Far from the bustle of the city, it isn’t traffic I hear when first waking, but the steady rushing of the River Sheen outside my window.
Deep in the southwest of Ireland, the emerald isle is at its most brilliant in this corner of County Kerry. In a region rich with lakes and landscapes dramatically sculpted by glaciers, there is a luxury hideaway nestled into over 300 of its own acres. As I open the curtains, the water flows under an arched bridge and tumbles down rocks, foaming white beneath me. Sheen Falls Lodge was exactly the country escape I’d been craving.
A privately owned luxury hotel since 1991, Sheen Falls was once the summer residence of the Marquis of Lansdowne. Understated luxury is evident at the Lodge, from furnishings, to classic European touches, to vintage cars and activities on the grounds. Sheen Falls boasts a library with 1,500 volumes for borrowing, an indoor heated pool and Jacuzzi with pampering spa treatments. Over the weekend I discovered the ability of the Sheen Falls staff to tailor an individual combination of all these options, along with their variety of outdoor activities.
The tranquility of my country escape began before my arrival to Sheen Falls. Driving through Killarney, tall pines lined the roads, and through branches a wide lake was shimmering in the afternoon sunlight. This unspoiled environment has long drawn travelers to the region. Continuing along the mountain pass towards Kenmare, sweeping views around each bend of the mountain encouraged me to take the journey slowly. The crisp, clean air began to relax me before I even reached the gates of my 5 star hideaway.
Crossing a suspension bridge where Swans were gracefully swimming below, a modest sign guided me on to the estate of Sheen Falls Lodge. The tennis court, Croquet lawn, and first spring daffodils lined the winding road. A subtle fountain trickled in the center of the entrance drive, and a small Relais and Chateaux symbol was displayed proudly at the door. Greeted by a cheerful Irish accent, our bags were whisked away, and seated at reception, the smell of lilies combined with the smoky sweet scent of a wood-burning fire.
A country house style hotel, Sheen Falls is designed with elements of old-world elegance. A restaurant lounge with fireplace and views of the river serves as a comfortable meeting place, and a freshly poured pint of Guinness is never too far away at the bar, to be enjoyed in the sun lounge. As reception kindly showed us to our room, we passed the entrance to La Cascade, the renowned restaurant of Sheen Falls. With a new menu just updated for spring, we had many culinary pleasures to anticipate beyond its doors.
Sheen Falls commitment to relaxation is reflected in the generous size of every room. The rooms begin at 500 sq ft (ranging to 1,350 sq ft for the presidential suite) and each has a stunning view. My junior suite had touches of luxury everywhere, from the practical consideration of coat hooks in the entrance hall, to comfortable lounge chairs by the windows. The design of the hotel is to focus the guest in on nature, and the beauty of the river. Its steady flow was the accompaniment to dining, sleep, and an afternoon by the fire.
Leaving behind the sanctuary of our room we descended into the cool wine cellar for the nightly 6:00 tour with the in-house Sommelier, Mathieu Schmutz. Born in the Alsace region of France, Mathieu began his love affair with wine at a young age. His passion for wine-making and the pleasure of pairing it with exquisite food was evident in the way he carefully cradled the bottles like a child. With over 10,000 bottles and 950 labels, Sheen Falls has an option for every palate and price bracket.
For the wine connoisseur, Mathieu is a source of endless knowledge. Welcoming questions both general and specific, he can arrange individual wine tastings to accommodate the queries of his guests. After spending an hour in the dimly lit wine cellar discussing his range of wines, we made an appointment for a personal tasting the next afternoon. As we climbed the stairs, Matheiu carefully began to examine his rows of options, already concocting our experience.
La Cascade isn’t the only restaurant in the area known for excellence. The village of Kenmare has earned a reputation of being a culinary capital in Country Kerry. It is wise to book reservations ahead, especially for the weekend. The concierge suggested a popular choice in town, and made all of the arrangements. A quick five-minute taxi trip brought us to the door of Mulcahy’s.
The executive chef has earned praise for infusing Asian flavors into his Irish cooking. A delicate pickled ginger salad accompanied my sashimi and sushi appetizer and generous portions of side dishes were served with the fresh seafood entrees. A candelit ambiance maintained the relaxation provided by Sheen Falls. After dinner, the Lodge glowed through the trees as we approached. A smiling staff wished us a pleasant sleep, and the fire still burned lowly in wide hearth.