There is a long and winding drive into the 500-acre Mount Juliet Estate, and when you finally reach the car parking area you feel you have already experienced some of what it promises to offer. Certainly, if you’re a golfer (I’m with the ‘good walk spoiled’ contingent) then you’ll immediately want to get your clubs out of the car boot and tread towards the pristine champion-standard course — devised by Jack Nicklaus with, we read his “ambitious, mischievous approach to course design”. We are staying in one of the two five-star accommodation options – Hunter’s Yard, which has over 90 bedrooms.
Hunter’s Yard, however, doesn’t feel like a five-star experience: its reception area may have an old-school gentleman’s club feel but it’s very compact, and you immediately know it won’t be an area you want to lounge in for longer than necessary – especially with the front door opening every minute with toing and froing overnighters.
There is also no turndown service, something I had thought was inextricably linked to five-star stays. The other accommodation option is the more expensive Manor House, in which we had a snack on one of the afternoons, and which felt innately, inescapably five-star.
The room, a King, is gorgeous and, thankfully, very warm — we visited in the first week of a bitterly cold January. There are lovely design touches, including a wooden square with QR codes on each side (by which to check out hotel amenities on your smartphone) and leather strapped table lights that reference, we presume, the estate’s equestrian activities. The bathroom is small enough, but the Bvlgari soap/shampoo/conditioner dispensers and the toasty underfloor heating soon put a stop to our gripes.
On the first night we motored into Thomastown for a terrific Indian meal (approx. €140 for five) at the Green Spice restaurant. For the second night, we toyed with the idea of experiencing the tasting menu at the Michelin star Lady Helen’s but put the toys back in the pram when we checked the price (€140 per person). We were able to book a table, however, at The Clubhouse, minutes away from Hunter’s Yard – this was very welcoming, very bright, child/family friendly, and perfectly adequate (approx. €140 for five).
Breakfast is at The Hound (the hotel’s award-winning casual dining restaurant), and is excellent, with a wholesome range of what you would expect. We then head to what we hope will be a relaxing after dinner drink in the Saddle Bar, only to find it more depressing than an episode of Fair City.
It might sound fanciful, but we actually like to work out in a gym and then, after a shower, try out what they have to offer in terms of spa/swimming/wellness, and so on. It was with some disappointment, then, that we discovered a modern, well-equipped but very small gym area and (having popped in for a shower) what is by far the smallest male changing rooms I’ve yet seen in a five-star property. And why the ridiculous €4 charge for a branded swim hat? Just give us one and then we’ll give it back, thanks.
Things To Do/See
From admiring the beautiful golf course and following any one (or all) of four woodland trails to lingering in the becalming walled ornamental garden, with its double herbaceous borders and beguiling ‘moongate’, you can pass several hours taking it all in. We were keen to have a go at archery, as it’s something we do at any place that offers it, but at €35 per adult we felt we were paying the hotel enough for our two-night stay.
It’s a game of two five-star halves, isn’t it, but we felt the differences between what we experienced at Hunter’s Yard and at the Manor House are too disparate – the former is definitely the latter’s slighter cousin. You pays your money and takes your choice, of course, but if we return to Mount Juliet Estate (now a member of the Marriott Autograph Collection, which according to its website, features ‘stays that will leave you speechless’) it certainly won’t be to Hunter’s Yard. Or the gym/swimming pool changing rooms.
Mount Juliet Estate, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny