GO IRELAND:A mix of activity and relaxation at Parknasilla makes a great break, says ROSEMARY MAC CABE
AS A CHILD, a good friend’s parents owned a mobile home in Blackwater, and we would spend our summers in the arcade perfecting our Puzzle Bobble skills, or playing cards in the mobile while the rain rattled overhead.
On sunny days – which the haze of memory has multiplied to make it seem as if I came of age in a never-ending heatwave – we would head to the beach and eat sandy sandwiches and crisps, washed down with warm lemonade. It was the height of summer sophistication: the beach, the mobile, the arcade and the local boys.
Another friend recently told me of her summers – she stayed in a grand old country pile near Sneem in Co Kerry. Her family would spend three weeks swimming, playing tennis, going horse riding and cycling around the house’s 500 acres.
As it turns out, the grass really is greener. Luckily for my parents, I discovered this truth late in life, when I made my way to Parknasilla Resort and Spa for a weekend of watersports, archery and lounging in a heated hot tub overlooking Kenmare Bay.
As it happens, the southwestern paradise I found myself inhabiting was a miracle of meteorology. The sun managed to keep hold of our corner of Kerry for the whole weekend, which made a lot of things more enjoyable: archery, kayaking, even just getting out of bed in the morning.
Parknasilla was built in the mid-18th century and the hotel started out in a house on the grounds in 1895, a building that is today a stone’s throw from the hotel.
The most exciting recent history for Parknasilla is that it was acquired by Nama this year. Despite its financial woes, it maintains an old-world feel, helped by plush carpets, rich furnishings and old-school service. The menu includes crab salad (delicious) and good old-fashioned sandwiches (no paninis here) with crisps on the side.
The early morning view from my bedroom is one of deep blue waters and rich green hills; the sun is reflecting off the water and as far as the eye can see is a panorama of vivid colour and texture. “It is a dream world,” indeed – not my words but those of George Bernard Shaw.
Though kayaking is not high on my list of dream activities, it doesn’t take long to convince me to eschew the spa and get into a wetsuit. Okay, it takes a while, but when I finally get out into the bay, it proves its worth; kayaking, as it happens, is one of two sports that I may actually be all right at. (The other, I will later discover, is archery. It is no coincidence that neither involves speed or heavy perspiration).
Cutting through the water into the open sea is an exhilarating experience that reminds me how breathtaking our native scenery is. And then there are the seals. When Michael from Mór Active starts beating on the side of his kayak, it turns out that seals are nothing if not nosy, and it brings them out of hiding. Soon we’re surrounded – and we make our way back to land with an inquisitive seal in our wake.
Archery is a lot more complicated than Katniss Everdeen, of The Hunger Games, lets on, and there are several things to pay attention to at once. I strike a bullseye on my first go and get steadily worse until arrows consistently end up in the shrubbery, but after a break and a bow swap – different strokes, you know – I’m back in the game and finish in first place. Granted, my two competitors are also novices and, I’ll admit, not taking things quite as seriously as I am. But a win’s a win, I say.
The spa offers a range of treatments but it’s in the thermal suite that it truly excels: there is a sauna, steam room and potentially confusing wet, dry, hot and cold thermal cabins. Then there’s the outdoor hot tub, where the chill of mid-afternoon air serves to emphasise the joy of sinking into the warm water and letting the world drift away.
I reflect on how happy I would have been if my family had just thought to spend their summers in this coastal paradise. Then I realise: I might have been happy, but I would have been rubbish at Puzzle Bobble.