The world is your cloister

Lifestyle | Wed 22 Aug | Author – Business & Finance
Cloister Spa

A seasoned visitor to the Kingdom, Niamh Mac Sweeney decided to go for opulence over adventure at the splendorous Muckross Park Hotel.

I have been holidaying in Kerry for more than 10 years. I will simply never tire of the county’s beauty, its people or its character. I like to think at this stage I’ve seen it all – the Ring of Kerry is well travelled, and the mountain, lake and woodland areas around The Gap of Dunloe are well explored.

I’ve soaked up the magnificent scenery of Slea Head, Valentia and the spectacular Great Blasket Island. I’ve seen playful seals, puffins and gannets, and kept a watchful eye for sightings of golden eagles, whales, basking sharks and, of course, local celebrity Fungi.

I’ve stopped off in Castlegregory on the way to the Maharees, climbed Mount Brandon, walked, cycled and run the Ring of Kerry, swum in the chilly North Atlantic and surfed waves along the spectacular Dingle peninsula. I’ve been entertained in Ballyseedy Castle and stood with crowds on Denny Street in front of the Ashe Memorial Hall singing The Rose of Tralee as the ‘lovely lady’ is crowned at the annual festival.

It really is hard to find fault with Kerry. Activities are  plentiful – and for all types of visitors and tastes. From the great adventurist, to the inquisitive genealogist or laid-back surfer, the Kingdom can’t but impress, and visitors, whatever their disposition, are rarely disappointed.

Thankfully, most of my holidays in Kerry have resulted in an inviting and warm welcome from friends and their families. In the last few years though, I’ve rented a cottage in the small village of Cloghane. The seafront views from The Old Schoolhouse are unmatched, and personal touches and a warm welcome from Nora Keogan make this place a rustic, picture postcard home from home.

Wherever my journeys around the Kingdom take me, or whichever character or piece of scenic beauty I stumble upon, it is always quaint and nostalgic, while at the same time dramatically picturesque and awe-inspiring.

Kerry is possibly the best place in Ireland to enjoy all that is great about this country and our ‘Irishness’. Equally, it is one of the most enjoyable places to soak up the magnitude of what Mother Nature has to offer and it’s got to be one of the easiest places to relax, sit back and take it all in.

The great escape

Unfortunately, this was not the summer of our dreams or a summer for basking in the great outdoors. Without mentioning the dreadful ‘W’ word, it was after yet another wet and soggy ‘Irish’ barbecue that I triumphantly declared, “I’ve had enough!” I needed to go to a place where the only thing wet was the tepid bubbles of a jacuzzi or the sharp notes of a Kir Royale.

It was obvious. Rather than venture outside, it was time to retreat indoors. This ‘Great Escape’ would take me back to familiar, but this time, uncharted territory. Throwing caution to the hurricane wind, I decided adventure could live to tell another tale. It was time for indulgence.

Country retreat

What could be more fitting a sanctuary than the Muckross Park Hotel in Killarney? Nestled in the middle of a national park, this is an ideal haven, and if nothing else, a shelter from the wind and rain.

It’s all about park life at Killarney National Park, and while it offers many delights, it was straight to the Cloisters Spa and thermal suite at the Muckross Park Hotel for me.

Its signature Lomi Lomi massage transported me to the warm waters of the Pacific, while the rose radiance facial renewed much-needed nourishment, and surprisingly enough, additional moisture too. In a vain attempt to keep it ‘real’ on the first night of our country retreat, a feast of local fare and music in Molly Darcy’s traditional Irish pub was just enough to lull us into the easy pace of things.

After a dreamy night’s sleep, the following day – and with picnic in hand – it was off to explore Killarney National Park. A wise and knowledgeable man, with the inside track on interesting local facts and information, Con picked us up from the hotel and took us by jaunting car through the park to Torc Waterfall.

After an extensive tour of Muckross Estate, Con dropped us off at Muckross House where we took a guided tour of the house and gardens.

This 19th-century Victorian mansion has had a colourful history and the house itself has undergone extensive renovation and rejuvenation over the years, perhaps the most significant of which was in preparation for Queen Victoria’s visit in 1861.

Set against the stunning beauty of the park, Muckross House stands out on the shores of Muckross Lake and is yet another example of the dynamism of this beautiful county.

Hydration

Given that we were drenched on the way back from the National Park, it seemed only fair to compensate with another trip to Cloisters Spa for a dip in the hot tub; the one that just so happens to be perfectly positioned for stunning views of the park.

Then it was to Monks Bar for some much needed pre-dinner hydration. The bar’s wood-panelled walls, deep leather couches and low lighting give it a dramatic yet cosy and chic atmosphere. With so many wines, speciality whiskies and a fantastic cocktail list to choose from, it is hard to leave this tranquil enclave.

Fine times

Only the allure of fine dinning in GB Shaw’s restaurant was enough to get us moving. The  playwright stayed at Muckross Park Hotel with his wife Charlotte Payne Townshend in 1923 and was said to have spent many a summer’s evening reading in the gardens.

Pan-seared scallops with confit pork and a delicious, sweet French onion soup were ample starters, followed by fillet of wild turbot and wild mushroom risotto. The crème brûlée, infused with rose petals and accompanied by a Madeira and pistachio biscuit were the perfect finale to a delicious meal and a wonderfully relaxing day.

It’s hard to sum up Kerry a in a few words or to aptly describe its beauty and appeal. Each time you visit the county, you have new experiences, see things from a different perspective and discover interesting facts.

The one certainty is that you will always be assured a good time and a warm welcome in the land, where not only is an inch a mile and a rose a beautiful girl, but where you’re guaranteed a great time hail, rain or shine.

Park Life: Things to do

Whether you want to relax and unwind or get active in the great outdoors, there really is something for everyone in Killarney. Here are some itinerary suggestions:

  • Explore the Gap of Dunloe and lakes of Killarney. Visit Kate Kearney’s Cottage and from there, take a pony and trap, horse ride, cycle or walk through the Gap of Dunloe. Enjoy a picnic at Lord Brandon’s Cottage before being taken by boat down through the three lakes of Killarney. This trip is the best way to explore the Killarney Valley and see the true splendour of the National Park.
  • If you’re looking for a more relaxing day, take a jaunting car to the impressive Torc Waterfall. From there, continue through the Muckross Estate, enjoy a picnic on the lawn and a guided tour of the 19th century Muckross House.
  • For the golfers, enjoy a round at the Irish Open Course 2010/2011 Killeen Golf Course at Killarney Golf and Fishing Club. The picturesque course offers a challenging game for long hitters and spectacular lakeside scenery.
  • Equestrian enthusiasts can enjoy a guided horse riding tour of the National Park.
  • For those who enjoy the water, why not take a kayak trip or boat trip on the lakes?
  • Or those wishing to explore further afield – take a guided trip around the Dingle Peninsula or the Ring of Kerry.

Muckross Park Hotel

Information: Staying there

Splurge: Muckross Park Hotel Killarney combines chic sophistication with old world charm. Indulge in some pampering at the Cloister Spa, sample local food in one of the bars or restaurants while taking in all that the Killarney National Park has to offer – www.muckrosspark.com

Mid-range: There are so many lovely house rentals to choose from, deciding which one is the difficult part. Base your decision on the region in which you would most like to stay. My personal favourite is the Old Schoolhouse in Cloghane; great house and great location – www.cloghaneschoolhouse.com

On a budget: Touring around in a camper van can be great fun for all the family – or an adventure for friends.  www.vanderlust.com can arrange pick ups and drop offs from all major towns, cities or airports.  And if the open road becomes too much, stop off in one of the many B&Bs or guesthouses along your route – www.goireland.com

GB Shaw Restuarant