TAKE a beautiful, old country house in ancient, rolling Kildare parkland, spend millions on extensions, modernisation, spa facilities and an Arnold Palmer golf course and you’re going to have something pretty special.
However, not to sound too blasé about it, many of us have stayed in similar-sounding places (at company expense, hopefully) and been somewhat underwhelmed. It may be partly a protective veneer you put on when you know you can’t afford to get used to the lifestyle or it may reflect the lack of depth behind the gloss.
However, I suspected the K Club might be a wee bit special when everyone who heard about my upcoming weekend visit started raving about how good it was. The woman at the car hire desk at Dublin airport even offered to come with me – jokingly, of course (I think). And, now having been, I can happily join the legions of fans spreading the word.
Here’s a simple example. I spent four weeks at a five-star hotel recently and every morning I asked for a pot of green tea for breakfast. But every morning for four weeks I had to ask. On my second morning at the K Club, the waiter brought me the green tea as I sat down – and knew my name. How can anyone resist such treatment?
Pulling off the trick of being friendly and seemingly casual, while being super efficient, is the mark of a world-class hotel. If you could bottle this amount of Irish charm, you’d make a fortune in Dublin Airport duty-free. One thing that gives the staff such confidence has to be the quality of what they are selling. In September, the two top-quality golf courses will see stars from Europe and the US battle it out in the biennial Ryder Cup and hence need no rave reviews from me.
I watched an early-morning foursome being intimidated by a ball-capturing water hazard – proving you don’t need to even play the game to be entertained by golf. If you’re not a golfer, there’s some excellent fishing, shooting, archery and other outdoor pursuits, as well as a well-equipped equestrian centre where I managed to jump my first Irish hedge. (OK, the horse did; I just hung on for dear life.)
The spa treatments also call out for superlatives, but no one likes to read about someone else’s pampering, so we’ll move on in a cloud of steam and aromatherapy. However, the kitchens do deserve
a mention; the cuisine might not be Michelin-starred but it’s not for want of trying. And when I complimented the pastry chef on the bread, I was given a loaf to take home – that Irish warmth again.
The overall feeling was of being at a good friend’s country house where you are looked after like one of the family. Walking the grounds, a round or two of golf, good meals, excellent wine – my only complaint at the K Club was at having to leave. And how can I not like a place where they go to the trouble of putting my initial on everything from the towels to wine glasses?
Contact the K Club on (00353) 1601 7200 or visit www.kclub.ie
Other things to do in Kildare:
The Curragh: Watch the gee-gees at one of Ireland’s best tracks. The sloping hillside gives you a great view of the race from starting stalls to finish. Hopefully you’ll have the luck I did, putting €5 on No.1 in the first race and winning at 15/1.
Irish National Stud: With Ireland producing some of the best racehorses in the world, the national stud has a lot to live up to. Don’t miss the fascinating guided tour which shows you how animals worth millions of pounds are looked after.
The Japanese Gardens: Attached to the stud and hailed as the finest Japanese gardens in Europe, they were laid out from 1906 to 1910 under the supervision of gardener Eida. Sadly, he died on his return voyage to Japan in 1912, leaving a wonderful legacy of peace and beauty.
Steam Museum, Straffan: Featuring historic stationary steam engines and a great collection of model locomotives, this is one for the enthusiast, although anyone should appreciate Richard Trevithick’s Third Model, built in 1797 – the oldest, four-wheeled, self-propelled object in existence. (Open May to September only – check at www.steam-museum.com)