A fine dining experience in a vintage Pullman carriage in picturesque western Ireland with Sinatra’s dulcet tones overhead and sunset rays creating a golden tapestry outside –this romantic scenario is just one of the delights at Glenlo Abbey Hotel and Golf Course outside Galway city.
Others include basking in the 5-star hotel’s sheer Old World elegance – big open fireplaces with wicker baskets full of logs nearby, brass-framed mirrors, 19th century paintings, bronze sculptures, leather armchairs, moulded ceiling-work, soft, thick carpets, ornate porcelain vases and stylish chandeliers.
Or – after playing a round of golf at the hotel’s 9-hole course – retiring to one of the property’s two ambient bars, the ‘Palmer Whisky Bar’ named after the former owners of a Galway brewery called ‘Nuns Island,’ or to the basement ‘Oak Cellar Bar,’ the estate’s former kitchen dating from 1740, and its quiet outside terrace.
If that’s not enough to satisfy one’s holiday needs, there is always the hotel’s outdoor pursuits which include archery and falconry in a walled garden. Not only can guests enjoy the visual exhilaration of the majestic bird in full flight but also learn more about other birds of prey such as Tiny, a tropical screech owl, and Wolf, a European eagle owl, with a wingspan of almost two meters, all under the loving care of Jurgen, who possesses an encyclopedic mine of information about their pedigree and habits.
Glenlo (meaning in Irish ‘glen of the lough’) was built in 1740 by rich Anglo-Norman landowners, the Ffrench family, as a 140-acre estate to capture dramatic views from the low hills of Bushy Park sloping down to Lough Corrib and across the river to the villages of Menlo and Anglinam. It remained a countryside residence for over 240 years, undergoing various ownerships until it was bought by members of the Bourke family in 1984 who transformed the buildings into a 5-star hotel that opened in 1992 and turned the farmland into a parkland golf course and driving range, which now has nine covered bays and 12 outdoor ones.
Refurbishment continued when the Lally family took over in 2013 and continue even today, with finishing touches being put to a new 16-seat cinema suite, a 20-seat executive boardroom and a new billiards room.
Even more ambitious plans are in store. A five million euro development includes an expansion from 50 to 65 rooms, extension of the golf club house and banqueting facilities in the Corrib Suite, plus the launch of a new luxury spa with sunken garden that will feature a 15-meter lap pool, a thermal suite, an outdoor hot pool and four treatment rooms, all to be completed next year. Private external terraces will also be added to the ground-floor rooms and the existing car-park will be replaced with an ornate formal garden.
The Lally family also own the Harbour Hotel and are part of the MHL Hotel collection that operates other Irish properties such as the Westin, Intercontinental (formerly the ‘Four Seasons’), Trinity City Hotel, Hilton Charlemont Place, Spencer, Beacon and Morgan, as well as the Limerick Strand Hotel.
But back to dinner in the plush Pullman carriage. Built in 1927, it was brought to Glenlo in 1997 and can cater for 66 guests. Lace curtains, period 1930’s suitcases on the overhead luggage rack, starched linen tablecloths, old-fashioned table lamps and even dwarfish street-lamps outside help to convey the nostalgia of a carriage standing at a station platform during the golden era of train travel. As for food, chef Michael Safarik ensures his culinary preparations highlight local produce (many of the herbs are from the hotel’s own garden) enriched by the skills of an innovative team. Seared king scallops, served as a starter, are paired with ham knuckle and pickled cauliflower and sprinkled with hazelnut. Another starter, butter poached langoustine, is accompanied by a bisque, a tapioca cracker, squid ink and sheep sorrel.
For mains, manor-farmed, corn-fed chicken with wild garlic, tender stem broccoli, fondant potato, cabbage and roasting pan jus competes for prime position with a monkfish dish served with sea spinach, purslane, Ballymakenny potato and Kelly’s mussels. A well-known writer once said wisely, “there is always hope if there is cake, and there’s always cake,” so make sure you try the Tonka poached pear with praline, chocolate and mascarpone or the yogurt pana cotta with lemon and coconut.
Afternoon tea, a tradition at the hotel, is also served in the Pullman on certain dates.
Excursions are plentiful in the area including boat trips along the Corrib, ferry or plane trips to the Aran islands or road-trips to the ‘moonscape’ Burren region or the Cliffs of Moher, the second largest cliffs in Ireland, after Sliabh Liag in Donegal.
For a combo of Old World elegance in a tranquil, west-of-Ireland setting and buzzing, hip city life within a ten-minute drive, there’s probably no better place than the Glenlo Abbey Hotel and Golf Course. Ask for room 310, spacious with broad views over the lough, the Pullman and the golf course.