The Ring of Kerry boasts some of the most magical vistas in Ireland. Beginning this year, there’s a new reason to visit this part of the Emerald Isle.
Since 1974, Ireland’s Blue Book has invited the country’s best country houses, castles, boutique hotels and restaurants to be a part of its collection, curated for its exquisite luxury.
In 2019, the Blue Book publishes its 45th anniversary edition, with six new properties. I had the pleasure of staying in one of its latest members, Cahernane House Hotel in Killarney, County Kerry. The hotel is just a stone’s throw from the Killarney train station. (The trip from Dublin is only about three hours.)
Built in 1877, Cahernane assails you with its Victorian charm straight away. The ivy-covered entrance opens to the grand Queen Anne fireplace, churning right inside the doorway.
A cherry-oak staircase led me to the Herbert Suite, named for the house’s original family. The Victorian theme continues into the rooms. No cold, modern austerity in this place: large armoires instead of closets, four-poster beds and windows opening up to Instagram-ready scenes of sheep grazing on the edge of Killarney National Park. Even on a foggy day, Cahernane’s “backyard” will never cease to amaze.
Although the house has a formal dining area for breakfast and dinner, I preferred to take my evening meals in the downstairs pub-style area known as the Cellar, as this was the Herbert family’s wine cellar back in the day.
I recommend the leek soup with the homemade scone plate, perfect for a (typically Irish) damp day. Wash it down with the Cellar’s good selection of locally produced beers.
Besides its stunning beauty and grounds, Cahernane’s other selling point is its proximity to everything in Killarney. You can walk to the town center to pick up chocolates at Lir Cafe, my favorite sweet shop in Kerry, or to dine at any number of modest and elegant restaurants.
If you’re up for a bigger hike, take a jaunt to Ross Castle, a 15th-century tower house overlooking Lough Leane. Keep your eyes peeled for the swans.
Less than five miles away is the Torc Waterfall, one of the most popular destinations on the Ring of Kerry, the circular tourist route that stretches 111 miles around County Kerry. The area’s prized red deer can be seen there if you’re lucky.
To make your Instagram friends green with travel envy, venture farther to Ladies View, one of the most photographed places in Ireland, named for the “view” afforded the ladies-in-waiting of Queen Victoria on her visit to the island in 1861. The rivers, lakes and mountains you’ll see are truly heavenly. You may even encounter a mountain goat as I did.
Cahernane House Hotel is making itself even better by closing for some renovations through March 8, but it will be ready for you just in time for your spring and summer vacations.
Among the other new Blue Book properties is Butler House in Kilkenny, another ivy- covered mansion straight out of a fairy tale. This Georgian house is very near Kilkenny Castle, built in 1195. Kilkenny has special significance for Washingtonians, as it’s the home town of James Hoban, the architect of the White House and supervisor of the building of the Capitol.
Before you depart back through Dublin
Airport, stop by EPIC The Irish Migration Museum, which opened in 2016 in Dublin’s Docklands. It tells the story of the Irish diaspora with a thoroughly immersive experience for all ages. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex visited the museum when they were in Dublin last year.
If you can stay a night in the Dublin area, you’ll want to check out the King Sitric, in the seaside village of Howth. Also a Blue Book member, this hotel only has a few rooms — modestly decorated, but with stunning views of the Irish Sea — but probably the best seafood restaurant in Ireland.
At sunrise, walk out onto the pier and take in the majestic uninhabited island known as Ireland’s Eye. You’ll wonder why you ever booked that return flight back home.