DUBLIN - I step into the lobby of the posh Merrion Hotel and pause when I see people wearing audio devices and admiring priceless works of art. I’m left to wonder: Is this the best hotel in Dublin or the National Gallery?
Well, as I discover during a recent visit, the historic Merrion is both. In fact, when people call the Merrion Hotel “state-of-the-art,” they’re not just referring to the lavish modern trappings that intermix so seamlessly with the antique furnishings and stately decor, they’re also talking about the museum-worthy art on display throughout the property.
Incredible 19th- and 20th-century paintings — most from the private collection of Lochlann Quinn, the Irish businessman and philanthropist who is part owner of the Merrion — captivate guests, who are offered an audio guide, the same type used in Le Louvre, to learn more about 20 of the hotel’s most famous pieces.
Left: The Merrion's iconic entrance. Right: Hotel's playful deserts.
Sarah Glavey, the Merrion’s delightful Marketing Manager, encourages me to take the audio tour and in my ear Fionnuala Croke — the famed director of Dublin’s world-renowned Chester Beatty Library — narrates the audio tour and whispers facts about the beautiful Irish and European paintings I’m admiring. Works by J.B. Yeats, William Scott and Louis Le Brocquy leave me speechless.
Over a cup of tea in the hotel’s elegant parlour, where high tea is a centuries-old tradition, Glavey tells me that the hotel’s art collection has even made its way into the Merrion’s kitchen.
“Our pastry chef, Paul Kelly, has created the Art Afternoon Tea featuring pastries inspired by the paintings that hang in the hotel,” reveals Glavey, who says getting a table for high tea at the Merrion is never an easy task.
Also included in the audio tour is a short history lesson about the hotel narrated by Barry McGovern, one of Ireland’s best-known actors. Oh, and what a history the Merrion has spun.
Located on Upper Merrion Street directly across from Ireland’s Houses of Parliament — one of Dublin’s most fashionable areas — the hotel is made up of four gorgeous Georgian townhouses circa 1761. It has welcomed kings and queens and heads of states from around the world — U.S. presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush among them.
“The townhomes were converted into the hotel 20 years ago as a labour of love,” says Glavey.
One of the townhouses — Mornington House — was the birthplace of Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, while the others have been occupied by wealthy Irish merchants and nobility over the centuries.
No matter your rank, though, staff at the Merrion treats everyone equally and their attentiveness and attention to detail is unequalled. Not surprising for a property that’s earned a 5-Star ranking — it’s also a member of The Leading Hotels of the World — based on its impeccable service.
Speaking of stars, the Merrion is also home to Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, Dublin’s only 2-Star Michelin restaurant, which bears the name of the Frenchman who brought haute cuisine to Ireland’s capital 30 years ago. And for 30 years, the restaurant renowned Head Chef Guillaume Lebrun has been delighting diners with his culinary creations. The four-course tasting menu he designs for me and my dinner companion is an orgasmic delight for our tastebuds. The pillowy puréed potatoes that accompany my entree — who knew potatoes could taste this good? — encourage me to summon restaurant manager Stéphane Robin so I can rain praise on his star chef.
“There’s actually a funny story behind our potatoes,” the charming Frenchman tells me. “When we first opened, we did not include potatoes on the menu and our Irish customers were offended. ‘Hhow can you not offer potatoes to an Irishman?’ they asked us. So Chef created these potatoes and we have not had any complaints since.”
Fine dining doesn’t get any finer than the Merrion’s Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, which offers guests wonderful views of the hotel’s legendary gardens.
“Fine dining is not just about food, it is the whole package – the surroundings, the service and the ambience,” says Robin.
For lighter fare, the Merrion offers the Cellar Bar, a gastro-pub located in the basement of the Mornington House. The pub, which served as the House’s 18th-century wine vault, is where you’ll see some of Ireland’s power brokers and top parliamentarians discussing politics in cozy little grotto-style nooks over a pint of Guinness.
Above: The Merrion's Cellar Bar is where Ireland's political elite hang out.
There’s also a cocktail bar, No. 23, off the hotel’s main parlour where politicians like to hang out after a hard day of running Ireland. The Cellar Bar’s neighbour, the Cellar Restaurant, Glavey tells me, will soon vanish — its space will be used to expand the hotel’s already amazing Tethra Spa.
The award-winning spa is the hotel’s “tranquility base” — its calming interior and expert therapists get guests to unwind with a wide range of massages and skin treatments using high quality product lines like ESPA and Darphin.
The fitness centre next to the spa comes equipped with lots of technologically-advanced workout equipment, a truly lovely 18-metre infinity pool that looks like a Roman bath and a steam room.
The corridors leading to the Merrion’s 123 luxurious guest rooms and 19 suites are adorned with pictures of Ireland’s pristine countryside and historic figures like Eamon de Valera, who played a prominent role in the War of Independence from Britain and later became Ireland’s president.
Above: The hotel's fairytale rooms are fit for royalty.
Needless to say, the rooms at the Merrion are masterpieces. While staying true to the understated elegance of their original Georgian design, they offer all the luxury trappings modern travellers desire.
The rooms are light and airy and decorated in subtle colours and fabrics to compliment the Irish landscape paintings hanging on the walls — the most famous of the hotel’s landscape paintings is a Paul Henry that hangs at the foot of the Merrion’s main staircase.
Speaking of landscapes, when I throw open the curtains of my room the hotel’s two enchanting urban gardens, designed by noted architect Jim Reynolds, lay spread out below. People are enjoying afternoon tea in the Central Garden while others are wandering through the smaller, flower-filled Lady Morington’s Garden — it links the Main House to the hotel’s Garden Wing, which is made up of converted government buildings. The air is perfumed with sweet scents and the lovely gardens, filled with box hedges, water fountains and obelisks, are watched over by a statue of legendary Irish writer and poet James Joyce, a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of central Dublin.
Above: The Merrion's lovely gardens.
According to Glavey, the planned re-routing at the hotel entrance — guests now have to walk through to main parlour to reach the gardens — will allow quicker access to the Merrion’s Garden of Eden setting.
The Merrion Hotel’s Georgian facade and history, its priceless art collection, regal interior, fabulous staff, cozy rooms and especially its tranquil gardens combine to make this a picture perfect property.
Rates at the Merrion Hotel start around $500 (Cdn) a night but the experience is priceless. To make a reservation, go to www.merrionhotel.com/
If the Merrion art collection isn’t enough for you, then you’ll be glad to know the country’s National Gallery, the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Trinity College, and the Irish Museum of Modern Art are within easy reach. The Merrion is the perfect place to base yourself for a Dublin city art break. / Art Tea is served at the Merrion from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and from 2 p.m. and 4.30 p.m. Friday to Sunday. Cost: About $50. To make a reservation, send an email to: email@example.com
or call (01) 603 0608. / Air Canada Rouge, WestJet and Are Lingus offer flights to Dublin from Toronto.