Niamh Mac Sweeney retreats to the garden of Ireland to sample the finest things in life at the Powerscourt Hotel Resort and Spa.
As we drive into Powercourt Estate, through the tree-lined avenue, we look knowingly at each other – opulent extravagance and luxury awaits, and we are primed for the indulgence.
Powerscourt is a national treasure, steeped in history, heritage and undisputed beauty, and the clever construction of Powerscourt Hotel Resort and Spa is both striking and seamless. Surprisingly – given its size – it fits perfectly in around the woodlands. Cocooned in a row of mature beech trees, it is a sculptural masterpiece appearing as if chiselled out of the magnificent landscape. Forests and woodlands, seascapes, and commanding views of the Sugar Loaf Mountain: this hotel is genius.
Entering the lobby one is immediately taken with the opulence. Rich and inviting, bold and romantic, sophisticated yet sassy, it is an inviting space where classic design blends with a contemporary twist, and the smell of fresh turf wafting from two huge fireplaces merely heightens the sense of allure.
The attention to detail at Powerscourt Hotel is inspiring to say the least. Many get it wrong when trying to recreate old-world grandeur. But not here. No, Powerscourt Hotel is in a league of its own. There is an abundance of beauty in this beast, and it is palpable at every turn.
PLUS ÇA CHANGE
When the Ritz Carlton at Powerscourt opened its doors in 2007 it was to much fanfare and razzmatazz. Notwithstanding the architecture of the hotel itself, the mere mention that Gordon Ramsay would be hitting these shores sent salivations down the taste buds of seasoned connoisseurs of fine dining.
I stayed in the hotel in 2010, and I was interested to see if much had changed for the five-star establishment in those intervening five years. In 2013, Brehon Capital Partners and Midwest Holding bought the property. Now, after two years under the management of the formidable David Webster, I was delighted to learn: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Powerscourt Hotel captivates high-end markets. Its allure and prestige is second to none, whether in the business or leisure arena.
“There are a lot of five-star hotels,” Webster says, “but really there are very few spectacular five-star hotels. We occupy that space because we are very service orientated.”
According to Webster: “Everyone says they want to go after the conference and events market – but what does that really mean? It’s very broad. So we looked to see who are our real target markets, what is it they want, and how are we going to deliver and be better than our competitors. Communication with the customer is key, but we have to make sure we can deliver on our promise.”
The sweet taste of the Sugar Loaf lingers long after departing the Garden County
It’s another typical ‘Irish’ summer and during our two-day retreat it rains constantly and consistently. Given the many things to do outside in the estate and surrounding area this is a shame, but we instantly forget about the outdoors on entering our sanctuary for the weekend.
The Mountain View Deluxe room, complete with private terrace and panoramic views of the Sugar Loaf, is the ideal place to retreat from the elements. Beneath us a magical garden stretches around the hotel. Contemporary sculptures are dotted around the circular lawn and a life-size chessboard adds an Alice in Wonderland mystery to the place. All 200 rooms in the hotel face out to the mountains and surrounding woodland.
Everything, including high-speed internet access, air con, lighting and entertainment, are changeable at the touch of a button; a simple tip of the finger and the curtains can be drawn to reveal dramatic alpine views. The separate living room is spacious, the bedroom sumptuous, and the walk-in dressing room gives it that midas touch. The white marble bath, separate rainforest shower, double sinks and a recessed TV in the mirror complete the opulence.
There is a rich yet unpretentious aplomb about Powerscourt Hotel, and the engaging professionals who work across the hotel give it an extra air of confidence. Never is this more evident than when we are wining and dining, where we witness exceptional attention to detail and quality of service.
At Sika Restaurant, head chef Peter Byrne places a strong emphasis on seasonal and locally sourced produce. After much deliberation, I decide to start with the Irish lobster, almond milk, Liscannor crab, peach and cherry tomatoes; while my companion goes for the tuna, yuzu jelly, sesame glaze, avocado purée and dashi dressing – both starters tantalise the taste buds before the main event. Again, we stick with fruits of the sea and go for a fresh and light halibut dish with summer cabbage, cauliflowers and baby potato, and then the roast monkfish with fricassée of broad beans.
After a steady flow of intricate dishes arrives, the experience culminates in a crescendo of colour as two finely crafted deserts are presented. Any doubts we had about having room for sweet treats are quickly dismissed when we see the delicate deserts arriving. Resisting temptation is no longer an option.
Replete, we retire to the Sugar Loaf Lounge for a nightcap. But for those who prefer a more theatrical dining experience, the Chef’s Table located in the heart of the kitchen is the hottest seat in the house.
No stay at Powerscourt Hotel would be complete without some professional pampering. Spread over two floors, the Espa – complete with a treatment area, gym, thermal suite, hammam and serenity relaxation area – is a spa of magnificent proportions. Yet in the pool area, the dark stone and slate are cleverly lit with Swarovski crystals and offers privacy and solitude. My therapist performs a ritualistic massage to release tension, and then it’s back to the minimalist serenity room where once again you are reminded of the amazing landscape, omnipresent even while being totally cocooned inside.
If it’s quality and quantity you’re looking for, you’ll find both in abundance. Although my stay involves nothing more than unadulterated pleasure, I do find the conference and events facilities perfect for all types of corporate and team-building events, days away, workshops and business gatherings.
Any event can be tailored to suit, from an exclusive board meeting to an intimate team-building event to a corporate celebration. The conference facilities have all the hallmarks of a centre where business blends well with pleasure and luxury, and the high-profile list of delegates who visit reads like a who’s who of corporate business – further testament to the expert conference planners at Powerscourt Hotel.
Equally, if planning a special occasion – an evening of fine dining or an exclusive wedding party – the intimacy and personable nature of the hotel, against a stunning backdrop, will certainly make it a day to remember.
THE SHORT GOODBYE
Although it’s with heavy hearts we must depart, given the hotel’s timeless quality and its rich and inviting sophistication, whether we return in one year or five years, nothing will have changed in terms of quality, luxury and service.
As if by magic we are back in Dublin in less than 35 minutes. It’s hard to grasp that you can be so far removed from the city, yet conveniently so near – and yet the sweet taste of the Sugar Loaf lingers long after departing the Garden County.
DON’T LET IT RAIN ON YOUR PARADE
Exploring: Take a bike from the hotel and cycle around, stopping off at Powerscourt House and Gardens or Avoca handcraft shop and garden centre.
Relax: Go fly fishing for rainbow trout in the Dargle River Valley.
Golf: Tee off at one of the two championship courses.
Walk: Take a two-hour wander along the beautiful coastline, or a picnic along the hidden gem that is the river walk.
Spectate: Leopardstown racecourse and the Aviva stadium are close by if it’s true sportsmanship you’re after.