The thing everyone thinks of when they think of the Kerry capital is the famous annual festival held in the town, inspired by William Pembroke Mulchinock’s ballad, “The Rose of Tralee”. And it’s true, even in a cold January there’s no escaping the week-long celebration as you wander around the market town and into The Rose Garden in the town park.
However, The Rose Hotel, our home for the weekend, offers a sharp reminder of how far removed the eye-diddly-eye “lovely girls” competition is from the real festival experience. Bought by the parents of 2011 Washington Rose Dorothy Henggeler after her untimely death, the hotel a beautiful homage to some of their happiest memories as a family during the Rose of Tralee. In fact, the weekend of our visit, the Henggelers were over from the States to attend the wedding of the 2011 Texas Rose in the hotel.
Now completely revamped, the hotel has a brand new spa, fine dining restaurant and bar, and has found the right balance of luxury and comfort. In the bar, aptly named Dot's, we spent our first evening, tucking into a delicious fish pie and chatting with arriving wedding guests and locals alike.
Saturday arose, sluggish and grey, but some warming coffee and eggs set us right for a wander around the town. The rain held off long enough to get in some shopping and a visit to Siamsa Tíre. One of the busiest theatres in the country, Siamsa Tíre is also home of the National Folk Theatre, where is takes over for five months, from May to September, of productions and classes. Led by artistic director Jonathan Kelliher, this trope of full-time performers explores traditional art forms in music, song and dance. During the rest of the year, this the theatre welcomes plenty of national and international groups to the stage, from drama school productions to renowned comedy acts and musicians.
The weather soon devolved into all-out storm status so we hot footed it back to the hotel, an Elemis Biotec facial awaits. After a blissful 45 minutes, we returned, fresh-faced to the lobby to relax by the fire before dinner.
Between the bar menu and two restaurants, the Rose Hotel caters for every occasion. We opted for the Rose Room, a small dining room filled with old world charm. I chose the scallops with cauliflower crisps, pea mousse and sweet golden raisins. My companion went for the Ashes white pudding with goat’s cheese and scorched orange and cucumber balsamic. Oddly, neither of us offered to share.
For mains, my venison seemed to melt, helped no doubt by the beautifully caramelised quince. The dessert too was quite the finale, our lovely waiter seemed to get a bit giddy when I ordered the chocolate dome with honeycomb ice-cream, peanut butter and butterscotch. She practically skipped back to the kitchens. The reason for the excitement soon became evident as she arrived with a chocolate snowglobe on which she poured the hot butterscotch, melting away the globe to reveal the nutty ice-cream goodness inside. Almost too good to eat. Almost.
Following dinner, we half walked half rolled back to the bar for a digestif or two. As with the night before, we weren’t long sitting before our neighbours struck up a conversation and we whiled away the hours chatting to a few American wedding guests and some of the local crew.
It was a weekend of great chats, excellent food and a side of pampering and I left with an understanding of the pride and community that surrounds one of Ireland’s largest and long-running festivals.
Spoil yourself with a weekend escape at The Rose Hotel where you and a guest can enjoy a two-night spa break with a bottle of Prosecco on arrival, dinner on one evening of your choice in the elegant Rose Room restaurant, breakfast each morning and a choice of spa treatments at the Serenity Spa (choose from a deep tissue massage or an ELEMIS 55-minute facial of choice). Spa Escapes start from €480 for a total stay based on a two-night stay for two sharing.