The K Club - County Kildare
The weather was indeed blustery when I took the four boys to the K Club in Ireland for part of their half-term break last October.
My fears that this would prohibit their fun and the boundless opportunities to be enjoyed were soon blown into the mascara-streaking wet wind. This place works whatever the weather and yes, when we got our cloudless blue-sky-day, the 19th century Georgian mansion looked ever so grand against the jade slopes of golfing paradise. For my boys and therefore for me this was one of their greatest adventures to date, and they long to return, even to rent one of the chic new California-style villas on the estate for their summer break; come now boys, what about the Maldives... Well, here's why they fell hook, line and spinner.
A most congenial driver, Peter, who informed my boys of all the musical talent that Ireland can so proudly sing about, greeted us at the airport. From boy bands to great bands we were all soon feeling like we had something of the Irish in our blood and certainly in our iPods. This is such a cool place. The amount of green paraphernalia purchased at the airport on our return was testament to my children's undeniable newfound passion for the Emerald Isle.
The drive down to the great mansion is eye-wateringly green, blissfully peaceful, and appears as soft as clover. The grounds on the estate are expertly maintained allowing for mature growth to develop without noticeably formal restrictions, while the lawns, acres and acres of them, are blade-perfect. Roads are pristine-paved, well almost, and the abundance of iridescently coloured flowers for late October seemed way beyond the realms of possibility. The sense of river-life is ubiquitous throughout the estate; it has a whole mile of the surging River Liffey running through it; the main artery to the mansion's heart: they are completely intertwined and integral.
Though you are overwhelmed by a sense of privacy and exclusivity throughout your stay, you are also well aware that many hands and souls are beavering behind the scenes. While this is a fisherman's dream destination it is also a golfer's paradise (a well known fact), a gourmet's delight and a nature lover's haven. Not to mention a spa junkies supreme fix! If you had no knowledge, skills, or experience in any of the above-mentioned pursuits prior to arrival, this will not (unless you stay in your suite overlooking the dreamy Capability Brown look-alike landscape) be the case when you leave. Beware the cost of keeping up such passions when your children become spellbound.
An overview in brief
The K Club, only 24 miles from Dublin Airport, is a formidable 19th century mansion with 69 rooms and suites in the main building and 19 Garden Apartments tucked in foliage nearby. It is a grandiose country estate set in 550 acres of parkland with a mile long thriving stretch of the River Liffey running through its course. The estate was formerly owned by the grandson of the legendary winemaker, Thomas Barton, who modelled the stately build along the lines of a French chateau in 1832.
In 1991 the property was converted into a luxury hotel and country club and soon became the benchmark for luxury five star country retreats in Ireland. It is home to two championship golf courses; The Palmer Course and the Smurfit Course; and, subsequent to it expertly hosting the Ryder Cup in 2006 on the Palmer course, the K Club has enjoyed world-renowned status. For example we putted on the very same green as George Bush Senior, Bono from U2, the master himself, Tiger Woods, other ex-presidents and prime ministers and many other distinguished guests. We all felt important. Not only is it famed for its golf and angling, it also indulges you with one of the most sensational spas in Europe, (all 20,000 sq-ft of it), the K Spa, which smothers you in my favourite of products, the real deal of essential oils, Aromatherapy Associates.
It has several restaurants, ranging from the 'sartorial elegance required' to the family oriented clubhouse restaurant. Every mouthful we had we loved. Nothing is out of their range of capability here it seems.
We were extremely fortunate to have two classically decorated interconnecting suites on the first floor with romantic views of the masterfully pruned landscape from our elegant Georgian sash windows. Beneath us, and to the side of the yew lined pathway that leads to the sculptured water feature, was the croquet lawn on which the boys spent the twilight hours honing their altogether unperfected mallet skills in this recreational pastime, while I read my book from the warm ledge beside the view. After invigorating and action packed days the boys enjoyed languishing in large baths, immersed in essential oils from Aromatherapy Associates, before dining in remarkable style after a 'Shirley Temple' cocktail together with plump cashews and outsized olives. The supremely comfortable beds were large enough for all of us, with sleep, after so much fun, delivering complete knockout, while breakfasts were an in-room feast; full Irish, full English, Continental and the healthy.
Service at the K Club is remarkably good. We arrived with no angling skills whatsoever, however, by the end of our two hours beside the gushing Liffey, we were thirsty amateurs. Rick and Albert, keen fisherman and excellent teachers, collected us from the front of house in two golfing carts. After coating and booting up (pukka gear it was too) in the tackle room beside the beckoning K Spa we took the 'drive' to our spot somewhere beside one of the seven lakes in the wilds of the Palmer Course. The weather was gale force with side swiping sheets of wet wind coming in straight under our hats. Bird life had surrendered to the perils of the weather and I felt sure to follow, but how wrong I was. It didn't take long before the stoic and unflappable teaching duo had us totally gripped. I now understand why Bush Senior apparently cancelled all his afternoon meetings when fishing here; once they bite you're hooked.
After a couple of hours and no catch and after watching a couple of large trout fly upwards out of the swirling lake, teasing me it has to be said, I decided it was time to for the delectable K Spa and a warm drink. I gathered up the youngest and headed back to what felt like heaven. They warmed my hands in aroma-oil heated mittens and gave Dom a long, cream-topped, piping hot chocolate. An hour passed before the other three returned and Albert rushed in to inform me that one of them had 'a catch'. Only one! This was bound to cause fishing fury and considerable loathing from the other two. As soon as I entered the tackle room it was obvious which one had scored: raising his elusive trophy, a 2.5 pound rainbow trout high above his head, Tristan stood for THE photograph. A picture that was to join the colourful annals of memorable moments such as this on the walls of fame in this now very pleasing and serious room. The older boys, Oscar and Will, looked on with green-eyed envy, but were thrilled to discover that we would all be enjoying the sweet spoils at supper that night. It was utterly delicious; innovatively prepared with a tomato coulis on a bed of creamed baby leeks, and exquisitely presented. My ten year old provided us with a Michelin-star worthy first course.
It's a well-known fact that guests of the K Club are offered the ultimate in golfing service together with the dreamiest of courses and highly skilled professional coaches. But, just how impressive this would be had most definitely eluded me. We were now keen anglers, but I was not prepared for the golfing bug to penetrate the boys. It so did, and after a patient and skilled professional coach, Judith, taught us how to swing, drive, chip, showed us what a flags-stick was, took us to the 'dance floor', showed us the interlocking grip, explained that a handicap meant they were all equal, and that a lie was not a lie in golf; she let the boys just let rip with a bucket of balls and a very forgiving green. The sun was out, the mansion looked more prominent than the White House, and we all felt like we had a certain amount of skill, thanks to Judith, who gave us trophy loads of encouragement. This has not been a cost free passion to continue with back home, but anything to keep them off Face Book or Pokemon!
So much more...
I was particularly keen to visit the pet cemetery and meet up with some busy badgers en-route. There are some extraordinarily scenic walks to be enjoyed here, as well as picturesque and historical drives, which can be arranged with a knowledgeable driver at any time. The K Spa has a most inviting contemporary pool for languorous swims and there are designated children hours so you can please all manner of guests. I also noted a steamy Nordic-looking hot tub just beyond the magnificent glass walls - no children in there though. The service here is impeccable and the treatment rooms are to-drop-everything-for.
Boys are notoriously bigger eaters than girls and I feared that catering for their appetites with such fine fair on offer may be both costly and too sophisticated. Not at all, yes they had the "best sandwich I have ever had" - the K-Club sandwich (not for those who with a gastric band) and, though the food is superbly presented, it is also mouth-wateringly tasty. They do have a most special fine dining room, The Byerley Turk Restaurant, where I believe the food is some of the best you will savour in all of Ireland. However, we thoroughly enjoyed the semi-grand River Room Restaurant and Legends, the family styled restaurant in the Club House.
The K Club caters, in every sense of the word, to all needs and to all generations. There is a refreshingly modest atmosphere among the staff, who meet more famous folk than Time Magazine, GQ, Golfing fanatics weekly and Hello! combined can deliver, and that's the charm of the K Club. They don't need to prove anything; they just want to share this great country retreat with you.