Readers of a certain vintage may remember the popular TV sitcom ‘To the Manor Born’ – which poked fun at the aristocracy for looking down their well-bred noses at nouveau riche pretenders to grandeur.
Entering the gates of Lyrath Estate, around 10 minutes by car from Kilkenny City, I fully expect Richard De Vere (Peter Bowles) to arrive on horseback from the big house while Audrey fforbes-Hamilton (Penelope Keith) viciously prunes the roses at the estate cottage to which she has been unhappily reduced.
This gracious smansion, set in 170 acres of parkland, has a time-warped atmosphere that calms and cossets guests wishing to escape to virgin countryside and relaxation.
Lyrath has 139 rooms, from compact standards to luxury suites with five-star touches like Nespresso coffee machines and a couple of flatscreen TVs in the open plan bedroom-lounges.
Over the past 18 months, €5 million has been invested throughout the property on improvements to bedrooms and amenities. Our room’s wall to ceiling windows framed the abundant woodlands and a vista of rolling hills free of houses or any other signs of human habitation.
Add top-of-the-range bed linens, toiletries from the Irish Handmade Soap Company and a relaxing décor of beige, bronze and gold, and the vibe is one of understated luxury and comfort.
Lyrath’s award winning Oasis Spa beckons for an essential de-stress… especially after my tiring rail journey from Cork (involving delays), and my companion’s ploughing through motorway pile-ups from Dublin.
In no time, we find ourselves blissfully soaking in the steaming hydrotherapy pool, open on one side to compliment the Victorian-era gardens, whilst we’re pummelled and rained on by jets and mini waterfalls.
Afterwards I enjoy a deep cleansing reviving facial with Elemis beauty products, followed by a sensual head massage. Treatments at the spa start from €45 for 25-minutes.
Food and Drink
We resisted the temptation to join a lavish afternoon tea in the atrium overlooking the lawns… leaving ample room for dinner instead.
Where to eat? Several buses had just disgorged a big party of tourists, and a member of staff hinted that the main Yew restaurant could be busy and noisy later, so we hid away in one of the retro cubicles of Lyrath’s cosy Grill, recently converted to include a fashionable open kitchen where chefs juggle pots and pans, watched by fascinated young diners.
Here, we shared a well-made smooth chicken liver pate accompanied by sourdough, pear and Cumberland sauce and a delicious, nicely spicy chicken satay. My mains choice of organic Donegal salmon with grilled asparagus was safe and satisfying. Himself made astonishingly light work of 400gm of locally farmed Mohawk steak with a heap of truffle potatoes on the side.
We could only manage one pudding between us, the recommended (and rightly so) Baileys and White chocolate cheesecake with a dollop of salted caramel ice-cream.
While you’re here, delve into the interesting history of Lyrath, going back to a 12th-century monastery located within the grounds and later periods as an important family seat… followed by the story of how the once-modest building became a grand house to impress its new mistress.
Pauline Villiers Stuart was permitted to marry the older Sir Charles Denny Wheeler-Cuffe, we learn, only after her father decreed the house should be made grand enough for “a lady of rank to live in”.
Poor Sir Charles spent a decade and went bankrupt completing the job.
The labyrinth-like medieval streets and laneways of Kilkenny and visits to its authentic pubs are just that bit too far by foot. A 30-minute walk will take you along a busy road that could do with better footpaths and street lighting in the evening… though you could of course go teetotal or use taxis.
Lyrath itself is labyrinth-like too. In my towelling robe, I padded through the large glass-roofed entrance hall that connects the period mansion with the new wings, having lost my way to the spa. There is no direct access to it from the accommodation wing via the lifts.
Get me there
Isabel was a guest of Lyrath Estate, which is located on the Paulstown Road outside Kilkenny, 126km from Dublin via the M9 and R712. Contact 056 776-0088 or visit lyrath.com for more.
Two nights’ B&B, dinner on one evening and cream tea in the Atrium costs from €155pp sharing on selected dates. A two-night New Year’s Eve celebration with a seven-course tasting menu and champagne costs €285pp sharing.
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