Ireland’s County Wicklow is ripe for escapism. With its rolling hills, bucolic vistas – complete with burbling streams and misty marshlands – you would think you had travelled to a remote land that time forgot. Luckily, for urbanites wanting to find some head-space, in reach of a city centre, this ‘Garden of Ireland’, as the region is known, is just a breezy 30-minute drive from Dublin airport.
For fresh air fiends, there’s much to explore, including hiking the Great Sugar Loaf Mountain, visiting the ruins of the 6th century monastery at Glendalough, in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains National Park, and pitching up at unspoilt coastal spots, such as Silver Strand Beach.
When it’s time to rest your head, check in to Powerscourt Hotel – a grand Palladian-style property – offering genteel views over the Wicklow Mountains and the glorious grounds of Powerscourt Estate, on which it sits.
The lobby, with its opulent design – think imposing fireplaces, a marble check-in desk and jewel-coloured velvet sofas and chairs – sets the scene. Find a cosy nook, on a studded amethyst, wing-back chair, and settle in for some people watching. The lobby-lounge is just the place to order high tea or a Champagne cocktail, and soak up the buzzy atmosphere. Best of all, are the vast windows, which flood the space with light, and draw your eye to the outside world and the verdant views beyond.
Rooms and suites – there are 200 in total – are large with classical décor. This being an Autograph Collection Hotel, which is part of the Marriott Group, there’s a distinct American feel about the place, with slick service and hi-tech additions, such as the touch screen controllers for lighting, curtain-pulling and room temperature. With dark-wood furniture, crisp linens, marble bathrooms and dressing areas – rooms are sophisticated and quietly sumptuous in a grand-dame style. This is old-style luxury, which feels utterly cocooning and a world away from modern minimalism – the perfect antidote for a long day roaming the great outdoors.
Throughout the hotel there are enough luxurious touches to keep ‘boutique-buffs’ happy, too. Lay back in your soaking tub and watch an old movie on the tile TV, ESPA products within reach for a pampering moment. Or make the most of your room’s sweeping terrace, iced drink in hand, as the sun goes down. In McGills, designed like a traditional Irish pub, complete with beer barrels and vintage furniture, you can order a Guinness while propping up the bar. The casual eaterie’s food has a focus on local ingredients, so expect homemade soups, seafood chowder, steak with whiskey pepper sauce and Kilinure Dexter Beef Burger.
For something extra special, head to the third-floor Sika. The award-winning restaurant, not only has a backdrop of Wicklow’s hills and mountains to impress you (showcased by glass walls along the length of the room), but it also puts the region’s artisanal food producers and seasonal ingredients at the heart of its menu.
Inventive dishes include starters of ‘West Coast Crab Meat Risotto and Sweet Corn Two Ways’ and ‘Five Mile Goats Cheese, Truffle Honey, Beetroot Gel and Puree, Hazelnut Tuile’. For mains, ‘Pan Fried Halibut, Crushed and Crisped Potato, Pickled Winter Vegetables, Martini sauce’ is a knock-out. Presentation is modern and clean, and courses are interspersed with home-made bread and innovative amuse bouche. For dessert, don’t agree to share the ‘Peanut Parfait’ which comes with a ‘Dulce Ganache and Sesame Tuile’: it’s so good that you’ll want it all to yourself.
While Powerscourt’s spa – with a glam, Swarovski-crystal lit pool and thick menu of ESPA treatments – is a draw, the hotel is nevertheless hot on getting guests immersed in the surrounding countryside. Ask the concierge for one of the maps to take you along the River Dargle, which runs through the grounds. The woodland trails remain unchanged from when they were first laid in 1868 by the Viscount of Powerscourt and mooching alongside the bubbling river, passing by Giant Redwoods and Corsican Pines, is a wonderful way to start the day.
Powerscourt Estate, which dates back over 200 years, is another must. Its stunning gardens stretch over 47 acres with views over the surrounding countryside. There are ornate Italian gardens, formal walks through rose and kitchen gardens, hidden grottos and the highest waterfall in Ireland. While, Powerscourt House itself is home to a range of artisan-style shops and an Avoca terrace café.
Fromfishing to clay-pigeon shooting, the hotel also has a wide range of activities on offer as well as its own grounds – with a secret garden and outdoor amphitheatre – to explore. If it’s head-space you need, you’ve come to the right place.
From €230 midweek and €320 weekends per room, per night. Visit: powerscourthotel.com
CityJet fly up to eight times daily between London City Airport and Dublin, with one way fares from £44. Visit: cityjet.com
*This feature was also published on 26 June 2018 on The Arbuturian