The Montenotte’s rich history, contemporary design and charismatic approach to hospitality make it an irresistible proposition for a weekend break on the Emerald Isle.
Whether it is your first visit or your twentieth, you can guarantee that you will be greeted on the Emerald Isle like family – there’s nothing quite like a heartfelt Irish welcome. It is certainly the case when I land at the airport in Cork after a short one-hour flight from Heathrow; I am met with friendly faces and wide, genuine smiles.
Though I have visited Ireland before, I have never been to this attractive coastal city, and I am excited to explore. My base for the weekend is The Montenotte, a luxury boutique retreat – and proud member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World – perched on a hilltop just outside the city. Pulling up outside after the short 20-minute drive from the airport, I can’t help but marvel at the view, which stretches over the hotel’s immaculate Victorian sunken gardens and six acres of grounds, and beyond, taking in the whole of Cork.
The imposing grey building dates to 1755 and was once the home of a merchant prince; the architecture is fittingly grand. In contrast, the interiors of this spectacular 107-room hotel are vibrant and contemporary. Here, visionary owners Frankie and Josephine Whelehan have created a masterpiece of art deco inspired design. An eclectic art collection – including handmade embroideries and intriguing treasures that have found their way back from far flung travels, captivating photographs, and colourful canvases from artist-in-residence Jo-Anne Yelen – is on display in public areas. It is clear that the Welehans and their team have a special vision for this corner of Cork: authentic soul emanates from every corner, nook and cranny of The Montenotte.
In my comfortable bedroom, large floor-to ceiling windows overlook the gardens and city. Historic images of Cork adorn the walls, while pops of yellow add a touch of playfulness to the decor. On the bed, a mountain of squishy pillows invites luxurious afternoon naps, and in the bathroom, with its beautiful dark grey tiling, the fluffiest robes and towels await, and shelves are stocked with bespoke amenities from renowned cosmetics producer La Bottega. No detail has been overlooked here, there is even a bottle of The Montenotte’s own home-distilled gin. Created in the years of enforced isolation, this botanical gin draws inspiration from the sunken gardens and is infused with flavours of fresh herbs and lavender. I am told it is the perfect pre-dinner aperitif and am only too happy to give it a try before sampling the culinary delights of the hotel restaurant.
And so, I find myself on a Saturday evening in Ireland, gazing out at the twinkling lights of Cork from the windows of the Panorama Bistro. The ambitious aesthetic here fuses New York style with Irish charm. Thanks to its palette of rich, deep colours, plush forest green Italian leather booths, and the sweet melody of live piano music, it certainly makes an impression. The room buzzes with the background noise of happy chatter, creating a vibrant and energetic atmosphere. But despite the lively ambience, the layout, which features generously spaced tables and low mood lighting, creates a sense of intimacy and cosiness. The hotel’s menu changes seasonally, as it draws heavily on the finest locally-grown produce. All of the regional favourites are present – think Skeaghanore duck breast and braised Irish beef short rib – but it is the unexpected details that captivate. This is approachable and casual dining that is as comforting as it is flavourful, and everything is presented with incredible talent and flair.
Much of the fun on offer at The Montenotte revolves around eating and drinking, and presenting a similarly world-class approach to service is The Glasshouse. This swanky cocktail bar is just a hop, skip, and maybe a couple of dance steps from the hotel, across the beautiful sprawling terrace and down past the manicured sunken Victorian gardens. The vibes are turned up to 11 here and it is clearly the spot to be seen on a Saturday night. Housed in an intricate glasshouse (as its name suggests) it has an exotic feel – lush foliage drips from the gold-framed bar and the captivating space is decorated with bursts of colour. A large fire flickers invitingly and there are plenty of blankets, sofas and chairs, enticing guests to relax and enjoy the views no matter what the season. Service is impeccable and sipping on delicious cocktails to the strains of live Cuban jazz makes for a memorable evening. Be sure to try the Royale Rose, a signature cocktail made with The Montenotte’s own gin, fresh strawberry puree, lemon juice and egg white – it is utterly divine.
While there are enough activities to keep you entertained locally – from nature walks to history tours, and whiskey tastings at the Jameson distillery in the nearby town of Midleton – arguably the best way to spend time here is simply soaking up everything that is on offer at The Montenotte. Whether that’s curled up in an armchair by the fire, devouring a book while being waited on with Irish tea, or indulging in a private silver screen experience and taking in a movie at the in-house cinema, Cameo. Thoughtfully designed and equipped with 50 supremely comfortable seats, a quality sound system and a large screen, the latter offers the ultimate setup to enjoy some cinematic magic; select your refreshments from the Champagne and popcorn menu and settle in for the evening. Who needs Netflix when all of this is on offer? There is further sanctuary to be found at the Bellevue. Situated on ground that is said to emit good vibrations, this award-winning spa is a must visit, complete with six treatment rooms offering a diverse range of rejuvenating, holistic and relaxing treatments. A partnership with Australian skincare experts Grown Alchemist suggests that the team really mean business when it comes to promoting the three Rs – relaxation, restoration, and rejuvenation. My massage certainly does not disappoint – I find myself in a low-lit room, lying on a heated bed, breathing in the magical scent of essential oils while my therapist Niamh uses her skilled hands and calming presence to ease away tension and stress.
While it’s impossible not to be charmed at every turn by The Montenotte’s beauty, it is the staff here who really bring the place to life. Together they are a cast of such charismatic storytellers, many of them local with a personal and passionate connection to the hotel, and each one of them dedicated to making guests feel at home. I, for one, have fallen in love with this very special place in this very special country.
Room rates for The Montenotte Hotel start from €245 and include a complimentary breakfast, free parking, access to both Cameo Cinema (over 18s only) and the Motion Health Club (themontenottehotel.com)