The Park Hotel Kenmare: One of Ireland’s most beautiful grand dames gets a revamp
Why book the Park Hotel Kenmare?
This is one of the most beautifully located grande dames in Ireland, and it’s just had a beautifully executed revamp. Set in a pretty coastal town in County Kerry, the Park is legendary on the Irish hotel scene – the Brennan brothers who’ve run it for decades are also stars of hit TV series At Your Service, helping to turn around the fortunes of B&Bs and guesthouses across the country. So everyone was keen to see how their own one-million-euro makeover would turn out. The duo tasked this extensive ground-floor refurb to local-born, London-based designer Bryan O’Sullivan who turned heads with his award-winning bar at The Berkeley. And his wonderfully judged Deco-esque stylings have opened a new chapter at the Park.
Set the scene
The hotel has been a well-loved haunt for generations. Now it’s just that bit fresher, younger and smarter, with an added marble-top Champagne bar and cool-blue cocktail bar hung with contemporary sketches by local artist Cormac Boydell. The adjoining lounge has a gentleman’s-club-meets-maximalist-boudoir feel, with mini table lamps, floral-print upholstery and a series of 19th-century satirical cartoons of politicians and sportsmen first published in Vanity Fair (‘the social media of their time’ as head barman and whisky history expert John Moriarty describes them).
The real standout, though, is the new-look dining room where some of the extensive collection of gilt-edged art has been cleverly positioned on white wood-panelled walls, and scallop-edge dusky pink seating and elegantly curved pale-green banquettes reflect the leafy woodland outside the huge windows. There’s also a wrought-iron-framed terrace with Riviera-nautical striped furniture for afternoon rosé on the glorious days when the Irish sun shines. And on a long midsummer evening, there’s nothing better than to sit in the honeyed light of the lounge as an impromptu sing-song starts up around the grand piano.
What’s the story?
Opened in 1897, this was originally an overnight stop for people arriving by train from Dublin or London who were going on to stay in country-house hotel Parknasilla, just along the bay, to escape the threat of TB in the cities. It was also part of the Great Southern Hotel chain until the late 1970s until the individual properties were sold off and it ended up in the hands of Dutchman Ernst Weeland. The Brennans (John and Francis) took over some years later and transformed it into one of the leading hotels in Ireland. Now subtly mixed in with the new bespoke furniture and custom-made light fittings are objects that tell snippets of the social history of country Kerry: polished brass measures that were used by tariff collectors; marquetry tables from 19th-century country pile Muckross House.
What can we expect from our room?
The floorboards along the upstairs corridors creak – but that’s part of the charm. Walk past a suit of armour and a china tea set on the first-floor landing to reach bedrooms with dark wooden furniture (huge armoires mean there’s no fear of running out of hanging space), sinkably thick carpets and old-school monogrammed bed throws. The tea service is concealed in a mini wooden cabinet – seek out the Curly Wurlys and Barry’s Tea – while organic brand Bamford is a new addition in the marble-clad bathrooms.
How about the food and drink?
Taittinger Nocturne is the pre-supper tipple to order at the Champagne Bar, rounded off with a Micil Poitín Sour nightcap in the cocktail bar (spiked with traditional poitín distilled in Galway). Head chef James Coffey serves up excellent food in the light and bright restaurant, with provenance as key. Ingredients sourced from local suppliers, fishermen, farmers and the kitchen garden go into dishes such as caramelised-onion brioche with seaweed butter, Dingle crab with dill, apple and radish, and wild turbot with shrimp from Kenmare Bay. It’s highly likely you’ll still be full at breakfast, but grit your teeth and order the smoked Goatsbridge trout with sauteéd potatoes anyway, maybe even followed by a mini scone from the bread basket. Commendably in an age of over-fishing, Coffey does not put salmon (smoked, wild or farmed) on his menus.
Anything to say about the service?
The brilliant staff are really what make the Park the special place that it is. Under the lead of general manager TJ Mulcahy, they are to a man and woman warm, engaging and switched on in the most unassuming way.
What’s the neighbourhood scene like?
The pretty town of Kenmare has lots of independent shops and galleries (Nest for quirky homeware, Mill Cove Gallery for ceramics). In the mountains and bays that surround the town there are several walking routes for keen hikers, and watersports such as sea kayaking – book a night tour and you might spot phosphorescence – diving, wakeboarding and deep-sea fishing. Kenmare is also on the Ring of Kerry scenic drive but for a road less travelled, head south to the Ring of Beara and the paintbox-bright villages of Allihies and Eyries.
Is it suitable for families?
Yes. It’s the kind of place where multi-generational gatherings are a common sight, with many families often returning year after year. Although the 25m lap pool is more geared for dedicated swimmers than splashing about, there are plenty of other activities, including tennis, croquet on the lawn and board games, and sandy beaches within easy reach of the hotel.
What’s the accessibility like?
A ramp is available for wheelchair users at the bar and the main steps, and there are a number of bedrooms with showers close to the lift. But this is a heritage building so access can be difficult in some areas.
Anything left to mention?
There’s a pretty full daily schedule of free activities, from morning yoga and candlelit evening meditation to woodland walks and cardio circuits. Plus, Sámas Spa – a trailblazer designed in wood, glass and steel that opened almost two decades ago – offers soothing treatments and a blissful outdoor pool set among oak trees for forest bathing in a different sense.
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