In one of the most peaceful and beautiful locations in Ireland, this delightfully old-fashioned family-run hotel is set in a Forest Park overlooking Gougane Barra Lake (famous for its monastic settlements).
The Lucey family has run the hotel since 1937, offering simple, comfortable accommodation as a restful base for walking holidays - rooms are comfortable and have recently been given a gentle upgrade but not over-modernised; all look out onto the lake or mountain, and there are quiet public rooms - also recently refurbished and now slightly more upbeat - where guests like to read.
There has been very little real change over the years, and that’s just the way people like it but, since Neil Lucey and his wife Katy took over management of the hotel from Neil’s parents in 2005, their energy has brought a fresh approach.
Walking holidays remain an important part of the business, but there’s now a cultural edge too as Neil opened a little theatre in the hotel and they host a production which attracts national interest each summer.
And, while the spirit of the place will thankfully remain unchanged, the many improvements made recently include a stronger emphasis on food, and visitors are encouraged to drop in for informal meals - Katy’s delicious bar menus include specialities like a more-ish warm chicken salad, the superb house chowder which she brought from her father’s kitchen in Lahinch, where her parents ran Mr Eamon’s famous restaurant for many years - and her lovely rich walnut and treacle bread.
It’s a good place to bear in mind for afternoon tea too, a cup of tea with a freshly baked sultana scone, local strawberry jam and whipped cream goes down a treat when you’re out and about. This is a magical place - as ever, the monks chose well.
The formal meals are served in the lakeside dining room, which has also been gently upgraded to match Katy’s great ingredients-led cooking.
Smart linen-clad tables are welcoming, with gleaming glasses and fresh flowers, and menus are thoughtfully constructed to suit the varying needs of guests who can opt for a full 4-course dinner or two courses of their choice at a lower price.
Dishes offered are also well chosen to include upbeat versions of old favourites (galia and honeydew melon with raspberry sorbet & mango coulis; grilled Muskerry sirloin steak with provencal tomato and a little red wine jus) alongside slightly more adventurous choices. The names of dishes don't give too much away however - it's the fantastic local ingredients and Katy's way with them (perfect cooking and appealing, unfussy presentation - she calls it 'cooking with love') that lift a meal here right up into the memorable class. And the view helps too, of course, along with very friendly and efficient service.
An interesting and informative drinks list includes well-chosen house wines, a good choice of half bottles, lots of craft beers and a cocktail menu.
An outstanding Junior Menu is also offered - with organic salmon, Cork chicken goujons, Twomey's bangers & mash, and Murphy's ice cream among the treats.
Breakfast is also served in the restaurant and, with windows all along one side of the room and overlooking the lake, it's a very pleasant setting for an enjoyable experience. Like the rest of the food at this delightful place, quality is the by-word here - Flahavan's porridge, breakfast meats from Twomey's craft butchers and free range eggs all get a mention on an appealing breakfast menu that also offers a Veggie Brekky and teas and coffee from Cork.
All round, this is a lovely place - and well worth a visit for Katy’s cooking alone.