There are few places that have such a warm place in our hearts as the Kingdom of Kerry, although a fair trek from Dublin City, as we found out last weekend, it is more than worth the scenic drive down south.
Our destination was the picture perfect town of Kenmare, a tourist’s paradise, with authentic old world bars dotted on every corner and plenty of Kerry charm, seen by many as one of the most beautiful towns in the Ring of Kerry.
Kenmare is one of those places that makes you proud to be a tourist in your own country, breathtaking scenery and unspoilt countryside make it a haven for thousands of tourists at home and abroad every year.
Kerry isn’t renowned for its sunny climates but it is for the odd shower or ten, we were fortunate enough that when we arrived to the stunning location that is home to two of Ireland’s best loved hoteliers, brothers Francis and John Brennan’s iconic Park Kenmare Hotel that the sun was peeking out drying up the last of the Kerry rain.
The Park is quite an institution in these parts, originally built in 1897 it has evolved to one of the most luxurious destinations on this Isle with a huge influx of North American regulars visiting year on year, some generation after generation.
So what makes the Park Kenmare so unique that others in the industry look to Francis and John as industry leaders in hospitality? Well put simply it’s the sense of home you get when you walk though the impressive doors.
We arrived after a fun evening, spent 10 minutes away in one of their sister properties, Dromquinna Manor, after first ever camping experience. This is however no ordinary camping, this is five star glamping. We had the pleasure of staying in one of their new “Hideaway” secluded tents designed for a romantic, destressing getaways. Think plush king size beds, picnic hampers of wine and chocolates on arrival, with your own private veranda overlooking the mist clad mountains and tranquility of Kenmare Bay.
This was hands down one of the most unique experiences we have encountered and the “Hideaway” really does feel as though you could be on your own desert island, except you’re stranded with luxury goods to survive on rather than resorting to Bear Grylls tactics.
You could say we spent the weekend of two very different five star stays. The “Hideaway, which will be one of only three exclusive tents on the property by May, is designed for someone who wants to unplug, unwind and reconnect but in an extremely comfortable setting and at €450 a night what you will receive is five star treatment from the minute you check in, a fun experience and if you’re like us, a very different opinion on “camping”
So when we arrived to the Park the following day it had a lot to live up to. Kerry is know for its welcome and the Park is known for a welcome that will sweep you off your feet, everyone in the hotel is very hands on, friendly and beyond helpful.
Set on an impressive estate nearly every room is well appointed to sweeping views over the rugged landscape. We stayed in a corner suite which had 180 degree views of the entire estate, a tempting glimpse of their award winning SÁMAS Spa and most importantly their breath-taking Outdoor Heated infinity Pool which overlooks Kenmare Bay.
Although the hotel is steeped in tradition and timeless elegance, with some of the most beautiful paintings and antiques that the brothers have accumulated over the years, every mod con is catered for from decent wifi (not easy in these parts), flat screen tv to 24 hour dining – how dangerous could that be !
The suites are designed open plan with a huge lounge, to allow guest to fully immerse themselves in the Park experience, these are the type of rooms that are hard to leave when you want to explore.
As we finished up our complimentary cheese and port, a lovely gesture for a weary traveller and another timeless touch from General Manager Patrick Hanley, who is a Kenmare man himself, we decided to check out what else the property had to enjoy.
You can sample some old movies in the private cinema, enjoy a wee dram in their impressively stocked whiskey bar, indulge in a decadent Afternoon Tea or like us you can get on the fluffy robes and take the short stroll to the Samas Spa. We had arrived a little later than expected due us taking the scenic route around the winding roads of the Ring of Kerry so we hadn’t enough time for treatments but we did have plenty of time to indulge in their exquisite Thermal Suite.
Like many Five Star destinations, relaxation is at the heart of everything – after enjoying the Sauna, Aroma Steam Rooms, Ice Fountain, Tropical Rain Showers and breath-taking views from the Outdoor Heated Infinity Pool we could easily see why the Park has such a special place in people’s hearts.
Feeling invigorated we had booked into the Park’s fine dining restaurant for the evening, we had heard so many great things about Executive Chef James Coffey creations and loved the fact that a seven course tasting menu is served exclusively here, which incidentally changes every night should you be lucky enough to stay for a longer stint.
It is without doubt an opulent dining space, silver service all the way and more cloches in one room than we have ever seen. Each table is perfectly appointed so all are afforded unrivalled views from the picturesque backdrop, seating is perfectly plush and staff are attentive in a way only Kerry folk can get away with, charming yet not over familiar.
Restaurant manager Louise Lyne runs a tight ship and was kept fairly busy on the evening, never once failing to raise a smile and recount some local stories for the many overseas diners who appeared to all have some Irish connection however distant.
The team at the Park are extremely supportive of their local producers and are quite fortunate they have so much top class Irish produce on their doorstep.
After a quick read of the menu we decided to forgo the wine pairings and instead place our hands in sommelier Lukas Rudzinski, who guided us toward quite an unusual find, a rich, concentrated bottle of 2009 O’Dwyer, Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, not cheap at €110 but when only 5,000 bottles are produced of this limited release vintage and each one is uniquely labelled you know you are onto something special. It is worth noting that you can enjoy a very fine bottle or two from €49 upwards should you wish to show a bit more restraint than us.
The wine list reads like a fairytale and any wine lover will be giddy with excitement when you see some of the eclectic wines on offer, it’s no secret we have a slight preference for Californian Wines and it’s no surprise The Park has one of the best lists of American wines in Ireland given the numbers of US visitors that pass through its doors.
Our first course was a velvety Wild Mushroom Velouté, laced delicately with some local truffle and bacon, a positive introduction to what Coffey had instore for us.
Next up was a striking Gin Cured Salmon, (Dingle Gin of course) eloquently plated with shards of beetroot tuile, tiny segments of orange and raindrop dollops of beetroot puree. Every element on this plate was locally sourced and “Kerry made”, something Coffey deserves to be commended for as many state this but fail to back it up.
This was followed by a perfectly crisped Hake fillet served with bulgar wheat, minuscule brown shrimp, burnt cauliflower, capers and raisins. With a seven course menu dishes need to be well balanced and light textured and this managed both.
Foie Gras is always a divisive dish, but we are unashamed fans and Coffey decided to serve with tiny chunks of duck laced within and a simple spiced apple puree, perfect consistency and melt in the mouth texture made this a dish that could turn even the most ethical of haters.
If there is one thing Kerry is famed for it’s the quality of its lamb, must be all the rain, either way our Organic Kerry Lamb was the stand out dish of the night. Served medium to rare, a lean as can be loin had pride of place among a slow braised shoulder, quenelles of heritage carrot and immune boosting sea buckthorn. Bonus points for also being a dream pairing for the Cab Sauv.
Our pre dessert of Strawberry Sorbet, little blobs of sweet strawberry puree and wafer like fragments of meringue was literally the end of summer on a plate.
After six accomplished courses we finished the evening on a delicious note of cherry heaven, Macerated Cherries, cherry sorbet and pillowy nuggets of pistachio sponge made a fitting end to a wonderful dining experience.
We just about had enough room to slink into the whiskey bar and have barman extraordinaire Brian O’Connor talk us through the varied whiskeys, scotch and bourbons stocked at The Park. Settling on an 18yo Redbreast as our nightcap of choice, we enjoyed one of the best sleeps of 2017.
Breakfast at The Park is equally as impressive, unlike many hotels you won’t find any buffets hidden anywhere here. Breakfast is made to order, fresh, personal and utterly delicious and given we had a four and a half hour drive ahead we thoroughly enjoyed every morsel.
This was our first stay at The Park and we had heard many anecdotes from friends that leaving here we would be leaving a tiny piece of heart. The beauty of Kerry is reason enough to fall in love with this place but the personal touch that is felt through every aspect of this hotel really does make it feel like a home from home.
Overnight B&B with Dinner for Two starts from €250pp.
Park Hotel Kenmare
T: +353 64 664 1200
Keith & Jules Mahon are the founders of TheTaste. We want TheTaste to be a culinary kaleidoscope to champion every taste, food, wine, cocktails, whiskey, etc. We are delighted to be part of such a creative and fast moving industry and are very passionate about sharing with you our unique journey around Ireland finding the best culinary hotspots.