While we’ve been aware of the wonderful B & B’s, mid-level hotels and historic castle lodgings throughout Ireland for years, we were under the impression that Ireland lacked genuine upscale five-star properties. Well, let us assure you that, as of now, that is no longer the case. The country has not only been booming economically during the past few years in high-tech and commercial development, but an amazing number of new world class hotels and resorts have arrived.
In addition, many older hotels and lodges have been dramatically remodeled and upgraded to four or five-star status. In Dublin, the historic 183-year-old Shelbourne (a Renaissance Hotel, an upscale division of Marriott), recently re-opened after a magnificent multimillion-dollar refurbishing that maintains its classic heritage and yesteryear charm. It’s an absolutely stunning downtown lodging choice (see: www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/dubbr-the-shelbourne/.
Another first-rate pick is The Dylan, an older hotel dramatically transformed into a modern upbeat boutique-style property where high-tech meets stylish décor. The Dylan is the perfect choice for stylish travelers and for those who simply prefer a tucked-away location that’s just a short distance from the downtown hubbub (see: www.dylan.ie). Both hotels appear to be very popular with the local after-work revelers and tourists, as well.
In addition to the resurrection of many hotels, a number of dazzling new golf-and-spa resorts have opened on the Emerald Isle in recent years. One of the most awesome resorts we visited was the luxurious new Ritz Carlton at Powerscourt, a few miles south of Dublin. The first Ritz Carlton in Ireland, it wonderfully illustrates why this U.S. based hotel company is recognized as one of the world’s finest operators of top-notch lodging. Our visit to the resort, albeit brief, found us exclaiming that it might well be our favorite Ritz property.
As you’d expect from a Ritz, the service was impeccable, the ambience striking and the setting awe-inspiring. But what really got our attention was the fun-filled, down-to-earth Irish pub at the resort. We heard that key staff members toured around Ireland to pick out their favorite local pubs, and then Ritz Carlton set about duplicating all their best features – it was stroke of leprechaun genius!
Perhaps more Ritz Carlton properties should do the same by providing a bar with "local flavor" or a less-formal dining room. In our opinion, that would be a nice alternative to the sophisticated dining and cocktail-room choices that are Ritz Carlton hallmarks (see: www.ritzcarlton.com).
Another great new resort we experienced was Castlemartyr in County Cork and located on land once owned by Sir Walter Raleigh. This beautifully restored manor house is the former residence of the 3rd Earl of Cork and was previously owned by the Knights Templar (of The Da Vinci Code fame). Adjacent to the ruins of a thousand-year-old castle, it has now been expanded to include 109 crème de la crème suites and rooms, a new state-of-the-art spa and championship golf links. It opened in 2008 and is already on its way towards world-class status.
Whatever the current exchange rate between the Euro and the U.S. dollar, Aer Lingus offers some fantastic bargain packages and air fares from their gateway cities. With the uncertainties of fluctuating world economies, we suggest you check out their web site regularly at: www.aerlingus.com and click on the "Vacation Store." Package possibilities include fly-and-drive, golf excursions, castle stays, all-inclusive tours and a variety of other options.
The Tourism Ireland website (see: www.discoverireland.com) is easy to navigate, and offers vacation packages for any interest and budget, plus coming events, sightseeing highlights and activities. Another option is to call Tourism Ireland at 800-223-6470 (toll-free) and request their informative brochures or Ireland magazine.