Once the ancestral home of the Earls of Kildare and the Dukes of Leinster, the newly refurbished walled garden estate just 20 minutes from Dublin is a polished and elegant escape
The honey-hued Palladian-style house and converted outbuildings are swathed in pristine parkland. Ancient trees, lakes and the meandering River Rye are the backdrop for this country retreat which dates back to 1176. Originally the home of the aristocratic FitzGerald family, it is now owned by the Irish-American Mullen family.
A mere 20 minutes from Dublin, the 1,100-acre estate has “Special Area of Conservation” status and is home to wildlife (including a herd of red deer) and rare species of birds and plants. Drawing up to the door, I felt as if I had arrived on the set of a Jane Austen novel – reminding me of the moment Elizabeth Bennet first sees Pemberley (Mr Darcy’s home in Pride & Prejudice ) … “She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.”
Style and Character
I confess I had never visited or stayed in Carton House prior to its recent two-year multimillion euro refurbishment, but I am told its décor was more bling than beguiling. Happily, there is much to love about Carton House’s new look which blends past and present seamlessly. (The refurbishment was carried out under the creative guidance of McCauley Daye O’Connell Architects). Decoristas will appreciate the tongue and groove lining and panelling, stucco plasterwork ceilings, log fires, carefully preserved Delft tiling, antique glass windowpanes, decorative china, William Morris upholstery and bespoke wallpapers, while hotel afficionados will notice that all the latest appliances and amenities are available. The attention to detail at Carton House and its glorious setting imbue it with an extra grandeur.
There are 169 guest bedrooms in all, the majority of which are situated in The Garden Wing. In the main House there are 18 individually decorated suites. I was fortunate to stay in the main house. Throwing open the shutters in the morning, I could see golfers teeing off and had a prime view of the formal gardens and the ancient rose beds. Aside from the spaciousness, one thing I particularly loved was in my suite was the wallpaper. Many of these were created by historic wallpaper designer David Skinner (whom we featured in THE GLOSS). As for the (huge) bathrooms, they feature posh Le Labo Rose 31 products. I am a convert to this woody floral scent created by Daphne Bugey; coincidentally the brand is now available in Brown Thomas (both Cork and Dublin).
Food and Drink
There are four restaurants and bars. I recommend getting up early (and getting properly dressed) for breakfast which is served in the impressive Morrison Room. Guests enjoy service a la russe with exquisite views and a la carte options galore. The Morrison Room is also the resort’s fine dining restaurant where David Skinner created a damask pattern wallpaper printed in a deep ivory and gold colourway that fits perfectly with Richard Morrison’s magnificent neo-classical architectural scheme
After enjoying the chef’s tasting menu, a natural progression is to end an evening in the booklined Whiskey Library or The Duke’s Rest. Of course, the Gold Salon is a must-visit for Afternoon Tea, (€55 per person or €70 with champagne) and is the ultimate gilt trip. For more casual dining, Kathleen’s Kitchen has a wholesome menu using locally sourced seasonal ingredients and is in the former kitchens of the estate (Downton Abbey fans will love the copper pans and traditional range cooker). My favourite location for an aperitivo or coffee was The Courtyard which is redolent of Tuscan terraces. It may also be because of the (superb) people watching offered. Given Carton House’s renowned sports facilities, the hotel is the second home of the Irish international rugby team, who wander around the grounds while not training …
Carton House is a magnet for golfers with two championship 18-hole golf courses: the challenging links-style course designed by Colin Montgomerie, host to the Irish Open three times, and a classic parkland course designed by Mark O’Meara. I am not a golfer but enjoyed exploring the estate (you can borrow a bicycle or go on foot). Do go up to the oldest building on the grounds – the Tyrconnell Tower – dating back 500 years and have a peep through the windows of the curious Shell Cottage – the one time home of Marianne Faithful – which was originally decorated by Emily Lennox in 1756. It’s magical and can be rented, I believe.
In the Main House, do peep into the Chinoiserie boudoir created for a visit of Queen Victoria – sadly her plans changed and she never stayed in the room. There’s also the Boat House on the water’s edge – another picturesque backdrop for an Instagram post or picnic which can be prepared by the staff. This is just one of a number of bespoke experience packages that can be created for guests, others include fishing, archery, clay pigeon shooting.
Of course, no visit would be complete without a treatment at Carton House Spa & Wellness. While the layout was slightly disorienting after a relaxing facial, this spa adds another layer of sensory experience to any stay. It is light and airy and the treatment menu includes glorious products by Margaret Dabbs and Aromatherapy Associates.
All told, a stay at Carton House inspires the senses and nourishes the sensibilities of discerning travellers.
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