Wheels down! Arriving at Shannon airport ---
Our first stop was to fortify ourselves with a proper Irish breakfast at Dromoland Castle - an ideal spot to take in our first of the forty green colors of Ireland. Vision of turrets and towers makes for a fairy-tale setting to get us in the mood. About 15 minutes' drive from Shannon Airport, the castle dates from 1686, and stands amid extensive parklands and gardens where deer roam freely. The drawing rooms and stately halls have all your heart could desire of splendid wood and stone carvings, medieval suits of armor, rich oak paneling, and oil paintings. The guestrooms are lavishly decorated with designer fabrics and reproduction furniture. Well satisfied we continued.
The ride to Sheen Falls Lodge is south via Limerick and the quaint village of Adare, one of Ireland's "prettiest villages" with its famous thatched-roof cottages. The Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort offers world-class facilities. Adare Manor is an architectural masterpiece of towers and stonework ornamentation surrounded by breathtaking gardens, majestic trees and fascinating ruins dating back over eight hundred years. The golf course there is 840 acres of formal gardens and rolling parkland, though there was no time for a round here. But moving on it gets even better - there are two routes to Kenmare, one of which is through Killarney and its National Park. The Lakes of Killarney are one of Ireland's most famous tourist attractions, there are three in number, Lough Leane, Middle Lake and Upper Lake and at a high lookout called, Ladies View, you are wowed as you see them all. You will also travel through Dunloe Gap and Molls Gap before traveling back down to Kenmare Town, it is well worth the seven miles of twists and turns.
The picturesque town of Kenmare, with a population of 1,300, is an example of one of Ireland's few planned towns. It was built by Sir William Petty, (also the owner of the house that is now Sheen Falls Lodge) on the instructions of the first Marquis of Lansdowne. The limestone facades and ornate plasterwork of some of the buildings pay tribute to the craftsmen of a bygone age. The buildings are painted a rainbow colors, there are plenty of pubs and a bright blue harbor that adds to Kenmare‘s true charm. Its Gaelic name Neidin (Little nest), so named because of its fine setting nestling as it does among the mountains of Cork and Kerry. On Wednesdays, Kemmare designated a “Tidy Town,” has a street market, which we were lucky enough to get to experience.- - you could purchase local fruits, vegetables, hand-knit sweaters and crafts - plus some corrals with the local warm and fuzzy sheep.
Our arrival at Sheen Falls couldn’t have been warmer or more welcoming, we were greeted and taken on a tour and to our rooms, both of which faced the falls. It was lovely to hear the sound of the water gushing over the falls. Frequently cited by discerning travelers as their favorite Irish hotel, Sheen Falls estate is beautifully located waterside both on the river and the estuary. Welcoming fires always burn both in the handsome foyer and several of spacious and comfortably furnished reception rooms. The hotel is a polished gem, not as a new bling sparkler, but in the true hue of well-worn gold. Luxury in service at Sheen is no more than refinement; the capacity to discern and differentiate is practiced here.
I was able to meet briefly with Sheila King and she arranged a full inspection for the following morning. She did take the time to advise us not to miss the Beara Peninsula - she rightly claimed that it gives even greater thrills to the Ring of Kerry. I was fortunate to see firsthand all the various accommodations from a variety of rooms, to the Lansdowne Suite, Little Hay Cottage, Marianne’s, Villa Rosa and The Green, all of which offer wonderful accommodations for families and small groups, the designs have a tone of simple natural materials with clean lines and wonderful well thought accent pieces.. I never could decide on a favorite.
Kerry’s exceptional coastline is a series of peninsulas that open out into larger bays and give a totally unique feeling to the county, with craggy hills that tumble down into the choppy ocean below, with and a remote untouched aspect to the land. A drive around the Ring of Kerry, is an unforgettable way to experience the best that this awe-inspiring landscape has to offer. After a round of golf at the Ring of Kerry Course, 15 minutes from the hotel, with views so spectacular it is hard to concentrate on your swing. We gave in and headed to the Ring’s utterly lovely villages like Sneem and Caherdaniel, where you could wile your afternoons away eating fresh seafood, drinking creamy pints and listening to some authentic traditional music. Stopping if you're hungry and thirsty at the colorful Blind Piper or Freddie's Bar, both excellent pubs..
But we held out for Tea at Ard na Sidhe Country House on Lake Caragh, an enchanting house in a magical setting. As a former Victorian private home to Lady Gordon, the hotel is intimate with only 18 rooms. Its name translates to “Hill of the Fairies”, named for the mystical fairy fort in the award winning gardens. The hotel is operated by Austrian Liebherr Group, which owns six top-class hotels (three in Ireland). It was here that we tasted the best ice cream ever! We suspected it to be the famous Murphy’s Ice Cream from Dingle. All I can say is there have to be some very happy cows in Dingle!
The tallest mountains in Ireland are called the Macgillycuddy Reeks in the center of the Ring of Kerry, and there are several answers as to why they are called reeks, asking the locals; one answer was that reeks are a source of water and another local said, it was because there are three and reeks meant a group. But according to Google, Macgillycuddy’s Reeks in Gaelic Na Cruacha Dubha, means "The Black Stacks" and since the word reek also can mean: To smoke, steam, or fume - I think I’ve found a more plausible answer, though all have their charm.
Back at Sheen we were treated to a personal tour of the smokehouse, that creates the best smoked salmon I ever had...Chef Phillip Brazil, who has been at Sheen for six years took us through he steps of a mere six hours of salt and then cold smoking over night, but the time of year does effect the length of time in the smoker. Then Damien Trinckquel, the sommelier took us to the atmospheric Wine Cellar - a very special treat. Damien was a wealth of knowledge and shared some of my philosophy about wines. Therefore, I ask Damien to choose our wines that night for dinner. He did a brilliant job, choosing some lesser-known wines, but outstanding matches to our dining at La Cascade.
Breakfast was served in La Cascade offering a large buffet, as well as creative hot items beyond the norm of the traditional Irish breakfast. Again, the kitchens excelled! Oscar’s, the casual restaurant had already closed for the season, but we were offered the Sun Lounge and outdoor patio during the day. And in the evening, you can dine in the cozy lounge with soft seating and a warm fire glowing. The menu offerings were ample to satisfy any appetite. Both here and in the rest of Ireland, we found ingredients almost too good to be true - the seafood, the dairy, the organic vegetables - and the cooks clever enough and confident enough to let food taste like itself. There was no mucking it up with fusion flavors just to sound hip!
Sheen has produced a map with a wealth of historical information. Did you know that there is a church ruin and cemetery on the property? A fascinating hour can be spent wondering and reading the gravestone, some of which have great historical interest. Walks around such as: the woodlands of Queen’s Walk or ramble across the bridge to the Bay Villas and The Green. The new Mountain View, River View and Forest View homes are adapted to maximize the advantages of natural beauty and sit subtly within the lush landscapes. In this unspoiled setting we saw both red fox and deer at sunset.
There is so much to do at Sheen and the area that four or five days just scratch the surface of highlights. Sheen offers many activities - golf, horseback riding, cycling, shooting, tennis, hiking and of course, salmon fishing in season... a thrill to catch your own and turn it over to Chef Brazil to have it smoked and packed to take your prize home. There are eleven golf courses to be reckoned with in the Southwest - a real golfing haven, four of which are within minutes of the hotel. The horses had been moved from the stables for the season, but I can’t think of a better way to explore the area.
Another two outings that cannot be missed; a trip back to the Killarney Valley to see the Muckross House and Abbey, Torc Falls and Ross Castle a renown beauty spot. The most fun way to see it is in a traditional pony and trap. The other was a total surprise, Gleninchaquin Park; the turn off is only 15 minutes down the road on the Beara Peninsula. The five-mile drive to the falls is so enchanting; passing ancient stone circles, lakes, breathtaking landscapes dotted with sheep and cows happily feeding on those organic shades of green. This is a working sheep ranch where the family has “invited” guests in for walks (they call them rambles) and viewing a massive waterfall that feeds ribbon lakes. The friendly owner insisted on filling our water bottles with her fresh spring waters that flow down the falls.
The Health Club at Sheen offers treatments with Yon Ka’s pure natural products, but there is also the flexibility of having a steam, swim in the heated in-door pool and jacuzzi from 7:30 am until 9 pm at your leisure. And yes, there is a fitness room with all of the top equipment. And as Irish butter is a real threat -- I’ve come to know Kerry Gold very well, especially on Phillip’s Guinness bread --- there is a little bit of heaven for the lips, but not for the hips.
Alan Campbell leads a brilliant team with exceptional skills; all of who work tirelessly providing guests with warm friendly hospitality. This is truly why there is such a high return rate. When you leave, what is on your mind is -- when can I come back?!