Our goal for the day was Kenmare – one of the jumping off points for the Ring of Kerry, and where we were booked into one of the “finest hotels in Ireland” – The Park Kenmare. We decided to go via Blarney (where we originally had planned to pass last night, but instead stayed longer at Kilmahon), and we are SOOOO glad we made the decision to alter our sleeping plans! Every little thing about this town is geared to the tourist dollar. Now don’t get me wrong, quite sensibly a lot of towns do that in Ireland, but this experience was too twee and too kitsch and too geared to the mass produced, tour bus loaded, tracksuit wearing, visitor, not to our taste at all, and this unfolded piece by piece as we moved further into the experience.
We left Kilmahon House relatively late to head north – well, late for us Bontaks types, probably not late at all for the rest of the world! A sleep in, followed by a leisurely breakfast, followed by an even more leisurely farewell meant it was close to 11 before we drove through the gates.
Firstly, we only wished to see what was left of the castle and had no interest whatsoever in slobbering on a mangy, slippery piece of rock. But even to do that the admission price was €12 – the most expensive admission for anything we had seen so far (excluding the very large zoo at Fota, which was €13). In Nic’s search for the best travel experience possible, she cross referenced the guidebooks, and they all talked about the lack of interest in both the town and the castle – “the 15thcentury Blarney castle is an empty hulk, with no effort put forth to make it meaningful or interesting . . . The best thing about this lame sight is the opportunity to watch a cranky man lower lemming tourists over the edge, belly up and head back, to kiss the stone while his partner snaps a photo – which will be available for purchase back at the parking lot” (Rick Steves). Apparently, the gardens are beautiful, but as it was raining on and off, we weren’t forking out that money for a 5 minute stroll that would end up being another mad dash back to the car.
We decided to at least check out the pub, and looking for a parking spot, ended up facing this gigantic complex loudly professing its ‘Irishness.’ It combined an extensive gift shop (that seemed to continue off into the bowels of the earth with its endless tourist product), tinny music that was piped to the masses via outdoor speakers a la the theme park in Shrek, and a fast food joint masquerading as a traditional Irish pub. We think there may have been an attached hotel, but we quickly made our decision to explore no further and got back in that car, high-tailing it to Kenmare.
On our journey to Kenmare we stumbled upon an old mill, Bealick Mill, that has been meticulously restored and converted into a crafts store. It’s only open on the weekends, but there was a tradesman on sight who said it was ok for us to look around. Nic sat in the sun on a bench by the water, while John, just for a change (!), ran around taking photographs.
The Park Hotel Kenmare is billed as “one of the finest hotels in Ireland,” and we were suitably impressed with the whole shebang. The first thing working for this hotel is simply the location – right in the centre of town, which is a very friendly little place with excellent restaurants, shopping and pubs (although this can be said of most places in Ireland, really!). Walking through the front door of The Park, one immediately feels a guest in an ‘old money’ mansion rather than at a hotel. Everywhere you look there is a stylish and classy antiquity filling the space – even a suit of armour on the landing of the staircase (although John thinks it was tin, not iron or steel!). Checking in was a breeze – when we enquired about an upgrade they mentioned that they had already taken the liberty of doing so – now THAT’S service!
Settling in involved sitting at our top floor window drooling over the view of the bay (and trying out the bathroom! – there was even a bidet!!). Having a champagne and side of mixed nuts (dusted in some spicy, powdery, yumminess) negated the need (or desire!) for lunch – and, besides, we had to leave some room for Packie’s Restaurant for dinner!
We strolled the very short distance to Packie’s and were quite amused that our usual penchant for early dinners (a 6pm reservation) continues to make us the first customers of the evening! At least by eating early, we are able to get good spots in pubs afterwards for the music sets! Dinner was: a warm crispy goat’s cheese salad with pine nuts and red pepper relish; pan seared John Dory with chive beurre blanc; sancerre Domaine Roger 2009/10 – have fallen a bit in love with the Sancerre grape – it seems to suit so many dishes!
We finished the evening at Crowley’s pub – Nic with a Bailey’s and John with a Jameson’s. There was no music this evening, but we chatted to a couple from Cork – she was a scientist working in research at a hospital, he was an engineer working in Abu Dhabi, they were savouring the brief time they get together with him working overseas – we are so lucky!! Don’t think we could bear that forced time apart! Such saps!!