Shuttering a hotel for an 18-month renovation is a risky proposition even in a bustling tourist hub. To do it in the bucolic countryside of County Limerick, Ireland, well, that better be one jaw-dropping transformation, guaranteed to bring visitors in droves.
And indeed, for Adare Manor, it was a doozy. More than 800 workers and craftspeople were on site, doing everything from building a gold-leafed ballroom from scratch to replacing or repairing every single roof tile on the manor house.
Luckily, the hard work, a multimillion dollar renovation, reaped spectacular benefits: Upon reopening, the property was soon named 2018's Hotel of the Year by Virtuoso's Best of the Best awards, an influential organization of more than 17,000 travel advisers.
But in more granular terms -- especially when "best" can be so subjective -- what does this even mean?
Broadly, sure, it's a hotel that's firing on all cylinders. Everything from the meals to the amenities to the grounds must be flawless. But for a guest, it must be more personal than that to obtain such high esteem.
At Adare, it's eating breakfast in a room that looks like it was lifted straight out of Hogwarts. It's learning the ancient art of falconry alongside the hotel's resident Snowy Owl, Olaf. And it's definitely sinking your teeth into a freshly baked scone with a dollop of house-made lemon curd.
So how, exactly, does Adare craft its magic? Read on for a peek behind the proverbial curtain.
The secret: A staff seemingly capable of mind reading
The staff at Adare is more than 500 strong, which leaves plenty of manpower to focus specifically on guests' needs. General Manager Paul Heery also instructs his employees on the theory of "beyond everything," which translates into making sure every experience on property is exceptional from the guest's point of view.
"Is the welcome at the gate a little bit more than the normal welcome?" he says, for example, of greeting guests upon arrival. "The objective is that every guest coming through gets some sort of a memory. We are always challenging ourselves and challenging the norm."
One particularly thoughtful touch is the hotel's use of photographs. If a couple is celebrating an anniversary, for example, the staff will often track down a wedding photograph and place it bedside during turndown service.
For a wedding held on site recently, the staff even went so far as to print a photo from the wedding that took place earlier that day, to have it ready to display in the couple's bridal suite after the evening's festivities.
For another guest with Irish heritage who was hoping to reconnect with his roots, a staffer was able to track down a local Gaelic hurling club that had a connection with the guest's family.
"He drove [the guest] out to the club where his cousin used to play hurling back, I don't know, a hundred years ago," Heery says. "You know, small things. But for the guest, it was a huge moment where we're helping him with his family history."
The secret: A farm-to-table menu unlike anywhere else in Ireland
The Emerald Isle's cuisine may be most famed for creative uses of potatoes, but contemporary Irish food encompasses far more than spuds; highlighting the country's excellent produce and meat is one of the hotel's main culinary goals.
During Adare's renovation, culinary director Loughlin Druhan loaded his team into a camper van and road tripped around Ireland to find the best vendors for every ingredient they needed.
They now work with over 100 different suppliers from across the country, sourcing the best of the best for everything from game meats to that addictive Irish butter. "The idea there was to get the best produce that we can within Ireland," says Heery.
Spread across the sprawling property are four different restaurants, each catering to a specific mood or type of guest.
The Oak Room is Adare's fine-dining option, housed inside a stunningly renovated oak-paneled dining room. Local artists were even commissioned to design bespoke wood and ceramic plates and serving pieces, with some of the material coming from the hotel's own woodlands.
A six-course, prix-fixe menu with wine pairing will set guests back €250 (about $283) per person. The meal includes elevated takes on traditional Irish fare like Tipperary quail with salsify and bacon, or 24-hour-cooked Dexter beef with truffles and morel mushrooms. And, of course, service is top notch.
For those looking for a more traditional experience, the hotel's Gallery serves a proper Irish afternoon tea that will upend all expectations (and probably ruin you for any version thereafter).
Guests are treated to a selection of four petite sandwiches, including local salmon and ham; freshly baked scones with clotted cream; and five different desserts like a tiramisu "shot" filled with coffee jelly and mascarpone mousse.
The room itself is also mighty impressive: based on the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, it's 132 feet long with gargantuan marble fireplaces and walls decorated with hand-carved Bible scenes.
The secret: How they keep the golf greens, well, so green
At 845 acres, Adare's property requires a significant amount of upkeep. And no area receives more loving care than the hotel's golf course, an idyllic stretch of emerald greens winding around the River Maigue.
"There are over 50 employees just on grass and greenery," says Heery. And while Ireland may be rainy, these links will never be soggy: SubAir technology -- a way to quickly vacuum water from the greens -- runs under the whole of the course.
Far from being putting greens just for guests, the Tom Fazio-designed links were created with the intention of making Adare one of the top golf destinations in the world.
So far, so good. The course was crowned the World's Best New Golf Course in 2018 by the World Golf Awards, and its JP McManus Pro-Am tournament, scheduled for July 2020, already has the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose signed on to compete.
Even the practice facility is known as one of the best in the country, with Scottish bunker sand specially imported for the most refined experience.
Nearly equally alluring as the course itself is the sleek Carriage House, which acts both as a clubhouse for golfers and a dining destination not only for guests, but also for those in the surrounding village of Adare. After a round on the links, swing by the bar, an adults-only respite outfitted in leather and oak.
Toast to your success (or drown your sorrows) with a glass of wine. Adare's list is an impressive 12,000 bottles deep, plus the hotel keeps five sommeliers on staff to help guests pick the ideal vintage.
The secret: A massage so good, it makes jet lag disappear
A jet lag cure. Such is the promise of the hotel spa's exclusive coladh samh massage (the name, pronounced "culla sauv," is an Irish phrase meaning sound sleep) -- a 50 or 80-minute treatment specifically designed to help with sleep issues, ranging from insomnia to epic jet lag battles.
The experience begins with a mixture of pressure and Swedish techniques, followed by a cooling ceramic stone treatment designed to lull the body into a state of relaxation. This author can speak from firsthand experience: My whole body felt like a happy, sleepy puddle by the end of the service.
And spa junkies rejoice: Adare's spa is one of only 11 in the world (and the only one in Ireland) to offer La Mer-branded treatments. For true luxury, book the La Mer Miracle Broth Experience, a 180-minute service that includes a body polish with pure diamond powder, a circulation enhancing massage and the signature Miracle Broth facial.
Adare Manor, Adare, Co. Limerick, V94 W8WR, Ireland; +353 61 605 200. Rates start at $370, including breakfast.