Outside, a strawberry and cream-colored fishing boat bobs gently in the lapping waters of Dingle Bay. Inside is breakfast heaven.
Such is the picturesque southwest Ireland location of guest house ‘Castlewood’ and the culinary talents of Brian Heaton, an experienced Irish hotel manager, who opened this charming guest house eight years ago with his wife, Helen, just outside the pretty Kerry town of Dingle. The couple met just out of college while working at the five-star Ashford Castle in County Mayo.
Aside from the various planning permissions that took twice as long as the actual construction, it is difficult to believe the couple completed this graceful building from scratch within ten months.
Upon entering through a sturdy, black-painted wood front door with brass handles, elegance is more than evident, beginning with a small hallway with natural slate floor, paintings decorating the walls, fresh flowers, a white whicker basket containing Irish woolen shawls for guest use while seated on the side patio outside and elegant candle-stick holders.
The main lobby beyond reinforces the sense of elegance. Spacious and fitted with a thick crimson carpet, its furnishings include a central varnished yew table and mahogany and rosewood side tables, upholstered Victorian and Edwardian-era armchairs, standing lamps with a leaf filigree design and evocative oil paintings, mainly of rustic scenes, by Helen’s mother, Irene Woods who lives in County Louth.
A small reception desk lies straight ahead with a decanter of sherry and crystal glasses on a side-table as a welcome drink.
Either side of the lobby are an airy breakfast room and a cozy, walnut-floored drawing room with comfortable armchairs and sofas, some facing a large, curtained window overlooking the bay. Here, a gilt-framed oil painting by Irene features her husband and farmhands erecting a haystack. Decorations include intricately designed antique Victorian tea-sets, silver, crystal glassware and covered butter and cheese dishes.
Reading materials are plentiful, with morning newspapers and novels on shelves ranging from Margaret Mitchell’s classic ‘Gone With the Wind’ to Dubliner Roddy Doyle’s ‘The Snapper.’ Complimentary tea and coffee and homemade scones and biscuits are available and there is also an honesty bar, with payment made upon departure.
Breakfast at ‘Castlewood’ is sheer bliss, with Brian as connoisseur and composer, self-taught and aided by years of observance in hotel management. The impressive cold buffet includes cereals, a variety of fruits, some bathing in succulent juices, three different types of yoghurt including a passion fruit variety, delicious homemade pastries and scones and a delectable passion fruit curd.
Fifteen separate hot choices feature on the menu, ranging from the fluffiest of pancakes with a mascarpone creamy cheese accompaniment to a perfectly moist Cashel blue cheese and mushroom omelets and Eggs Benedict Supreme with local organic salmon and chives.
Other picks include Dingle Bay kippers, a traditional Irish plate with sausages, black pudding, bacon and eggs and bagel supreme with salmon and cheese. Omelets range from ‘the Italian Connection,’ with mushroom and chorizo to a smoked salmon option with chives, crème fraiche and lemon to ‘Brian’s Favorite’ featuring grilled bacon, baby spinach leaves and melted Swiss cheese. With so many titillating tastes, the danger is not leaving the room hungry but in leaving overfull.
The furniture in bedrooms vary, with some having Plantation-style beds with large double-door closet, two cabinets, two corner armchairs and a round, glass-topped table. Cups and saucers are Wedgewood. An interesting addition to the well-being of guests is the complimentary Pi water – water, similar to the consistency of the body’s water, that enhances living energy.
Aside from ‘Castlewood’s’ relaxing location above the road and facing the bay, it also lies within a leisurely ten-minute walk of Dingle, a popular tourist destination, as well as beside the start of what is known as Slea Head Drive. Dingle offers many entertainment options, with live, mainly traditional, music in its many bars (one quaint bar serves as both hardware store and pub), as well as souvenir and clothes stores, cafes and restaurants aplenty.
Slea Head Drive is a looping coastal road that takes one past some beautiful scenery, both from cliff and beach viewing points, ancient archaeological sites including ring forts and stone beehive dwellings and interesting art and pottery stores.
Of particular note along the way is the ‘Celtic and Prehistoric Museum,’ established by Connecticut-born hammer-dulcimer maestro, Harris Moore, who collected a wide variety of impressive artifacts during his many travels far and wide. These include the skull of a woolly mammoth fished out of the North Sea; a complete baby dinosaur skeleton; tools, weapons and other artifacts from the Jurassic, Stone Age, Bronze Age, Celtic and Viking eras, as well as an outstanding collection of Celtic jewelry. A shop within the museum sells fossils, crafts, antiques and other unusual gifts – and at a price that is hard to beat.
A 45-minute drive from ‘Castlewood’ is Kerry’s capital town, Tralee, home to the National Folk Theatre of Ireland, known as Siamsa Tire, which hosts performances year-round, as well as the Kerry County Museum which brings to life the story of the area from the earliest times to the present day.