Just a short distance from the bustling hub of Killarney town centre, I flick the indicator and turn onto a long, elegant, tree-lined private road where all around stretch verdant lawns and ancient groaning bows of Scots pine and juniper. Then, the Victorian gothic exterior of the four-star Cahernane House Hotel rises into view as gravel crackles under the wheels announcing our arrival.
There has been an estate on these lands since the mid-seventeenth century, but the manor house that stands here today was completed in 1877 by Henry Herbert with a fortune earned from breeding sheep for wool in Australia and training horses for export to India. The house was intended to woo his sweetheart; it worked – they married and had five children.
The history of Cahernane House Hotel makes for fascinating insight into the lives of this genteel Killarney family: fortunes were made and lost, and the non-stop roll call of hatches, matches and dispatches ensured continuation of the family line. That lineage came to an abrupt close in 1966 when Henry Herbert’s last surviving daughter, Gwendoline, passed away, (and is said to roam the corridors of Cahernane House Hotel keeping a kindly eye on all who stay!)
This stately country house has been a hotel since the beginning of the 20th century after the Herbert family had fallen on hard times and has seen many a proprietor come and go over the past 120 or so years. In 2016, the property was taken over by International Hotel Management Company PREM Group, completing a sympathetic and careful restoration of the house back to its former glory and retaining many of its original features and artefacts.
Cahernane House Hotel is part of Ireland’s Blue Book of Irish country house hotels celebrated for their historic character, authentic Irish hospitality, and great food. There are 48 rooms in total, forty in the manor house and eight in the beautifully restored adjacent coach house. All rooms boast magnificent views of McGillicuddy Reeks, tastefully decorated to enhance the feeling of traditional luxury with the best of modern facilities.
Bedrooms and mini suites are fitted out with luxurious fabrics, inexplicably comfortable beds, and each room has pieces of beautiful Killarney Davenport furniture, recognisable for its intricate inlayed filigree of different coloured natural woods.
Bathrooms are decorated in tasteful pale pastel blues and creams, each with its own large four-footed freestanding bath, fluffy towels (including flannels), even fluffier robes and cosy slippers. Toiletries are by Elemis and include shower gel and body lotion, shampoo and conditioner, soap, shoeshine kits and shower caps.
Some rooms have bay windows while others have balconies with tables and chairs from where guests can enjoy those uninterrupted famous Killarney views. Each room has a TV, Nespresso machine and a mini kettle with a decent selection of coffee pods and teas.
On arrival, guests ascend the steps and into the reception foyer. The original Victorian carved staircase displays its glory in front of the Queen Anne-style fireplace. There is a warm and welcoming lick of flame to greet us while the impressive crystal chandeliers sparkle above us. There’s an instant feeling of hospitality; check in is friendly and easy and we are shown to our room. Keys, not cards; something always comforting about that.
Cahernane House Hotel is full of treasures, and guests are encouraged to walk around the hotel’s communal spaces to view the artefacts, paintings and architectural features. It’s a small gesture that makes guests feel like this is a home from home and is reflected in the personable yet professional service by every member of staff we encounter. Cahernane’s General Manager is Emer Corridan, her years of hospitality experience translating into an easy, welcoming manner, always on hand to chat to guests and happy to talk about this fascinating property and its history.
On the ground floor the library, festooned in peacock colours, is the ideal spot for a mid-day coffee or a pre-dinner aperitif. The impressive high-ceilinged drawing room has as its focal point majestic-mullioned windows framing the lush green landscape of the National Park beyond and its ever-changing pallet of colours. Steps lead down into the double-height all-glass atrium, another little hideaway spot for guests looking to indulge their sense of escapism.
On the lower-ground floor, accessible either by stairs behind reception or by a separate entrance to the side of the main doors, is the Cellar Bar. Every detail beautifully restored from the barrel ceiling to the floor tiles to the contemporary chandeliers and heavy wooden carved booths. There is a good selection of beers, including three from Killarney Brewery, spirits, including the delightfully botanical Muckross Gin, and a decent selection of wines by the glass.
A light snack menu is served here daily from 1pm – 9:30pm, more substantial meals from 5:30pm, and each day there is a guided Irish Whiskey Tasting and Irish Gin Tasting from 3-6pm in the Cellar Bar, €25pp.
Foodies are very well catered for at Cahernane House Hotel, too. Cormac Vesey is the recently appointed Executive Head Chef establishing a reputation for creative cookery and a passion for local and seasonal produce. Vesey brings to Cahernane an impressive roll call of experience from myriad prestigious hotel restaurants, including Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel, The Killarney Park Hotel and Cliff House Hotel, as well as completing stagiares at Ballymaloe House and Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
The Herbert Restaurant is open for dinner five nights a week with an Early Bird menu available until 6:30pm, (2 courses €40, 3 courses €48), and an A La Carte menu (3 courses from €65). There is also a Table d’Hôte menu which includes an amuse-bouche, starter, main course, dessert, tea/coffee and petit fours for the great value of €65 per person.
Chef Vesey has taken inspiration for his contemporary menu from a rediscovered hotel menu from the early 1960s. This vast menu was on display while we were there and followed the classic style of that era: not just one soup but seven; various omelettes as a stand-alone course; fish and shellfish, hors d’oeuvres, grills, house specialities, desserts, a cheese board, seasonal fresh fruits and Irish coffee.
Guests at Cahernane House Hotel in the 60’s certainly ate very well, and with its emphasis on local produce cooked and served in season, it’s good to see that the food ethos here – like the hospitality service – hasn’t unrooted its traditions but rather married them to a modern expectation of good food in a country house setting.
We sampled a version of the Table d’Hôte menu at an invitation to their dining event, A Taste of Cahernane. We began with a Muckross Gin gimlet and prosecco drinks reception before settling into to the elegant environs of the Herbert Restaurant for dinner.
Beef tartare with cured egg yolk, organic salmon with nori and soy glaze, a magnificent asparagus velouté with quail egg, lobster au gratin, stuffed saddle of lamb with wild garlic, all paired with an interesting and well curated selection of wines with an Antipodean influence. A pair of deserts followed: a fabulous tropical fruit parfait gloved in smooth white chocolate, and the grand finale of a dark chocolate marquise with a hidden fondant centre of Bramley apple caramel and a calvados ice cream, as light and as smooth as any I have tasted. A trio of petit fours (fruit pastille, Irish coffee macaron and a craquelin-topped hazelnut choux) completed what was a truly delicious menu.
Chef Vesey has plans to host more tasting menu events like these in the future, and I would heartily recommend booking in to experience one. Make the most of your time at Cahernane House Hotel by staying overnight in one of their beautifully appointed rooms, and enjoying a leisurely breakfast the morning after, until 10:30am.
Bed and breakfast rates start at €169, and as a member of Ireland’s Blue Book, vouchers can be redeemed against your booking.
Even when you think you really know Killarney, we find that Cahernane House Hotel is a true hidden gem in a town where there is always something new to experience! At only a 20-minute walk from the hustle and bustle of Killarney high street and the National Park just outside the door, Cahernane House Hotel really is a fantastic spot to base your visit to Killarney and experience the best of both worlds.
WRITTEN BY KATE RYAN – @FLAVOUR.IE