Saturday, February 16, 2019

Surviving Ireland in Style:The Park Hotel, Kenmare. Go!...Despite the Price

Now and then life throws a curve ball or two. In this case it was placing my father into Nursing Care. And I must admit it was one of the most difficult missions of my life. For those readers who have not walked through this particular circle of fire and who may face such a challenge, all I can say is gird your loins.

It's not only the fact you have to close down your father's old apartment, sorting through family memories that cause an avalanche of emotional joy or pain. Or must figure out what to do with Florida-based furnishings you can't possibly take back to Ireland. Or move  Dad and a few selected belongings to a single room studio apartment, knowing you have only a few days in which to do it, and certain he'll never particularly like the result.

Or get rid of the car. Get rid of the firearms. Get rid of the detritus of a full life that is now ebbing. Or find time to take care of Dad while also talking to bankers, lawyers, financial advisers and additional professionals as you attempt to put into place various measures that just might let you manage his affairs from a distance. 

Along the way you're hauling stuff hither and yon. Pleading with everyone and anyone to take this or that, knowing you'd rather see it used than thrown onto a rubbish heap. Eating little. Sleeping less. Keeping in touch with family and friends who ask you about your father because his dementia now prevents him from using email or social media or on occasion even the phone.

And when you're finally finished; when you eventually climb onto a home-bound plane, you wonder if you've done enough for his safety. And the wondering means you'll sleep hardly a bit for the next few weeks. 

At times like this you know in your heart and soul you need a break. A place to lick your wounds and recover. A retreat and a bit of respite from life where, for once in your life, people will take care of you rather than the other way around. 

Which is why two days ago I placed The Gorgeous One in the truck and sprinted to The Park Hotel in Kenmare, County Kerry. 

I must say: it's the best thing I've done in years. A few hours of life about which Gorgeous One and I can only observe - We'll never, ever forget. And here's why:

Luxurious Survival Through Thoughtful Care

The Park Hotel, hidden from prying eyes by vaulting trees and assorted green stuff, is located on the south side of the wonderful Irish town of Kenmare. Situated at the crossroads to the Beara Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry, the care...the attention to detail...the feeling you've fallen off a cliff into the laps of the Gods of Luxury, starts the moment you drive up the winding drive toward a towering castle of welcome.

Enter the elegant 19th Century stone cut mansion and senses are accosted from all sides. The Victorian fireplace is all aglow with a warmth of welcome. The reception area filled with antiques and paintings. Rich carpets muffle the outside world. And as I'm greeted by staff who treat me as a long lost relative rather than a guest paying for only a single day's break, do I imagine things? Or have our bags just disappeared?

"What have you done with them?" I ask, not quite used to such caring treatment.

"Why, they've already been taken to your room," the woman in black responds with a smile.

And the room? Such a room! They've placed us on the second floor, room 210. Open the door (with a long, brass key, I might add. None of this 21st Century key-less technology. Not in The Park!) and step into wonder.

Two adjoining rooms. Near the door, an immense bed with the fluffiest pillows I've ever encountered in a hotel. "We'll get lost in that monster bed," I say to Gorgeous One. 

"Not that we'll mind. Nor will he," she ripostes, referring to the lovely white stuffed lamb grazing on the bed.

Step down into the living room. A lovely overstuffed couch. Marble topped bureau. Terrifically comfortable stuffed chairs. And our bags? Found magically resting on suitable suitcase frames, ready for unpacking.

Complementary bottle of The Park Hotel water. Two perfect cups - not glasses! - and a delicate bag of sweets. A welcome note from our personal concierge also confirming times for massage and manicure (massage for me, manicure for Gorgeous One). Breathtaking views over the very eastern bit of Kenmare Bay. It's low tide and a single punt sits unperturbed on a nearby bank. 

The bathroom: a definition of pampered luxury. Full bathtub on one side. Two sinks in the middle. A wet-room styled shower at right, toilet next to it.  In the closet: complementary thick white robes. 

I breathe in. I begin to relax. I take Gorgeous One in my arms and say: "I have a feeling we're never going to forget this."  Later, I know I was right.

Fingers and Figures of Relaxation

If you're not Irish or not living in Ireland, you possibly do not know John and Francis Brennan. They've been at the hostelry business for years. Most Irish folk know them by name because they host an RTE television series, At Your Service. In this long running troubleshooting programme, the lads visit various hotels, B&B's and guest houses across Ireland, helping owners to sort out the most basic problems;  transforming existing situations into visitor-friendly experiences.

Gorgeous One and I have watched it for years. And now, visiting the Home they've owned and nurtured since the 1980s, I understand why they are so effective helping others to help themselves.

In short: the Brennans are very, very good at what they do. The Park Hotel is not a hotel. Rather: it quickly becomes  a loving home.

Why? Undoubtedly it's due to the people who work there.

Let's start with the Bar. Having been bowled over by the room, we wandered down to have a drink. There, we met Connor - erstwhile bartender - and John, the Hotel's Porter and also an accomplished sommelier. Though I stick at that point to my usual pint of black, Gorgeous One takes the advice of our new friends and tries the Blanc.  It is absolutely marvelous. We enjoy an hour, then it's time to get ready for true relaxation.

I go first. Down to the SAMAS Experience, a haven for those requiring healing of the spiritual kind - and aptly named because it IS an experience. Seamlessly secured to the Main House, I started my treatment by walking through a dusky hallway surrounded by walls of water, the glow of candlelight, and the wafting odors of unguents. Out to a reception area of modernity, walls of plate glass filtering in Kenmare's natural beauty.

I am met. I am escorted to a changing room. I am shown around: down a short hallway. There, a wonderful Sauna / Laconium rests next to an Aroma Steam room. A shower with various tropical spray fittings. An ice fountain to chill out heated joints. Out a door and there, the Vitality Pool. It's outside but you'd scarcely notice because the water is heated perfectly. 

I spend an hour there. Into and out of the sauna and steam room. A bit of ice. A shower. Through the door and into the natural reserve of the Pool resting beneath tall Kenmare pines. 

I'm told there are two of these luxurious suites, one set of relaxing structures reflecting the other: one for the ladies, one for the men. And I discover: it's true. With no one else around I strip off my soggy, unnecessary swim suit. It is then I remember Dad and I sob. I sob, I think, because within the beauty of this setting, alone in my nakedness, I begin to heal.

But my session is not yet done, not by half. With the hour over, and having also spent a few minutes in a gorgeous Relaxation Room with comfortable Day Bed and personal music to match, and more views of tranquil gardens, my masseuse awaits. 

Her name, as I remember, is Valene. She is lovely - and as strong as Hercules. She leads me to an appropriately lit, incredibly comfortable room. We start with - and I can't believe it - a cup of natural tea: ginger, honey, lemon. It courses warm and welcoming through me. Then it's onto the bed and I know instantly I am in knowing, professional hands.

When the hour is done, Valene has worked the days of nursing home stress and father worry from arms and hands; feet and legs; back and head. I am transformed. 

I look at wall clock. Dinner is still hours away. I smile. I know my stay in my new Home has only just started.

Meal of Magic

The Irish Restaurants Association deemed The Park as having the Best Hotel Restaurant in Ireland only last year. Now I know why.

Initially, I had opted for dinner of slightly lower fare. As John, our Porter, pointed out: "Tom, do move up to the Tasting Experience. The price will be about the same. The experience unforgettable." He was right.

John also helped me navigate the wine list. I am ignorant of wines. I am also always faced with a miserable budget. John solved both challenges by recommending a bottle consisting of 75% Sauvignon. Oh my.... I've never experienced such heaven.

But the tastes on that night! Extraordinary. It's a set menu so don't think you can easily switch things. A seven course or five course. We opted for the five. We were right. We could not have eaten more. 

But the volume had nothing to do with it. It was all about the ingredients and method. Start with small Hor d'eouvres... one of goats cheese in an aromatic shell. The other of fantastic meats. Folllowed by

Scallop in a wonderful soupy sauce.  Followed by

Crab meat in all its fulsomeness. Followed by

Turbot cooked beyond heaven. Followed by

Venison, its pinkish meat beyond description. Followed by

Dessert of a rich chocolate cake with lovely vanilla ice cream and amazing sauces

Followed by... the final glass of wine. Coffee for two. And smiles from host Lucas.

Finished, we stumbled to the Terrace Lounge for a final glass of wine. An hour being entertained by a lovely piano player, tinkling tranquil tunes on a baby Grand Piano. Then bed.  But before I stop going on and on about the food, I must mention breakfast. 

Obviously, we have it the next morning. In the same lovely restaurant overlooking Kenmare  Bay. Served by the same amazing staff. And such a treat! Eggs Benedict to die for. I've had this dish in many places. But this? This was absolutely amazing. Accompanied by bread, homemade delicate scones, fresh local butter and jam, and gallons of rich coffee. What was not to like? Nothing, that's what.

Yes It's Expensive. But Go Anyway

In an article like this, the writer must mention those cloying bits he did not like. And yet - I can't think of one thing. This is a little piece of magic. A home away from home touched by thoughtful gestures that elude many other hostelries.

For instance: I never quite did get used to Ryan, a relative newcomer to The Park team, opening the front door for me at every occasion. His youthful exuberance, his fresh smile, the fact that he truly meant what he said and did... his very human persona to me symbolized the care and joy The Park staff has in helping its guests. 

(Note: John and Francis, if you ever read this - may I commend Ryan. You have a wonderful fella there. I know you'll continue to nurture him: the lad has a great future in store...).

And yes, The Park is expensive. Our stay in the luxurious room was 210 euro for the night. The meal: 85 euro each. Bottle of Wine: just short of 60 euro. The Spa treatment: for me, 125. For her: 65. 

But on this one single occasion, I simply did not care. I blew our entertainment budget for the entire year. Because... we needed this.

We needed someone to look after us for a bit. As Francis himself told me when I phoned the day before our visit, worrying we'd arrive too early: "You two just get here. We'll take care of you from there."

Which is exactly what John n Francis n all the staff at The Park did.  They took care of us. And at a time when I needed it most, all I can say is: I'm terribly grateful and will never forget. Thank you all.

For more information on The Park Hotel, go to their website: