As rolling pandemic restrictions forced Irish hospitality to shut up shop for much of 2020 and early 2021, hotels around the country were left with lots of downtime.
"At one point we were open one month, closed one month, open one month, closed again," says Majken Bech Bailey, operations manager at Cliff at Lyons, just outside Celbridge, Co Kildare. After the first lockdown in spring 2020, "we reopened for a few weeks and then we had the Kildare lockdown so we had to close again. In the beginning nobody knew much about Covid . . . by the second lockdown we were constantly preparing how to run a hotel with Covid restrictions," she says.
Originally a collection of houses, barracks, a forge and a mill on part of the Lyons Demesne, what is now the Cliff at Lyons village had been renovated by Ryanair's Tony Ryan when he bought the demesne in the late 1990s. Today the hotel and cottages are spread out across a 16-acre estate on the Grand Canal, a configuration that was conducive to welcoming guests for spells last summer and autumn.
“People are more relaxed,” Bech Bailey says of the set-up. “We have our restaurant and lounge in one building, reservation in another, Aimsir in another. People are outside a lot; it’s a very controlled environment. The building with the most rooms has eight bedrooms . . . so only the people who have a bedroom in these buildings go into them.”
The hotel closed one more time on December 27th. Since then, the Cliff at Lyons estate has seen a number of significant changes, not least a new garden and farm at the Michelin-starred Aimsir restaurant. "We also converted one of our banqueting halls into a new restaurant, we built a new terrace," says Bech Bailey – who is also general manager of Aimsir, where her husband Jordan Bailey is head chef. "We weren't afraid of starting bigger projects because we could see the lockdown was going to last longer."
Chef Sean Smith has decamped from his kitchen at the Cliff Townhouse on St Stephen's Green to the Co Kildare estate, where he runs the new restaurant, The Mill, which serves his take on modern Irish cuisine.
The configuration of accommodation has changed, too. The seven cottages dotted around the village have been let to long-term residents, "but in the new year we will probably bring some back for groups of friends or families", so for now, guests can stay in 22 hotel rooms in other buildings around the village, some of which are pet-friendly. In a nod towards sustainability, Irish firm Airmid, based in Co Clare, makes solid shampoo, body lotion and soap bars for all rooms.
As for the summer, there’s a focus on outdoor pursuits in the area, with bike rides and stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) available, while plans are afoot to open a new outdoor treatment area beside the Cliff at Lyons spa, with two enormous copper baths.
Rooms from €420 per night; Paddle and Picnic package includes one-night B&B, an SUP session, picnic from the Pantry. cliffatlyons.ie