EXPANSIVE MANSE: Breathtaking in both size and style, Adare Manor is at the top of the world’s best-resorts list.
When we pull up to the hotel, my heart swells and my skin tingles; I get Christmas-morning giddy. Adare Manor shimmers in the night—a massive stone castle glowing warmly from the inside, the landscaping lit by tiny white lights. It’s just after dusk, and I can barely make out my traveling companion’s face when I look over at him. But I know, like me, he’s grinning so wide that his ears have nearly retreated to the back of his head. We burst into simultaneous laughter, rendered wordless by our excellent fortune. This is as good as life gets.

Dog-tired and jet-lagged, we’re happy to be shown to our room by a courteous Irish porter. A heavy wooden door yields to reveal a space so plush it sends us back into giggles. I am reminded of the proverb “May you live as long as you want and never want as long as you live,” and there is little that leaves you wanting here. The Dunraven Stateroom is nearly as large as my apartment back home. And with the finest linens on the bed and a heated marble floor in the bathroom, it is certainly nicer.

The next morning, after a forgettable breakfast (with one or two exceptions, I do not particularly enjoy the food in Ireland), my companion and I bundle up and head out to explore the considerable grounds of the hotel. The day is crisp and clear, and the manor, once a private home, is as impressive outside as in. Set among 840 acres of manicured gardens and perched alongside the River Maigue, the hotel offers lots of easygoing adventure for those who want to spend a day or two finding their footing in this foreign land before setting out to explore other parts. The Robert Trent Jones Sr. golf course is a travesty on this venerable property. (The design is so American that the architect claims to have attempted to give Adare Manor “the flavor of Augusta National.”) We’re not much for golfing, fishing, or shooting clay pigeons, so we pass the morning strolling along the river, shooting photos, and exploring the fascinating ruins of a 13th-century castle, a 14th-century Augustinian priory, and a 15th-century Franciscan friary. One of the beauties of Ireland is its palpable history.

SIT A SPELL: The drawing room is an elegant yet comfy setting for afternoon tea.
The afternoon finds us astride horses, loping though the woods. As the occasional horsewoman, I try to ride wherever my travels take me. Adare’s equestrian center utilizes the parks’ original 1906 stables, built when the manor was privately owned by the Second Earl of Dunraven. The hotel provides riding boots, riding hats, and English-style tack—and therein lies the problem. Western saddles are more suited for big American butts, and the horn comes in handy when you’re feeling unsteady. English saddles have a lower profile and not a whole lot to hold on to when your riding hat slips over your eyes while your horse trots. I spend the better part of my ride blinded by my bonnet and holding fast to the front of my saddle, unable to adjust my attire.

Famished after our horseback ride, I am grateful for afternoon tea. In the drawing room we sit on a pink velvet sofa, tall ceilings rising high above us, a fire crackling in an enormous fireplace. A woman in a tuxedo brings us hot tea and petit fours—just enough to tide us over until dinner in the Oakroom, which is an utterly romantic experience, complete with candlelight, wine, and a scrumptious chocolate soufflé.

After pints of Guinness in the hotel pub (thankfully, you will not find Coors Light in this country), we retire, readying ourselves for a trip to Dingle Peninsula, one of several excursions we will make during our stay. The perfect home away from home, Adare also makes a great home base for exploring the southwestern part of the Emerald Isle.


HOW TO GET THERE

You can’t get there from here without a layover. Direct flights from DFW to Shannon Airport are nonexistent, but your airline options and single-connection choices are many. For example, Delta (800-241-4141; www.delta.com) flies to Shannon with a stop in Atlanta; Continental (800-231-0856; www.continental.com) will take you through Newark. You could go direct to London via American Airlines
(800-433-7300; www.aa.com), then on to Shannon via Aer Lingus  (www.aerlingus.com).

WHERE TO STAY
Adare Manor
Hotel & Golf Resort
Adare, County Limerick, Ireland
800-462-3273
www.adaremanor.com
Located in Limerick, about a 40-minute drive from Shannon Airport, Adare Manor is an excellent place to shake off the jet lag and regain your sense of adventure. It’s also well located for some terrific daytrips throughout the region. Room rates through October 31 range from $355 per night, for a standard room, to $720, for a Dunraven stateroom. From November 1 through the end of the year, you’ll pay $220 to $630 per night. All rates are based on the Euro. Fun and fancy Christmas and New Year’s packages are available.

HOW TO GET AROUND
Ireland is mostly rural, and the best way to get around is by car. Public transportation simply won’t take you to many of the places you’ll want to go. To be safe, make arrangements before you leave the States. Any of the major U.S.-based rental car companies can help. Be warned: the Irish drive on the left side of the road, and highway construction is not a national priority. Roadways are narrow, winding, unlit, and often in poor condition, which means a 30-mile trip can take nearly an hour, especially after dark, in the rain.

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KISSING CASTLE: People from all over the world pucker up at Blarney.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go

The village of Adare is often called Ireland’s prettiest town. The Dunraven family, which owned Adare Manor until 1982, restored many of the charming thatched cottages that populate the woodland setting and house antique shops, clothing boutiques, pubs, and restaurants. You’ll want to spend a day meandering around, absorbing the local flavor (and drinking the beer). After that, you’ll want to get in your car and drive, as Adare Manor is ideally situated for a number of day trips. We took three.

The Dingle Peninsula (a two-hour, 15-minute drive from Adare) is part of the Ring of Kerry. At times, the fog was so thick we couldn’t see past the end of our Alfa Romeo, but it didn’t obscure our coastal view completely, and we spent many hours staring out over the high, serrated sea cliffs of Finan’s Bay or the natural patchwork quilt created by the rolling hills of lush green farmland. We were particularly intrigued by prehistoric beehive huts, stone igloos purportedly built by hermits and monks who wished to escape from the temporal world.

Blarney Castle (an hour from Adare) was nearly deserted during our visit. That meant no line and no waiting to kiss the legendary Blarney Stone. We just walked right up the spiral staircase, bent over backward, and smooched the rock where millions before us had, too. Sure, it sounds gross, but when in Ireland, do as the Irish. After planting one on the mineral, we explored a little, exercising our newfound gift of gab and discussing what it must have been like to be a member of the McCarthy family, who lived in the castle until 1690. Don’t leave the area without stopping at Blarney Woolen Mills for fisherman’s sweaters. They make great gifts, even if the weather in Dallas makes wearing them impossible.

A little more than an hour’s drive from Adare is Killarney National Park, perfect for hiking. The park is home to archaeological remains dating from early Christian times, including a ruined monastery found on Inisfallen Island. As impressive as that was, few things have an impact like unadulterated nature. And some of my fondest memories of the trip came from the hours we spent walking in the woods, staring with awe at moss so thick and green that it seemed like an illuminated carpet of clabbered cream, and watching as the changing sunlight altered our perception of the mountains around us.  

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Why Ireland in the Winter
Some folks might tell you that you’re batty for traveling to Ireland in the winter, that the days are short, the weather too dreary to fully appreciate the beauty of the Emerald Isle. And though that may be partly true, rest assured that the off-season pleasures are worth enduring a few raindrops. For one, you’ll have the country to yourself. Sheep, not hulking tour buses, are all that you’ll share the roads with. And the satisfaction of tucking into a cozy banquette by a crackling pub fire with a fine whiskey to soothe your jagged American edges and a bowl of stew to fill your growling belly are delights unmatched by any summertime equivalent.

 Photos Courtesy of Adare Manor