Ireland's top five-stars are ramping up the refurbs, says our Travel Journalist of the Year
Once again, the Glenlo Abbey is Galway's girl.
After a €2 million refurbishment of its main house and bedrooms, the five-star's upgrade is complete. Its 18th-century abbey has underfloor heating (winter brides, you heard it here first!); the Pullman Restaurant, set in carriages from the original Orient Express, has been restored.
Plush rooms include woven Axminster carpets and "a colour palette of muted gold tones and subtle duck egg blues" throughout.
2009, this ain't.
Back then, I remember travelling the country with a mix of sympathy for hotels forced to fight off zombie competitors, and shock at how much maintenance - never mind improvements - had been allowed to slip. The luxury hotel business is an unforgiving one, with upgrades central to guests' expectations. They pay for the best and vote with their feet.
When the Tollman family's Red Carnation collection acquired the struggling Ashford Castle, for instance, its $75 million investment included a refurbishment of every room, a replacement of every window and a new cinema and spa. This year, peak season room rates start from €495 a night.
Meanwhile, in Kildare, the five-star K Club has doubled its accommodation to 140 rooms with the addition of its new Liffey Wing. The €20 million investment also sees a new conference room, bar, Thai restaurant and handmade Connemara carpets for public areas. It has survived the recession to celebrate its 25th birthday next year.
With Ireland set for record visitor numbers this year, luxury hotels have to move just to stand still.
The days of doing five-stars on the cheap are over, though you can certainly do things cheaper if you stay midweek. Glenlo Abbey (glenloabbeyhotel.ie) is offering a complimentary third night when you book two consecutive nights midweek this autumn or winter, for example. The K Club also has a nifty 'Five-Star Friday' offer including B&B, dinner and a bottle of house wine on Fridays from €370 per room (ie. €175pp). Not bad for a Ryder Cup resort in what's shaping up to be Ireland's busiest ever year for tourism.
Looking for a top-end treat? The K Club's current offers (kclub.ie) include an 'Ultimate Spa Indulgence' package featuring two nights' B&B, a four-course dinner, full access to the health and fitness facilities, a 25-minute Rasul (Arabic mud bath) and two 55-minute spa treatments from €395pp. Golfers can play a round on both courses instead of the spa treatments. The Glenlo Abbey has gourmet weekend packages with two nights' B&B, a food tour of the Galway markets and a five-course dinner in the Pullman Restaurant from €255pp in October.
NB: All prices subject to change/availability.