Travel journalists on a tight deadline know to get cracking on the piece during their Wi-Fi-free flight home – under pressure, it’s best to avoid the joyless distractions of the internet. But my plan to write this feature on my Aer Lingus flight from Shannon to Heathrow faced an unexpected obstacle. A crew member spotted “Adare Manor reopening” scrawled on my notebook and, as is so often the case in Ireland, conversation suddenly flowed.
Long ago he had been a musician in the hotel’s bar but a recent tour of the renewed property had wowed him: “It’s fabulous, seamless, there’s nothing like it. It’s as good a hotel as you’d find anywhere.” Murmurs of assent and inquiry rippled around us in the cabin.
Adare Manor’s Great Hall lobby and reception area
There’s lots to say when it comes to Adare Manor. A former stately home, the Limerick property’s origins date from the 1830s, when Lady Caroline Wyndham responded creatively to her husband’s bout of gout: to distract from his discomfort, she encouraged the Earl of Dunraven to build a new family seat. Completed in the 1860s, their neo-gothic masterpiece was one of the grandest private homes in Ireland – a “calendar house” with 365 windows, 52 chimney stacks, seven pillars and, representing the seasons, four towers.
The building was sold and converted into an upmarket hotel in the 1980s. Then J P McManus, one of Ireland’s richest men and the coowner of the Sandy Lane resort in Barbados, bought it in 2014 and ran it for one year before deciding a major overhaul was needed to make the address truly world-class. So began the largest restoration project of its kind in Ireland. On November 2, Adare Manor reopened following a 21-month renovation, with a new wing added and every aspect of the guest experience recalibrated.
Adare Manor — the original building stands on the right, with the extension on the left
Today a freshly laid driveway takes guests past a tidal river, the imposing ruins of a 13th-century castle and through an immaculate 842-acre estate shaded by some 19,000 trees. The hotel’s immense extension swings into view first, its limestone a touch lighter in colour and without the occasional studs of pink stone that decorate the original, but otherwise a convincing addition to the building.
In the original house an intricately carved stone archway leads to the Great Hall, a hotel lobby unlike any other in Ireland. Designed by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, the architect behind the Houses of Parliament, the space is ecclesiastical in style, with cathedral-height ceilings, vaulted arches and a black-marble fireplace replenished throughout my stay with wood from trees felled by Storm Ophelia. The most impressive room, however, awaits upstairs.
The original manor house
Apparently the second-longest room in Ireland (after Trinity College’s Long Room library), The Gallery was inspired by Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors and served as a repository for the treasures the Dunravens accumulated on their jaunts through Europe. Today a newly installed bar stands beside its 17th-century Flemish choir stalls and families taking afternoon tea are bejewelled by the coloured shards of light that stream in through the original stained-glass windows.
It was during a late breakfast – I opted for honeyed porridge and homemade soda bread with local butter and cheese, classic Irish home comforts – that manager Paul Heery explained Adare’s aspiration “to be the leading luxury hotel in Ireland”. It’s a bold objective.
Though long devoid of truly exceptional five-star properties, the country is already home to two of the world’s best heritage hotels in Ashford Castle, on the Galway-Mayo border, and Ballyfin in County Laois.
Accommodation at Adare Manor
Heery, a Dubliner formerly of Gleneagles and The Connaught in London, believes there’s “magic” to the manor but knows it must offer more than its remarkable surroundings and architecture to surpass the competition. Completely revised, the existing 62 bedrooms and suites have been joined by a further 42 in the new West Wing; all individually styled, they may feature stand-alone bathtubs, 19th-century oil paintings, gold leaf detailing and restored heraldry.
More modern additions include televisions that can store guest preferences for future visits and drapery that can be opened by the tap of a tablet or the flick of a bedside switch. For me, the only discordant note came from the Acqua di Parma toiletries – the Italian brand is misplaced in a property that aims to showcase the best of Ireland.
The spa’s relaxation area and plunge pool
Elsewhere, the resort’s Tom Fazio-designed golf course will open in March and is expected to be of a sufficient standard to host the Ryder Cup; resident fees are likely to start at €200 (£180) per game. The La Mer spa, the first to open in the UK and Ireland, offers signature treatments from the skincare brand – the €250 La Mer Miracle Broth Facial is already a bestseller.
On the estate await falconry, fishing, cycling and archery. Should a visit coincide with inclement weather, guests can borrow Dubarry jackets and boots or they might prefer to seek shelter within the hotel’s cinema. (This is the west of Ireland, after all; during my stay last weekend an English couple asked a team member when the rain would stop. The answer: “March”.)
It all adds up to an enticing offering, enhanced by the hotel’s proximity to the pretty, prosperous village of Adare which features a photogenic terrace of thatched cottages and a cluster of pubs, but let down somewhat by the spa’s facilities. There’s a cool – as in cold – plunge pool which, at just 26ft (8m) long, is a let-down for swimmers; a sauna but no steam room; and a gym that, while adequate for general exercise, may prove unsatisfactory to fitness fanatics.
Likely to impress all, however, is the hotel’s culinary offering. Before its opening, five senior members of Adare’s kitchen team went on a nine-day road trip around the island to meet the country’s best small-scale farmers and artisans. The hotel’s aim is to become a peerless purveyor of Irish produce and their efforts are best enjoyed at the candlelit Oak Room restaurant.
Fine dining at The Oak Room
Its five-course menu (€110, plus €70 for matching wines), features succulent Wicklow venison with red cabbage and fig and Tipperary quail with pearl barley. It’s unpretentious, delicious fare with Michelin aspirations. The waiter beamed as he served me one sophisticated dish after another, each on specially commissioned Irish tableware. Though the country is abundant with exceptional ingredients, it’s still rare for them to be handled with such precision.
And the restaurant staff ’s sense of pride in their surroundings was shared by colleagues throughout the hotel. About three-quarters of the 350 or so staff are Irish and many of the team are drawn from the well-regarded Shannon College of Hotel Management and nearby towns. They seem appreciative of the opportunity to work in such an awe-inspiring setting.
A summary of the manor’s merits came from a receptionist I met in the Great Hall. Did she mind working so late, I asked, the fire burning behind me, so many layers of history enveloping us. “Of course not,” she said, “I feel like I’m in a fairy tale.”
Standard Classic Rooms at Adare Manor start from €325 (£280) per night, including breakfast.