The second in our series of Olympic Escapes sees us staying slightly closer to home, a mere short trip across the Irish Sea…
But an hour’s flight from London, the Emerald Isle is undoubtedly a place of stunning scenery, wonderful people, great food and drink and a lot of fun. Forgoing the tourist scene of Dublin, I recently headed to the South West for my first trip to the country, what turned out to be an incredibly relaxing getaway in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
After a short flight with Aer Lingus
from Heathrow, I arrived at Shannon airport in grey drizzle to collect my hire car. My target location was around a two and a half hour drive south from Shannon, and the dual carriageways quickly gave way to winding country roads through green pastures which in turn developed into twisting turns through mountains and lakes. A spectacular drive, the journey takes you through Killarney National Park
, a favourite tourist destination since the 17th century. Killarney
town itself is the gateway to the park, blending quaint tradition and cobbled streets with independent craft shops, galleries, traditional pubs, fine restaurants and plenty of accommodation. Killarney National Park is ripe with glorious scenery and famous lakes and rich in historical and archaeological sites. Castles and monastery ruins are begging to be explored, while the dramatic McGillycuddy’s Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountain range, are sure to tempt keen climbers and hikers.
Alas, onwards my journey continued, further south west still from Killarney, continuing along winding roads until I reached my destination of Kenmare
, and the stunningly majestic Sheen Falls Lodge
. Situated within a 300 acre estate on the edge on Kenmare, overlooking the breathtakingly beautiful Kenmare Bay, Sheen Falls Lodge is one of the finest 5 start hotels in Ireland. Upon arrival my car was parked and my bags whisked upstairs to my Signature Suite; with a bathroom bigger than most London apartments, a cosy sofa corner and state of the art Bang & Olufsen TV (which, incidentally, I couldn’t figure out how to get the DVDs into…), the room’s balcony offered arguably the best view of the hotel – to the right, metres from the window lay the magnificently majestic Sheen Falls, and to the left rolling views of Kenmare Bay and the hills and mountains beyond. I have to admit, I even found myself getting out of bed at 6am purely to go outside and photograph the incredible views at sunrise.
Sheen Falls Lodge’s facilities and activities are second to none, which is why it’s on my list of must visit escapes; whether you’re after a romantic retreat, an activity packed weekend or a family break there’s something on offer. The hotel boasts its own health club with indoor heated swimming pool, spa bath, sauna and steam room, as well as a gym and indulgent treatment menu of facials, massages, body treatment and beauty touch ups. I pampered myself with an afternoon of rotating between all of the above, book in hand, before pampering myself with a blissful massage. Heaven.
For those more inclined to spend their days out and about in the fresh air, the hotel offers on site salmon fishing in the Sheen River, falconry, afternoons of clay pigeon shooting, canoe trips, walking tours, golf, tennis and even horse riding. The on-site stables were closed for renovation when I visited, however I was directed to the local Eclipse riding stables (www.eclipseireland.com
- about a fifteen minute drive from Kenmare) where for a mere €30 my friend and I had an hour’s horse trek through the beautiful countryside. Only my third ever time on a horse, I was thoroughly impressed by the extremely helpful and friendly staff, and even more impressed that I managed to perfect a rising trot! We also enjoyed a bike ride along the river – bikes are available for guests to borrow free of charge.
The whole are of the South West of Ireland is a haven of greenery and offers a wealth of things to do. Cork
is easily reached (it even has a Butter Museum! Who knew?), and it’s highly recommended to take a drive around the glorious Ring of Kerry or the Ring of Beara; one of the area’s best kept secrets, This is the South West of Ireland in its wild and untamed natural state.
The food at Sheen Falls is, put simply, divine. My first evening I dined at the in-house La Cascade Restaurant; an elegant, classical dining room with two AA Rosettes for its distinctive style and creative menus. Panoramic windows overlook the river, so guests can soak up the views whilst being serenaded by the pianist subtly tinkling the ivories of the white grand piano. The seasonal menu reflects the best in fresh local produce such as fresh seafood from nearby Castletownbere, local cheese and organic vegetables from local suppliers. Examples of the mouth-watering dishes created by head chef Heiko Reibandt and his team include glazed sweetbread with apple lemon thyme chutney and pan-fried Foie Gras, oven-roasted guinea fowl breast with savoy cabbage, sage sautéed gnocchi and cherry sauce, ad fillet of beef with braised beef cheek, pine nut potato mousse, sautéed root vegetables, Chanterelle mushrooms and madeira sauce. I’m salivating at the thought of it all.
After a sumptuous meal, guests can enjoy a relaxing evening in the bar, the library (a homely room stacked with fascinating books, and cosy Chesterfield sofas, crying out to be curled up in) or the study, where one can relax in front of the fire. Here can also be found an additional piano which I simply couldn’t resist; playing to an empty room in front of a roaring fire is my ideal audience! The whole atmosphere of Sheen Falls Lodge is blissful relaxation. Serene, contemplative, relaxing and reviving, it’s the ideal place to escape the hustle and bustle of London, be it for the Olympics or at any other time of year. I imagine it would be beautiful in the autumn.
The town of Kenmare itself is but five minutes from the estate. It’s some lovely restaurants; on our second night we visited The Wild Garlic
, a family-run restaurant with exceptional food, an ambient atmosphere and wonderful staff, before enjoying a pint of Guinness in one of the town’s many pubs (had to be done!). It’s also full of quaint little shops – we stumbled across a dusty second hand shop packed to the rafters, from the depths of which my friend rescued a chintz-covered china Cavalier King Charles Spaniel which has since been named Gerry Kennedy (yes, after Gerard Butler’s character in PS I Love You…) and has pride of place on our mantelpiece. Best holiday buy ever…
For more information on Sheen Falls Lodge please visitwww.sheenfallslodge.ie
We flew to Shannon with Aer Lingus, taking just over an hour. They operate daily flights from London Heathrow to Shannon and Cork, as well as London Gatwick to Cork. For more information visit www.aerlingus.com
For more information on planning your trip to Ireland visit www.discoverireland.com