A Victorian Hotel Re-Imagined
Parknasilla Resort & Spa can date its origins back to 1895 when it first opened its doors as the Southern Hotel. It was built and designed to attract guests who would be travelling via the railway. The word Parknasilla means a ‘Field of Willows’ and this is an accurate description of its scenic location on the Kenmare River, in Co. Kerry along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.
There are few, if any, Irish people who haven’t heard of Parknasilla. Just imagine back to its beginnings when ladies wore long formal dresses for dinner and then realise why everything about this hotel can be regarded as spacious and on a grand scale. It was the ideal location for celebrities and has played host to some well known international luminaries such as Princess Grace of Monaco and Presidents Herzog and Charles de Gaulle, never mind several generations of Irish holiday makers. More recently it has played host for the newly acclaimed movie Lobster.
On entering the main Lobby there is an authentic Victorian feel as the original highly polished traditional patterned tiles are still there. To the right are a series of roomy high ceilinged Drawing Rooms with a delightful little clubby bar set between the rooms. On the left is yet another spacious Drawing Room so lots of space; guests staying in the self catering Villas and Cottages have full use of the Hotel. The Villas and Cottages are ideal for families where more room is needed for children and also every family member gets to have a real holiday. There are 83 bedrooms in the main hotel, which has undergone a serious upgrade and transformation and yet holds on to its traditional and authentic features.
Activities: This is a hotel which caters for all categories of guest; from older guests to younger more energetic types who want to explore and avail of the more sporty activities on offer. There are several themed walks throughout the 500 acre Estate, including the Fairy Walk, very suitable for the little ones. Kayaking is yet another amenity on offer for guests so no excuse for not getting out and about. Parknasilla also boasts its own 12 hole golf course and a great opportunity for a more relaxed round of golf. Indoor activities are excellent in case of a rainy day or just for fun. The Spa is first class with an 18 m swimming pool ideal for the whole family. The Thermal Suite, including Steam Rooms and Sauna are for adults and this is hard to resist – even if the sun is shining from the heavens.
The bedroom: For this visit I was allocated Room 207, which is a standard room in the annexe. This annexe was built many years ago and merges well with the original building as the ceilings are wonderfully high. Even the shape of the room resembles that of the original bedrooms. Furniture is very good quality reproduction mahogany in keeping with its Victorian traditions. However, the bathroom was the antithesis being truly modern with mood blue lighting all along the coving. I wasn’t entirely convinced at first but it was in fact very relaxing and an unusual feature to a hotel bathroom. The wallpaper in the bedroom was a reassuring flower patterned design, again reflecting the hotels origins but with a modern twist. Wallpaper is most definitely back in fashion and seeing it here at the Parknasilla Resort makes one realize just how bland plain painted walls can be in some hotels. The view from my room was that of the nearby mountains which were gradually undressing after being shrouded in a ground hugging Kerry Mist for several hours.
Cuisine: After a rejuvenating visit to the Steam Room and Sauna plus a meander around parts of the grounds it was time for dinner. Dinner is served in the Pygmalion Restaurant, a majestic room with bay windows and panoramic views across the bay. I really liked that it was a first come first served approach to getting the tables by the windows so no nasty ‘reserved’ signs making you feel ‘below the salt’. Being an early bird I managed to snag a table by the window for Dinner and Breakfast next morning. Good staff are so important in any hotel and here in Parknasilla they didn’t disappoint and I felt suitably cossetted. The Menu included a comprehensive list of dietary options and the provenance of all produce. This makes life so much easier for anybody with an allergic condition. I dined on a Terrine of Ham Hock, followed by Monkfish with Orzo Pasta. Dessert was an excellent Lemon Curd Tart and much enjoyment was had looking at four youngsters outside kicking a football with the intensity of a Mick O’Connell or Paudie O’Shea (famous Kerry Gaelic footballers for the uninitiated).
The hotel was extremely busy when I stayed there being a Bank Holiday weekend so hopefully this is a sign that the last few years of austerity are at last coming to an end. It is a very fine balancing act combining such a variety of different types of guests from older couples to young families. The fact that the management at Parknasilla are very aware that satisfying everybody is not an easy task is half the battle. The exquisitely restored Centenary Library is a perfect child free space, eminently suitable for the quieter guests, with its green herringbone chairs and soft grey patterned wallpaper. It could do with a few more books though!
Apart from the Resort activities the Ring of Kerry has an abundance of interesting places to visit such as Derrynane House, home of Daniel O’Connell and Staigue Fort, a ring fort, which probably dates back to the 1st century BC.
A stay at this sublime resort is a must for those who want a hotel that caters for all those little whims as well as making you want to stay fit and healthy and enjoy all the outdoor adventures on offer. It has become synonymous with guests who like a buzz and want to immerse themselves in the luscious Kerry landscape where the air is so pure that it could be bottled! Can’t wait until I visit again and breathe in that pure west Kerry air.