castlemartyrresort.ie.