Ireland abounds with country estates that have been transformed from private manor houses into estate hotels. Many of them are set in hundreds of acres of private woodland with rivers, streams and lakes for fishing and trails and paths for rambling, hiking, and horseback riding, all available to the guests. Golf courses are typically part of the estate amenities as well, with well-kitted out clubhouses.
The estate hotels are self-contained, with multiple dining and drinking options. The bars are full-service and well stocked with Irish whiskeys, of course, and tend toward tend toward the wood-paneled, deep leather and velvet look, often with views over the countryside, perhaps of horses grazing in their paddocks, and tea and light meals are served. Then there are the restaurants — usually several, which include something for every level from casual to fine dining.
It’s easy to spend several days living the country manor life, without ever having to leave the premises, enjoying healthy air and exercise, good food and drink, all the while being pampered in the 19th century style.
Mount Juliet is one such country estate, a private residence until recently, so it is not a surprise that staying in the property’s manor house feels like being a guest in someone’s home, albeit a rather grand one. Built in the 18th century during the Georgian era, it retains the grand expanse of the original rooms, the tall ceilings and original marble fireplaces, while being completely modernized where necessary. It is quite convenient to visit, as it is only a long hour outside of Dublin, in County Kilkenny.
Winding through the woodland to reach the hotel located on the River Nore, I imagined what it must have been like to arrive by horse and carriage, with ensconced torches lighting the outside of the entrance. Later, I was to learn that the entrance in the carriage days was on the opposite side of the building where now the grand doors open onto a terrace with stairs that lead down to the myriad trails on the estate.
Once I arrived at the hotel, I set about exploring, peeking into Lady Helen, the simple but elegant, dining room of the Michelin-starred restaurant. Lady Helen, one of only eleven in Ireland, was where I would eat later that evening and where breakfast would be served the next day. The restaurant, named after the previous owner, Lady Helen Mc Calmont, has long been committed to locally sourced Irish ingredients from lamb to fish and cheeses. The central focus of the dining room is a sweeping view of the river below and the pastures beyond.
I took a short wander along the paths — the hotel provides guests with a walking map, which is very handy for someone like me who tends to get lost easily. The trees on the property are truly magnificent, some of them well over a hundred years old, and I particularly liked being able to walk along the river, cross a small bridge and cross over to visit the neighboring horses. I had hoped to be able to do some fishing in the river, a notable fishing site, or at one of the estate’s private lakes, but I hadn’t reserved my guide ahead, which I should have done. Next time.
Naturally, after a nice outdoor experience, the cozy Major’s Bar beckoned, with a fire in the fireplace, a wall of books, wainscoting, and yet another view of the open spaces beyond. Several groups were finishing up a late lunch, and while I was tempted, I decided only on a glass of wine, no sandwiches with fries. I took a small table by the window and felt very much at home as I sipped my wine, reading a newspaper and waiting until time to change for dinner.
When I arrived for dinner, I was very happy to be seated at my table for one near the fireplace, with a view of the waning day. I had been perusing the menu earlier, and it was difficult to pass up the seven course tasting menu, because I wanted to try everything from the scallops with lardo to the rhubarb and pistachio dessert, but in the end, I opted for two courses, starting with one of my favorites, veal sweetbreads, followed by local lamb.
No sooner had I placed my order than warm Irish soda bread appeared with a pot of Irish butter. The sommelier kindly paired wine for me and I sat back to enjoy the top-notch food and excellent service. When it became clear, after my sampling of the Irish cheese platter, that I wasn’t going to have dessert, the server insisted on making up a plate of tiny, bite-size cakes, tarts and chocolates for me to take to my room.
So my manor house stay continued, with a good night’s sleep in the large, comfortable bed, waking to the sound of birds, and descending the graceful staircase for my breakfast. I did have the full Irish breakfast, with bacon, black pudding, potatoes, toast, jams, more butter and a non-Irish, but very good, cappuccino.
Mount Juliet has a second hotel on the property, the newly opened Hunter’s Yard, which used to be part of the estate’s working farm. It too has large gracious rooms, which are light and airy, and most of which overlook the Jack Nicklaus golf course, which is quite popular.
Associated with the Hunter’s Lodge is The Hound Restaurant, which is open all day and serves a tempting menu with such dishes as house-cured salmon, seasonal salads, and a selection of sandwiches, local cod and other fish. There is a multiple-item children’s menu as well, since Mount Juliet encourages and welcomes families. All the amenities of the property from golfing to fishing, archery and falconry, bars and restaurants are open to the guests, whether they are staying in the Manor House or Hunter’s Yard.
Mount Juliet Estate is one of the special historic accommodations featured in Ireland’s Blue Book, a collection of Irish country house hotels, manor houses, castles and restaurants, is a useful resource for anyone wanting to enjoy living the Irish country life, if only for a few days.