Five-star modern luxury combined with ancient traditions in 500 acres of woodlands, parks and gardens – Mount Juliet is an oasis in the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East.
I hadn’t been away for six months, which seemed like a lifetime to me. I couldn’t wait to have food served up to me again, to feel luxurious crisp cotton sheets against my skin, and to try new experiences – something I always try to do when I go away. As soon as travel restrictions were lifted within Ireland, and hotels were officially allowed to re-open, I booked my first staycation. Kilkenny was an obvious choice. It is close to my home town of Dublin, and being a city, I figured most shops, restaurants and attractions should be open. I had also never had a family holiday in Kilkenny before, and was looking forward to trying some of the many things to do in Kilkenny with kids.
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There are plenty of family friendly hotels in Kilkenny, but I wanted to stay somewhere special. Perhaps I wanted to make up for all the overseas trips I had to cancel, or perhaps I just felt like I needed some spoiling, but there was never a doubt in my mind, I had wanted to stay in Mount Juliet for years. My sister is a regular visitor and it is undoubtedly one of Ireland’s best hotels, and I couldn’t wait to experience it for myself.
Driving into Mount Juliet Estate set the tone for the weekend. The winding road led us past the Jack Nicklaus designed golf course, the sun was shining and we could see golfers playing on the immaculate fairways. When we arrived at the creeper-clad 18th century Georgian House, we immediately felt the wow factor.
Ireland has many fine Manor House hotels, but there was something special about Mount Juliet. The fact that a couple cantered past us on horse back just as we were about to enter the hotel certainly added to the ambiance. Even the name sounds romantic – I guess one automatically thinks of Romeo and Juliet. However, Mount Juliet Estate has a love story of its own. It was built by the first Earl of Carrick and it was named after his beloved wife, Lady Julianna Butler who made it their home in 1750. Its setting is stunning too. It is built on a ridge overlooking the River Nore with 500 acres of woodlands, parks and gardens.
It was great to see that Mount Juliet had excellent Covid protocols in place. There was a one-way system in and out of the hotel, with temperature checks on arrival. All of the staff had face shields and we immediately felt very much at ease.
Rooms at Mount Juliet Estate
Kilkenny Tourism very kindly booked us two rooms in the 32 roomed Manor House. We had two adjoining rooms on the ground floor which led out on to our own private garden, we couldn’t have asked for better. We were able to enjoy pre dinner drinks outside, while the kids played happily in the garden. There are three rooms that share this garden, so they are an ideal choice if you are travelling with friends or extended family.
The rooms were extremely spacious and elegantly furnished. Traditionally they would have more soft furnishings like cushions and throws, but with Covid-19 restrictions, these have been temporarily removed. Mount Juliet are also limiting the amount of contact that staff have in their hotel rooms, so the traditional turndown service was temporarily paused. Arriving back to our room to see our bed not made was an unfortunate consequence of the ‘new normal’. However, if you want your bed made and fresh towels delivered, you can ask at reception for this. (Please note: Mount Juliet had just re-opened and was adapting correctly to the new Covid-19 guidelines. Some of these guidelines may change, so it is important to check what protocols are in place when booking.)
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Mount Juliet Estate is also home to Hunters Yard, a 93 roomed hotel which was originally the estate’s stables and outbuildings. It wasn’t open during our visit but I did manage to get a sneak peak. This relatively new hotel offers a more contemporary and relaxed style, but still retains the five-star rating. There are more family rooms available there, as well as a swimming pool and spa. I’m told the Hound Restaurant is popular too, and the courtyard is the perfect place to enjoy a drink during the summer months. The banqueting hall where weddings are held is also located at Hunters Yard.
Walking around the magnificent grounds I could see why Mount Juliet is such a popular wedding venue. Woodland trails and river view walks are plentiful, but it was the old walled garden that I found the most captivating. I was told that this ornamental garden is usually manicured, but as the hotel had only just re-opened, the garden had a wilder more natural feel – I loved it.
It is also home to Mount Juliet’s famous Moon Gate. Traditionally found in the gardens of Chinese nobles, there is something almost spiritual about it. It was designed to perfectly frame the setting sun, and I imagine many newly weds celebrated the start of their new lives together there. You are welcome to stroll around the grounds and discover all its delights yourself, or alternatively ask the concierge to advise you on walking trails that might suit your personal taste.
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Children’s activities at Mount Juliet Estate
Mount Juliet can also arrange treasure hunts in the gardens for children, and I was surprised at how much children’s activities are available in Mount Juliet. There is a large playground with a zip line, as well as a fairy trail located in the gardens. Extensive kids clubs operate during school holidays, (extra charge applies), so parents can enjoy a round of golf or spa treatment while the kids avail of the supervised activities.
There are two kids clubs, one from age 5-12 and the other 12+. Activities range from archery, equestrian and meet the owls, to baking, golf and arts and crafts. It is important to check activities in advance with Mount Juliet as some activities may change. There are also evening activities such as a talent show and movie nights, and children can dine with their new pals giving parents the opportunity to have a date night.
Dining at Mount Juliet Estate
Speaking of date nights, the Michelin-starred Lady Helen restaurant is the perfect place to have one. The dining room is calm and inviting and offers stunning views of the grounds through massive Georgian windows. Unfortunately as Mount Juliet had just re-opened, they had to abide by the latest government protocols for dining. With allotted times for dinner, the traditional Michelin star menu had to be replaced with a more brasserie-style offering. (This is another temporary measure).
I enjoyed whipped Knockdrina goats cheese with pickled beets, followed by steak-frites with onion rings and bearnaise sauce. There was a separate children’s menu, although Luke was unable to resist the steak-frites on the adults menu, and managed to clear his plate, despite the extremely large portion. As expected from a restaurant of this standard the food was delicious, however I felt the menu was quite limited. It was unfortunate that we didn’t get to experience the true Lady Helen Michelin star experience, but it has given me a good excuse to go back…
Breakfast is served in the same dining room and I can safely say that I didn’t miss the buffet in the least – we enjoyed a terrific feast on both mornings. Cold foods that would traditionally be included in the buffet, such as cereals, fruit and breads were on the menu, as well as a choice of hot dishes made to order by the chef.
I tried traditional porridge with a shot of Baileys the first morning, and a full Irish breakfast the next. My husband, Cormac, enjoyed the boxty cake and the eggs benedict. The kids were also delighted to be able to pick and choose what they wanted from the extensive menu. They enjoyed a variety of dishes including pancakes, and traditional full Irish breakfasts.
I should point out that if Michelin star restaurants are not your thing, there are plenty of other dining options available. The Hound Restaurant in Hunters Yard and Jack’s Bar at the Clubhouse offer extensive but more casual dining, while Major’s Bar offers afternoon tea and light snacks throughout the day.
Experiences at Mount Juliet Estate
Trying new outdoor experiences is part and parcel of a stay in Mount Juliet. Falconry is available on the grounds with the charming John Duggan of Hawkeye Falconry. We had the pleasure of trying falconry with John previously, and I can highly recommend it. With golf, horse riding, falconry, archery and fishing all available, this is the perfect opportunity to try something new in stunning surroundings.
On our last morning we decided to try something synonymous with Mount Juliet – horse riding. The Mount Juliet Equestrian Centre is one of the most impressive centres in Ireland. From experienced riders to complete beginners like myself, they have horses and trails to suit everyone. I decided it was time for some mother and daughter time, so myself and Alex (aged 9) left the boys in the rooms as we trotted off to the equestrian centre.
Alex was immediately taken her horse Rodger, and I was impressed at how well groomed and spotless the horses were, even the stables were immaculate. Within minutes myself and Alex were ‘saddled up’, and we were led off on a trail around Mount Juliet Estate. It was my first time to ride a horse, and I couldn’t have imagined a more idyllic location.
Alex was carefully supervised by our instructor and felt at ease the whole time. We rode through a beautiful woodland trail, past the golf course, before arriving at the Manor House. It was almost like a show experience, the type you see on a promotional video but don’t expect to actually experience the same thing – but we did! The experience costs €70 per adult and €50 per child and officially lasts one hour, but it was almost 90 minutes before we got back to the equestrian centre. I felt this was good value for such a unique experience.
Whether you choose to stay in the elegant Manor House or the chic Hunters Yard, you will enjoy top class facilities, service and surroundings in one of Ireland’s best hotels. However, Mount Juliet offers something more than that. There are no new fads here, but traditional experiences that offer a sense of serenity to your stay.
For the past four months our whole world has been turned upside down due to the pandemic, but one thing that we have enjoyed is our new found love for nature and traditional pastimes. It seemed really fitting that our first staycation was to a place that was in keeping with these values. Mount Juliet offers five-star luxury in beautiful surroundings with an emphasis on top class outdoor experiences. Make sure to pay a visit soon.
For more information visit Mount Juliet.ie
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