Ireland’s Powerscourt Estate: beauty, luxury, and a Ritz-Carlton just an hour from Dublin

powerscourt

Myself, like many Americans, fantasize about visiting Ireland. We’ve all seen the calendars scattered throughout malls and bookstores — cover to cover spreads of lush, green flora, craggy hills and the occasional Leprechaun. We all think we know what Irish music is thanks to the soundtrack of Boondock Saints. And the seasoned travelers in attendance know that DUB is one of the, if not the, cheapest airport in Europe for Americans to fly into. It’s not like you needed any convincing to head to The Emerald Isle, but if you’re looking for a little direction on where to go once you soar through customs, here’s a word you should absolutely consider: Powerscourt.

The Powerscourt Estate lies but 45 minutes south of Dublin’s Airport — barely further than the east side of downtown when considering traffic. But it’s akin to another world entirely in terms of attitude, altitude and sheer beauty. It’s rare that a fantasized-over location actually lives up to the hype that surrounds it, but believe me when I say that Powerscourt is straight off of a postcard, from the gardens to the River Walk to the monolithic Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt hotel that’s nestled in so succinctly. Read on to hear more about my visit to the south of Dublin, particularly if you’re interested in making your own Irish calendar for 2012.

%Gallery-117264%The Estate is located near the cozy town of Enniskerry, in County Wicklow. It doesn’t take long to feel as if you’ve escaped the hustle of Dublin and moved on to greener pastures — both figuratively and literally. The long, windy drive up to the Estate is soothing in its own right, and moments before reaching the famed House, you’ll spot something equally massive on the left. It’s The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt, a 200 room giant of a hotel that’s situated between Sugar Loaf mountain and miles upon miles of pristine countryside. This palace first opened its doors to guests in the fall of 2007, and it has been fitting in ever since. What struck me was just how well integrated the property is — it may be huge, but it’s the polar opposite of an eyesore. In fact, it’d be hard to imagine the Powerscourt Estate without a hotel like this. After visiting, I could see why people would want to settle down right in the valley to enjoy a few days here, and it’d be a shame to have to scuttle back and forth to Dublin when all you were really after was a getaway.



A look around (and inside) The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt


To paint the picture a bit better, the hotel is just a three minute walk from the Powerscourt House — a castle that was constructed in the 13th century, reshaped in the 1700s, torched, and revived in 1996. Today, it’s a beautiful work of art, and it’s home to an exhibit of its own as well as a few niche shops and eateries. For some, it’d be good enough to just spend a few hours unwinding within the house, but the real magic lies just outside of the backdoor. There, you’ll find the Gardens. One step outside and you’ll appreciate the handful of Euros it took to gain admittance — “manicured” doesn’t even begin to explain just how flawless the place is. I’ve been to to the gardens surrounding North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate, and while I adore my homeland, the gardens here in Ireland are simply a notch above.

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Opposite the gardens is one of the more peaceful golf courses the island nation has to offer, and just a few more minutes walk lands you at The River Walk. Right about here is where you realize that leaving this slice of heaven would probably be to one’s detriment, and it provides a good opportunity to mention that a free pass down is just one of the complimentary extras that The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt provides. Guests at the hotel are treated more like guests of the estate; when you check in, you aren’t really checking into a hotel — you’re checking into a region. You’ll also have access to complimentary cycles, which I can confess are ideal for zipping around the gorgeous River Walk. Certain scenes of Braveheart were shot down by the streams, and it’s pretty exciting to bike around and try to spot certain shots from memories of the film.



A walk through Powerscourt Gardens in County Wicklow, Ireland


If you’re sold so far on the idea of shaping your vacation around doing nothing more than hitting the links, browsing beautiful gardens and cycling through forests that have been around for longer than you could even fathom, there’s hardly a reason to overlook another staple of the Estate: the hotel. It’s not everyday that you find a place that truly emphasizes the area like this; I’m a documented fan of choosing lodging options that integrate well with the purpose of the trip, and this particular Ritz-Carlton does this impeccably.

I’m not one to gloat about hotels unnecessarily. In the vast majority of cases, even the most esteemed 5-star property feels somewhat like a money grab to the average Joe, but this case is different. Rooms can be booked here for under 200 Euros if you play your cards right, and that includes a multitude of freebies not typically associated with high-end properties: complimentary bicycles, River Walk admission, parking and Wi-Fi. Yeah, Wi-Fi! It’s actually one of the only high-end hotels that I’ve stayed at with this luxury, and it’s greatly appreciated. Frankly, it’s beyond time that every hotel began offering gratis access to the internet. But that’s another story for another day.

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You’ll notice that you’re treated like a king (or queen) at the Powerscourt House and Gardens, and that bleeds over at the hotel. Service and hospitality is clearly top priority here, second only beautifully appointed rooms and an impressive array of (delicious) food options. Although the hotel was completed in 2007, it feels as if it were originally constructed centuries ago — well, aside from the hotel-wide Wi-Fi and indoor plumbing. By and large, Ritz-Carlton properties are both a) located near city centers and b) viewed as out-of-reach for many from a financial perspective. To its credit, this one fits neither of those categories. It’s a luxurious escape to a luxurious place, and the two fit together like peas in a pod. It’s safe to say I’ve never had a hotel experience quite like the one offered at The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt, and a lot of that has to do with the warmth of the staff and the screensaver-worthy surroundings. I’ve always heard that it’s all about location when talking real estate, and now I get it.

Obviously, the nearby Gardens are most lively in the summer months, but there’s really no bad time to visit Ireland. Sure, it may rain a bit on you, but you’ll have even greener pastures to show for it. Better still, you can duck back into Dublin if the escapism just becomes too much for your pampered heart to bear, but I get the feeling that said scenario isn’t likely to play itself out.

[Images provided by Dana Jo Photography]

In need of a few day trip ideas when heading to Powerscourt? Gadling’s got you covered.

The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto opens its doors, streams it all live on Facebook

Ritz-Carlton, Toronto

It’s been a long, long road for The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto. If you’ll recall, we actually were led to believe that it would open its doors in the fall of last year, but after a few setbacks and delays, the day has finally come for the elusive property to welcome its first guests. No longer will Ritz-Carlton execs have to answer questions related to the infiltration into Canada, as this new Toronto property most certainly puts the company on the map here in the Great White North. This particular hotel is situated in the heart of the downtown area, providing views of the city or Lake Ontario, as well as extravagances that Ritz-Carlton is known for. All told, the 53-story monolith will feature 267 guestrooms, featuring 56 Corner Suits, a pair of Deluxe Suites and “The Ritz-Carlton Suite” at over 2,400 square feet.

Toronto sure feels like the perfect next location for this brand to tackle, with many calling it the most ‘international’ city on the planet. Those who pop by will be treated to floor-to-ceiling windows with heated perimeters, rich African Anigre wood and Portuguese Estremoz marble, not to mention heated marble flooring, dual vanities (with embedded 22-inch HDTVs), private rain showers and soaker tubs when it comes to the bathroom. There’s a 13,000 square foot spa, a natural light-filled Urban Sanctuary and its own signature eatery: TOCA by Tom Brodi. Those interested in being one of the first to book a room can visit the property’s website, and if you’ve ever wondered what all was involved in the ribbon cutting ceremony that happens as a Ritz-Carlton hotel is opened, today’s your lucky day. The whole thing will be livestreamed on the company’s Facebook page starting at 11:30am EST, so be sure to set your alarms and add yourself a bookmark. Too bad Facebook’s ‘Teleportation’ feature is still on the drawing board.

P.S. – If you missed our Toronto-based episode of Travel Talk, catch up here!

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Scammer convicted for trying to sell London Ritz

Got a few extra bucks to invest? Well, be wary of truck drivers selling hotels. Of course, if I need to tell you this, you should stop dining on paste for lunch.

Not only is the hospitality industry going to be under pressure for the rest of the year, which makes such an investment difficult, but there’s always the chance that the deal isn’t real. This happened in London, where Anthony Lee hit up some of the market’s top real estate pros for cash to buy the London Ritz.

A jury just convicted Lee, an unemployed truck driver, of trying to move the Ritz for a mere $380 million – a deal, when you think about it – and claiming to represent Frederick and David Barclay, the off-the-radar billionaire brothers who own the property.

Before getting busted, Lee’s efforts nabbed him $1.5 million, a down payment from property broker Terence Collins. This was far better than borrowing scratch from friends and family to pay the rent, which had been a problem for Lee.

So, why did Collins fall for it? Hell, he had a shot at one of the top hotels in the city at a crazy price. He rolled the dice with a million and a half on the table … and the wrong number came up.

[photo by takomabibelot via Flickr]

Free spa experience at the Ritz-Carlton Naples

Any spa-lover needs to visit the Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples, because the Elements treatment at the beach property is nothing short of incredible. Now, the chance to visit the spa free makes this an absolute no-brainer. This is one of my favorite spas, and the deal might be enough to get me to book a flight.

Stay at either the Ritz-Carlton beach or golf resort, with the Spa Escape Package, and you’ll get a $200 spa credit, basically making your treatment free. You may want to have a little extra work done, but to have $200 knocked off the price from the start makes that a lot easier to handle. Rates start at $349 a night for the beach resort and $259 for the golf resort.

Need more incentive? From June 1, 2010, through the end of October, you can take advantage of the spa’s “Me Time” deal. When you book a 50-minute massage or facial, you can have your choice of two complimentary enhancements (a $50 value). On the list are hair masks, back scrubs, collagen masks and lip treatments. This is available every Sunday through Friday from 9 AM to 1 PM (but it can’t be combined with other promotions or discounts).

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Daily Pampering: Join up at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando

Is it time for resort and luxury membership club to make a comeback? The new program from the Ritz-Carlton Orlando – the Grande Lakes Membership Club – takes a personal approach, rather than push the same caned programs to the many different people who write the same big checks. The baseline consists of the sort of top-shelf amenities you’d expect, but the programs are differentiated by level: platinum, golf, spa and social.

Depending on what you choose, you could pick up an Executive Suite and gain unlimited access to the 18-hole, par 72 Greg Norman signature golf course or 50-minute treatments or salon services at the spa are nice – and that’s per month! Everyone scores resort pool and tennis court access, concierge services and member social events.

If you prefer predictability in our annual vacation and like a certain level of treatment, this is the way to go.