Hotel review

Hotel Review: Carton House is now a five star resort, so what’s it like to stay?

Less than 30km from Dublin is a 1,100 acre park that once belonged to the Duke of Leinster.

Queen Victoria is said to have stayed twice. It has not one, but two golf courses. The formal dining rooms are some of the finest in the country, and guests range from Princess Grace of Monaco to many Irish rugby teams (oDuring our visit, we saw a group of players enjoying a break from preparing for this weekend’s Italian clash).

It’s Cardboard House, of course.

If you stayed here before the pandemic you might be wondering why am I talking about this place. It’s a pretty standard 4 star hotel, isn’t it? Well he has been. The Irish-American Mullen family bought it for 57 million euros in 2017 and poured millions into a transformational revamp. Now it is a five star hotel managed by Fairmont. Guests can stay in the 18th century Palladian Pile or the modern Garden Wing. They can relax in a renovated spa and 18-meter swimming pool, play golf, try falconry, fish or cycle in an enclave less than five miles from the city walls.

“We want to create an oasis,” general manager Martin Mangan told me when I visited before it reopened last year. This week, I finally came back to check in as a guest.

Arrival and location

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The picturesque grounds of Carton House

The picturesque grounds of Carton House

The house designed by Richard Castle stands like a peach in its park. However, the reboot has moved the entrance to the hotel and we can’t spot a sign that we’re getting settled, so walk around, park and wheel our bags down the road.

Before reaching the door, the staff came out to take our luggage. Inside, a a doorman in a top hat and tails greets us and guides us along polished Kilkenny limestone floors and Ulster rugs to the new seated reception desks. We’re offered warm towels and walk to our rooms at The House – now converted into a heritage-style “hotel within a hotel” – and tell stories of Lady Emily Lennox and her 23 children on the way. It’s a beautiful guest trip, except for one thing. The temperature drops sharply as we move from new wings to old ones. Our room is cool too. 8/10

Service and style

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Afternoon tea at the Gold Salon.  Photo: Barry Murphy Photography


Afternoon tea at the Gold Salon. Photo: Barry Murphy Photography

Afternoon tea at the Gold Salon. Photo: Barry Murphy Photography

Dating back to the 1730s, Carton House is a national treasure. This reboot puts visitors right into that legacy, with the Morrison and Gold Rooms now set up for afternoon tea and fine dining, as well as breakfast for all guests. They are magnificent salons, perfectly at the height of the gallery of Adare Manor or the library of Ballyfin (watch out for the angled mirrors, designed so that the ladies can admire the stuccoes of the Lafranchini brothers without straining their necks).

I loved sitting down with a cup of tea, and later a G&T, at the Courtyard Bar. It is an elegant space centered on four large planter trees, full of natural light and functioning as a crossroads of old and new. Tables are set outside in good weather and the staff are prompt with smiles and refills.

Golfers can play a links-style course designed by Colin Montgomerie or a parkland course by Mark O’Meara. We took a guided boat tour, hiked the trails and swam in the mosaic pool – although the route from the house to the spa involved way too many hallways, doors and stairs going up and down. It made me notice the transitions of the hotel, rather than walking through them seamlessly. 7.5/10

The rooms

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A Garden Wing bedroom.  Photo: Jack Hardy


A Garden Wing bedroom. Photo: Jack Hardy

A Garden Wing bedroom. Photo: Jack Hardy

The 151 rooms of the Aile Jardin offer all the comfort and a contemporary design; 18 in The House cost more than double the price, but packs character.

We stayed in ‘The Ashford’, an elegantly understated space with a contemporary four-poster bed surrounded by dark floors, original fireplaces, sash windows and richly textured wallpaper.

The super-king bed was a winner. “Amazing,” my wife said, going so far as to take a picture of the brackets below to find out her secrets.

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The Presidential Suite in The House


The Presidential Suite in The House

The Presidential Suite in The House

A stand-alone tub, bespoke Le Labo toiletries, and Butler chocolates with hibiscus-infused water at turndown time created an elegant scene, but the atmosphere was let down by our temperature issues. . The staff brought two portable Dyson heaters, which we ran for a few hours to warm things up. Changes are coming, I was told, and the hotel strives to balance conservation and comfort. But guests paying from nearly €700 a night will rightly expect more. 7/10

food drink

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Kathleen's Kitchen with its 'chef's table'


Kathleen’s Kitchen with its ‘chef’s table’

Kathleen’s Kitchen with its ‘chef’s table’

Four restaurants include The Morrison for fine dining (Wednesday through Sunday), the gastropub-style Carriage House (beloved by locals and golfers) and Kathleen’s – a reimagining of old servants’ kitchens. It has features of old cast iron stoves, white tiles and copper pans, and a few tables sit just off the open kitchen.

We dined here, with plates including excellent neck of Achill Island lamb marinated in koji and rich pasta mixing pearl-shaped fregola with chunks of Dublin Bay prawns, ‘scrumps of crunchy garlic and a deep tomato sauce that reminded me of bouillabaisse.

Our only complaints were a ghostly mac and cheese from the kids menu, which was bland and almost milky in texture, and a serving counter that doubled as a coffee dock and storage space next to our ‘chef’s table’. He felt out of place.

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The Morrison Room.  Photo: Barry Murphy Photography


The Morrisson Room. Photo: Barry Murphy Photography

The Morrison Room. Photo: Barry Murphy Photography

Don’t miss breakfast at the Morrison (above). Sitting in this sunny lounge, with tiered trays of pastries and fruit, great gluten-free options, and hot orders like Egg Royale or pancakes loaded with berries and Nutella, is divine. 8/10

The bottom line

Carton House added a star and took a stellar leap forward. I’d rank it alongside Mount Juliet, K Club and Fota, but there’s a reason the prices are still lower than top resorts like Adare Manor or Ashford Castle. After its transformation comes the next challenge: creating a seamless customer experience and an international reputation.

Insider Tip

Want to see the stunning salons and original house without paying top dollar for a stay? Book afternoon tea (€55 pp) or dinner (from €80 pp).

Local 101

The 20 minute Lime Walk takes you to the village of Maynooth.

Rates

Prices for the Garden Wing start from €280 B&B; rooms in La Maison from €695. Pól was a guest of the station. cartonhouse.com


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