By Colette Fitzpatrick
When Kenmare was decided upon for our annual family holiday, I was delighted. In recent years, I have become a big fan of hiking and my passion for the Irish countryside has only intensified. The last time I was in The Kingdom, I was in my teens and I was keen to see its rolling hills and valleys, towering peaks and lush greenery again with my now more appreciative eyes.
We were based right in the town, meaning restaurants, bars and shops were within easy walking distance for dining and fun in the evening, while we spent the days hopping in the car and driving around the surrounding – and breathtaking – landscape. With the whims of five adults to cater for, it was rather hectic and I didn’t actually get to spend as much time in the town itself as I would have liked to but I got enough of a taste to be able to put together a guide of must-see attractions and excellent establishments that I, myself, will be following the next time I get a chance to head back to Kenmare.
Where to stay?
The town is actually home to quite a few great hotels but I would recommend finding yourself a nice little cottage to rent, like we did – although “little” is not really accurate as we were in a rather spacious four bedroom property. The houses in town are super cute and it really adds to the whole experience to be staying within one of the charming buildings that gives Kenmare its picturesque character.
Where to eat?
There are several excellent restaurants in town and I don’t think we had a bad meal the whole holiday but the best dining experience, by far, was Mulcahy’s. One of the town’s most highly rated and recommended restaurants, it has a menu that didn’t initially appeal to myself or my mother overly – and I will say that menus are quite samey in the town, in general – but the quality of the food, the beautiful plating, the generous portions, the exceptionally friendly staff and the little sample dish we were given to try before eating, all endeared the place to me instantly. With cosy, dim-lit, tastefully decorated interiors, it is perfect for a couple or a group that want to be able to have a nice conversation over their food.
Where to drink?
The best evening that we had out was when we finished up a meal with a trip to the five star Park Hotel Kenmare for cocktails. A beautiful historic building, with excellent lakeside views, it was the ideal place to sip on an excellent Whiskey Sour and chat. Sadly, I didn’t spot Francis Brennan but it was still a lovely evening.
Where to go for coffee?
If you’re looking for somewhere to grab breakfast or spend some time reading over a cup of coffee, the French bakery and cafe in town, Maison Gourmet, is where you need to go. Populated by actual French staff and stuffed full of delicious French pastries and cakes and a full menu, it is a lovely place with the culinary chops to match its charming atmosphere.
Where to shop?
As is the case with many touristy towns in Ireland, Kenmare is full of shops offering a standard fare of woollen items, culinary products and trinkets that are available all over the country and often not even actually made in Ireland. While the knitted garments are usually genuine Irish products, they are rarely unique to an particular area or shop and the smaller items, like pieces of jewellery, are usually also sold all over the country. While these places are all well and good, if you are looking for something more unique and interesting, Kenmare’s PFK is a must. This beautiful jewellery store has been in business for about two decades and features both the handmade designs of owner and master goldsmith, Paul F Kelly’s, and a carefully curated collection of other Irish makers. For something truly special, it is the place to go.
What to do?
As I mentioned, Kenmare itself is lovely but it also offers the chance to explore the wider Kerry area, if you have access to a vehicle. The single most enjoyable thing I did while in the area was heading over past Killarney to climb Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s tallest peak. Offering the most interesting climb and most stunning views, it is a must for those interested in really seeing the unique beauty of the Kerry landscape.
Where to relax?
After the intense climb, however, a spa day was necessary and I had the best massage of my life in the Sheen Falls Lodge Spa. One of the most highly regarded spas in Ireland or the UK, it is the perfect place to relax. Staff are friendly and kind and went well over the time allotted for each of our treatments and the spa facilities meant that we didn’t leave for a long time afterwards, lounging by the pool, hot tub, sauna and steam room for hours.
Kenmare, in general, was a delight and I’d love to spend a less frantic time in the town and enjoy its many charms again some time as they really are numerous.
For more travel content, check out Colette’s guide to visiting Seoul for the first time…