As we turn off the main road in the village of Kenmare onto a drive leading gently uphill between rows of stately trees, Park Hotel Kenmare slowly reveals itself — a tranquil stone manor house covered with climbing vines and leaves just beginning to turn golden and rusty in the crisp fall air. The sense of genteel graciousness builds in the entrance lobby, where cheerful members of the staff greet me and my husband, James.
Most of the 5-star hotel’s lower level has sprawling rooms and halls that offer serene views of the rear grounds. Our generously sized suite is filled with antiques handpicked by proprietors Francis and John Brennan. The bedroom boasts quite possibly the largest carved, wooden wardrobe I’ve ever seen, and a separate sitting room offers a deep, comfortable sofa and matching chairs. On the stair landing leading to this suite — one of 46 accommodation choices — large, hanging portraits and a suit of medieval armor have both of us imagining that we’re at one of those country house weekends that were regular features in practically everything ever penned by P.G. Wodehouse, and that someone’s aunt might show up at any moment to see if we’d like to join the rest of the guests for a rousing game of croquet on the lawn.
Timing being everything, we’ve instead managed to arrive at the cocktail hour. We’re shown to a stone-flagged terrace overlooking a path that leads into the forested grounds behind the house. My husband, a connoisseur of martinis, has heard the praises of barman John Moriarty sung by friends in the U.K. and at home in the States, who claim that John’s prowess with a martini shaker is unparalleled. James puts him to the test and is not disappointed.
The following afternoon, it’s time for treatments at the 10,500-square-foot SÁMAS spa, named for an ancient Gaelic word meaning “to indulge the senses.” The space takes me completely by surprise — the elegant minimalism is in direct contrast to the design of the traditional, 1897 main house, but the length of glassed walkway connecting the two spaces makes the transition seamless. Arriving at stairs leading to the peaceful reception area and spa café, I climb upward to the accompaniment of soothing music from the water wall that borders the stairs.
The spa is limited to hotel guests, and appointment times are staggered so the chances of one guest’s visit being impacted by another’s are slim — a brilliant idea. My three-hour treatment, the SÁMAS Experience, begins with an hour spent in the women’s thermal suite (identical to the men’s), with a large dry sauna, themed jet shower area and a fragrant steam chamber. Though the thermal suites are separate, they open into the shared outdoor infinity pool, outfitted with a selection of massage jets. A deck on each side looks out over the resort’s Lost Garden.
My deep-tissue massage is relaxing and pleasant but a bit dissatisfying. Though I ask my therapist several times to use firmer pressure, she doesn’t seem to take me seriously. The result is more along the lines of a traditional Swedish session: very nice, but not at all what my shoulders and lower back were craving. Afterwards, I spend the third hour of my therapy in the women’s relaxation lounge, a glassed-in space that capitalizes on the views of the tangled, mossy woodland beyond. A platter of fruit and nuts is delivered, and I’m covered with a warm wrap and left to relax as the late afternoon slips toward dusk.
The spa also features ESPA treatments, a full menu of facials, body wraps, hot stone therapies, manicures, pedicures and body polishes — with some choices designed specifically for men — and a range of pre- and post-natal rituals for mothers-to-be. Movement offerings include tai chi, yoga and a nicely equipped fitness studio with a selection of cardio and strength-training equipment. Treatment rooms were constructed to meet recording room standards in order to ensure an atmosphere of quiet and serenity. They also feature private shower gardens for wet treatments that allow guests to rinse without having to leave the room. Multi-day getaways for men, women and couples, billed as “LifeStyle ProgrAmmes,” combine spa treatments with outdoor activities ranging from horseback riding, hiking and golf to boating, game fishing and guided heritage walks.
Before breakfast the next morning, there’s time for a long walk and ample landscape to explore. Adjoining the hotel grounds, the 18-hole, par-71 Kenmare Golf Club’s parkland course is still glistening with dew but already busy. The hotel’s private grounds encompass 12 acres of winding pathways and thoughtfully arranged resting spots with benches and views, and a collection of trees from all corners of the world. Overlooking sparkling Kenmare Bay and the Hills of Beara Peninsula, the property borders on national forest land offering additional walking trails and bridle paths.
We walk through the picturesque town center — twice granted Ireland’s prestigious “Tidiest Town” award — and peer into shop windows. The Kenmare Lace and Design Centre is here, where the famous handmade Kenmare lace is still an ongoing enterprise. We walk a few more blocks and find the ancient Druid stone circle in a small meadow just off the town’s center. The circle is composed of 15 enormous boulders, 13 of which stand upright, with two resting on their sides and one stone in the center. Estimated to have been assembled between 2000 and 1000 B.C., its purpose is anyone’s guess, though the orientation toward the sun has caused scholars to speculate that the stones were part of a calendar system or were deliberately positioned to be part of a spiritual practice.
After dinner, we watch a film in the hotel’s Reel Room, an intimate space with 12 plush seats and a big screen. Later we head upstairs to bed, and I throw open the windows to let in the night air. I was told that the name Kenmare comes from the Irish word neidin, which translates to “little nest,” and as I drift away to the lovely strains of the dinner pianist playing on the main floor, I reflect that the association is absolutely perfect.
Park Hotel Kenmare
County Kerry, Ireland
tel 353 64 664 1200
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I had just taken off my sandals, stepping onto the white-sand beach for a late-morning walk to a secluded spot I heard about from a front desk clerk, when I glanced down and saw the time on my phone. It had just turned 11 a.m., which meant it was only 7 am back home, the perfect time to call and say good morning to by husband before he left for work. Not quite ready to head back to my room, I decided I’d test the WiFi signal and made the call as I continued walking toward the shoreline.
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