Five-star service in Francis Brennan's Park Hotel Kenmare
Driving into the office a couple of weeks ago, I heard Francis Brennan being interviewed by Kathryn Thomas on the radio.
He was a hoot. Not long back from his Grand Indian Tour, he was chattering at 100 miles an hour, conjuring up a hilarious picture of his his adventures with 12 up-for-it Irish guests who had no idea where they were going until they met the hotelier/telly star in the airport.
It was TV gold - the pasty group had to contend with 50-degree heat, spicy food and bouts of Delhi belly as they took in the incredible sights and absorbed the culture during their epic 10-day tour of India’s Golden Triangle, taking in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.
The texts were flying in after his interview, the tone to them all the same; “Francis is great, I want to go on holiday with him.”
Kathryn Thomas wondererd aloud: “Is there anyone out there who doesn’t love Francis?”
If there are, they obviously haven’t met the funny, warm and big-hearted Dublin-born, Kerry-based hotel and travel guru.
I had just returned from an unforgettable weekend in Park Hotel Kenmare, Co.Kerry when I heard Francis’ distinctive voice fill my car. And after having met him in the plush surrounds of his five-star resort, I’d sell my granny to join him on his next Grand Tour, even if it was bound for the Bermuda Triangle. Sure at least we’d die laughing.
Park Hotel is, of course Francis’ baby. He left Dublin in 1980, at the age of 18, to work in it and after it went into liquidation four years later, he bought it in 1986 when he was just 24.
Francis is a pushy dad - he wants his darling Park Hotel to be the best at all times, to be top of the class. He expects it to never, ever let him or itself down.
Service. Service. Service. They’re the three essentials in hospitality. And seeing as Francis and his brother John (who also runs Park) travel the length and breadth of Ireland to advise distressed B&B, guesthouse and small hotel owners - and turn the fortune of their businesses back around again - for their hit RTE show At Your Service, you know you are in for a pretty special stay when you arrive in Kenmare.
It was a wet and miserable Friday morning when I arrived off the Dublin to Tralee train at Killarney, my aunt Aggie and furkid Bruno in tow (yes, dogs are allowed on trains, and don’t have to be in silly cages). The tone of the weekend to come was set when I looked up to see Park Hotel had sent a driver to collect us - who was standing there with Bruno’s name on a printout. Now that’s a way to a dog owners’ heart.
Kenmare is a 40-minute drive from Killarney train station, and there’s also a bus service.
The 12-acre setting of this Victorian landmark dating from 1897, with its views over Kenmare bay and of the Cork and Kerry mountains, is second to none. Inside, heritage meets luxury in a decadent Downton way. It’s shamelessly old-fashioned; lots of heavy mahogony furniture and antiques, blazing open fires, delicate china and impressive chandeliers.
Outside, there’s a magical maze of wooded walks, and the picture-postcard small town of Kenmare - with fab shopping, art and top pubs - is less than a minutes’ walk away.
The Brennans call the 46-bedroom pile “a gracious home that is yours to enjoy”, and that it certainly is. Especially when you can enjoy it with the most important member of your own family, your dog. Pet-friendly destinations are big business these days, and Park Hotel is super-welcoming of four-legged visitors.
Our ground-floor room would, in any other hotel, be billed as a luxury suite. It was huge, with all the touches one would expect from a five-star establishment (Floris products in the bathrooms and goose down pillows), and double doors opening out onto our own terrace. The dream would be to sit on that terrace, dog by your side and the most intoxicating views all around, writing that book that we all say we have in ourselves. If it takes years, so be it. It’s a dream, after all.
The particularly old-fashioned thing about Park Hotel is the service. When keycards replace proper keys in hotels, it seems that genuine warm hospitality gets replaced by wearisome, sluggish service where guests’ presence is an irritation.
Not in Kenmare - from the receptionist who braved the driving rain to meet us from the car upon arrival (greeting Bruno by name first) to the waiter, Brian, who delivered chilled glasses of Sauvignon Blanc to our room along with a tray of treats for his nibs, to the lovely cleaning lady who, when making up our room while we were at breakfast, placed a plump cushion in a sunbeam so Bruno could toast himself.
Not forgetting Francis’ own heartiness, running after guests to give them umbrellas, offering the best advice on what to do and see on the Ring of Kerry, and raising more than a few laughs.
Guests can enjoy incredible amenities, like the ultra-modern deluxe destination spa, SÁMAS (which has separate male and female spas), a 25-metre lap pool (where there’s daily swimming classes and water aerobics), a cinema room, yoga pavilion, and a fitness suite with complimentary classes. There’s also lots of outdoor activities including tennis, croquet and garden walks along the water shore.
For more active visitors, the adjacent 18-hole Kenmare Golf Club provides a challenging parkland course. And horseriding, sea and game angling, mountain walks and the famous coastal drives can all be arranged.
Food at Park is exceptional; from the homemade scones and jam upon arrival, to the set-you-up-for-the-day breakfasts, and the casual or more formal dining options at dinner time, on the terrace or in the dining room overlooking Kenmare Bay. Produce is locally-sourced, lovingly-curated and multiple-award-winning.
Service with a smile, service with a style, service with a healthy does of uniquely Irish wit, banter and craic...
As they make you feel totally at home in five-star luxury, Francis and his team have definitely nailed it.