Somewhere between the meet-and-greet with an African fish eagle, the sea broth facial, and the honeysuckle-tinged rare Irish whiskey, you’ll realize that Adare Manor is no ordinary hotel. It’s a neo-Gothic vision with fantastical woodcarvings, gold-leaf ceilings, and soaring towers — something J.K. Rowling might have conceived. Commissioned by the 2nd Earl of Dunraven in the 1830s as a family home, this imposing limestone-walled estate was modeled after the great houses and cathedrals of Europe. Set on 840 acres along the River Maigue in Ireland’s County Limerick, the manor took 30 years to complete. That makes its recent 21-month-long renovation sound like a mere blip in time. Builders seamlessly matched new limestone to the old, something that would have challenged even the Property Brothers, and added modern creature comforts galore. The result is winning raves all around. Virtuoso named it the hotel of the year for 2018. Adare Manor also sits comfortably on the “best” lists of publications like Conde’ Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure.
“We gutted the house from the floorboards to the roof,” says Paul Heery, general manager. While keeping its historical elements intact — including 365 leaded windows, 52 chimneys, seven stone parlors, and four towers to mark the annual tally of days, weeks, and seasons — they added modern conveniences like air conditioning and elevators, and a new 42-bedroom wing. Guests who settle into one of the 104 rooms discover there’s more to these rooms than meets the eye: Behind the 19th-century artwork, tapestries, marble bathtubs, and old-school furnishings are high-tech underpinnings. The brocade draperies can open and close with the push of a button. Those bathroom floors are radiantly heated, and lighted via sensors. A tablet allows guests to add mood lighting or adjust the temperature of the room. TVs are the latest high-def models. Beyond the technology, the beds are big and plush, the toiletries are by Italian luxury brand Aqua di Parma, and the mini-bar is well stocked with goodies — all complimentary. All guest rooms have the same appointments, but they differ in size and views.
So, you’ll definitely be comfortable, but what is there to do here, about a half-hour’s drive from Shannon? On property, you’ll discover walled gardens, walking trails and parklands, a children’s fairy garden, and a Cedar of Lebanon that’s one of the oldest trees in Ireland. Activities include falconry in the Paddocks, archery, fishing, clay shooting (the instructor is on Ireland’s Olympic skeet shooting team), and a gun-dog experience that showcases the manor’s Labradors and spaniels (there’s no actual hunting on the property.) “Dog lovers really enjoy it,” Heery says. There are bikes to borrow, and an indoor pool and fitness center. Oh, and there’s a Tom Fazio-designed golf course, and one of 11 La Mer spas in the world, open only to overnight guests. There’s also a 29-seat cinema where they offer kids’ movies in the afternoon and a film for adults every evening.
Of course, you’ll want to wander into Adare Village. With just 1,000 people (including members of the Dunraven family), it is home to a smattering of small shops and restaurants, and four pubs. Best bet for dinner is 1826 Adare, a cozy, chef-run place that’s a local favorite.
Speaking of food, the cookery at Adare Manor is classic Ireland with a modern twist, like the hotel itself. During renovation, the new culinary team took a nine-day tour around Ireland to visit farmers and purveyors to design a locally sourced seasonal menu. Sample the result in the Carriage House Restaurant (known for dry-aged beef and Connemara lamb) or the tasting menu of the more-formal Oak Room. Breakfast and afternoon tea are served in the tapestry-lined Gallery. You’ll feel every bit the Lord or Lady as you select from the tiers of sweet and savory treats (scones with Irish butter!) and try the 1832 signature tea blend. They also offer theme teas for vegans and vegetarians, plus a champagne tea, and even a children’s tea.
Kids in the manor house, you say? Actual kids? Indeed. Small fry can take part in activities like falconry, and they have their own menu of activities as well, including scavenger hunts to find all of the raven symbols (the Dunravens’ spirit animal) on the grounds. Not for kids: the Tack Room, designed for adults who favor bespoke cocktails. They make their own syrups of lavender, juniper, and fig, foraging on the grounds for some ingredients. The signature tipple is a proprietary Irish whiskey made in collaboration with Midleton Very Rare, aged in a cask for 23 years.
As you suit up in your jaunty Dubarry gear (available to borrow as a courtesy of Adare Manor), you’ll definitely feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Those e-mails can wait — there’s an owl waiting to make your acquaintance.
Adare Manor, Adare, County Limerick, Ireland; +353 (0) 61 605 200. www.adaremanor.com. Rooms from $339.Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.