This beloved four-star has always been a feeling more than a formula. But how is it faring under a new owner?
If there was a Hall of Fame for Irish hotels, Harvey’s Point would be one of its first inductees.
Since it opened just over 30 years ago, the Donegal darling has grown organically into one of the best-loved stays in the land — a mix of genuine hospitality and well-oiled machine that has kept a generation of guests coming back for more.
Think of those gigantic rooms, the views over Lough Eske, the Christmas stays and cabaret nights, or the pitch-perfect judgement of Deirdre McGlone and irresistible welcome of ambassador Noel Cunningham. Harvey’s has always been more of a feeling than a formula — “a real hotel run by real people”, as one of the taglines has it.
Now, a new chapter has begun. Deirdre and her husband Marc Gysling sold the hotel in 2019, leaving many to wonder whether Harvey’s would be the same. Two years later, a room refurb is underway, adding 17 new ‘Balcony Rooms’.
I thought it was time to check back in.
The rating: 8.5/10
It feels like Harvey’s has been here forever, but 1989 is the date on the entrance pillars. Easing in after a long drive, there’s a soft oomph of silence as I knock off the engine between the Bluestacks and Lough Eske.
“A little piece of Switzerland hidden away in the hills of Donegal”, was Jody Gysling’s take when he first bought the old Harvey brothers’ cottage here in the 1980s. It still feels that way.
You needn’t worry about the welcome. I miss Deirdre, of course (what hotel wouldn’t), but one of the staff greeting me is her sister, Eilís. I’d asked about local walks beforehand, and find a brochure waiting, along with handwritten notes. My case is taken, I’m walked to my room, and there’s a phone call soon after to make sure I’ve settled.
That’s a five-star welcome in a four-star establishment, and the little touches keep adding up — from fresh milk and cookies in my room to chats at dinner, free activities like midweek wine tastings and cookery demos, and water and fruit offered to guests as they depart. The best hotels don’t just meet expectations. They exceed them. 9/10
The new owner is Thomas Röggla, an Austrian investor listing Aghadoe Heights, Farnham Estate and Mount Wolseley among his TMR hotel collection. As well as the room refurb, a new corridor links lobby and lakeshore suites, and the reading room behind reception has been flipped into a residents-style bar with baby grand, banquette seats and glorious views. The wine, whiskey and cocktails here are “all premium”, GM Niall Coffey tells me.
The upgrades follow the revamp of bar and terrace a few years ago, which blended a classy octagonal bar and mosaic tiles with the turf fires and serenading musicians. But Harvey’s may have work to do in wooing younger visitors. The bars, subtle tartan carpets and contemporary-styled balcony rooms work well, but there’s no pool or spa, and while loyal guests love the Sunday buffets, jacuzzi baths and Tommy Fleming or Phil Coulter packages, others may find such hallmarks cheesy.
But Harvey’s ain’t broken, so they should be careful what they fix. Regulars love it, Christmas sold out, and despite both Covid and the change of ownership, most senior staff have stayed on. It’s a superb business. 8/10
You’d forgive first-timers for thinking they’ve been upgraded. The rooms really are that big — with standard rooms a whopping 75m2. These are being refurbed, but the big news is the addition of 17 new ‘Balcony Rooms’, with private balconies overlooking lake or mountains.
Repeat visitors be warned — these are half the size of executive rooms at 35m2. But they do have king-size beds, great rain showers, double sinks, seamless Wi-Fi and touches like retro-style bluetooth radios, fresh milk in the mini-bar and a pair of armchairs turned towards the window. When I open the curtains in the morning, there’s a beautiful, orange sunrise breaking over the lake.
Muted grey and burgundy tones feel understated and modern, if a little generic, to me. I also note that they still use mini-toiletries, and checkout is 11.30am. 8/10
Beg, borrow or steal for one of the tables by the picture windows overlooking Lough Eske — particularly for the morning light at breakfast. The big restaurant, bar and terrace are the heart of the hotel, with an open kitchen surrounded by buffet display areas and a breakfast omelette station.
In the evening, an old-school bound menu reveals the choices on a four-course dinner (€59pp), interspersed with breads, amuse bouche and sorbets. A starter of perfectly cooked scallops with roast cauliflower and hazelnut dukkah brings a lovely spread of textures; a recommended glass of Saint Clair Sauvignon from New Zealand is deliciously crisp; and I order a sea trout fillet with samphire and celeriac puree from a wintry list of mains that also includes venison, guinea fowl and boxty.
I’m not a dessert person, but the waitress knows the menu well, and tips ‘Lemon Curd’ as a light, “deconstructed” lemon meringue. It looks pretty, and goes down a treat. 7/10
Midweek stays bring a bonus — free cookery demos and wine tastings on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a guided walk with Noel Cunningham on Wednesdays.
A new walking trail will be added to the grounds in 2022. The hotel’s walking guide also maps four local trails, from 1.5km to 14km, around Lough Eske and the Bluestacks.
If your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room, Harvey’s should be a happy bunny. Like Kelly’s, Parknasilla or the Park Kenmare, mere mention of it gives guests a glow. My stay was short, but standards haven’t slipped since its sale, upgrades are thoughtful, and early 2022 bookings are strong. It’s not the hippest hotel on the block, but so what? Ireland is lucky to have it.
Two nights’ B&B with one dinner starts from €258/€318pp (midweek/weekend) in a Balcony Room. Pól was a guest of the hotel. harveyspoint.com