The entrance to Dublin’s Merrion Hotel is so discrete, I had to ask the taxi driver if this was the correct address. So unpretentious is this stylish 7 year old hotel, that any other in this class which has won so overwhelming an amount of international awards (Highest ranking in Ireland from Travel & Leisure Magazine, Gold list of World’s Best Places to Stay in Conde Nast etc.) would probably have huge brass signage. Instead, The Merrion, which is made up of four Grade 1 original Georgian terrace townhouses, keep their 5 star rating low profile. Built in the 1760s, these chic digs are located in the heart of Georgian Dublin opposite the Government Buildings, the home of the Irish Government. Dublin is considered one of the finest Georgian cities in Europe and this quartet of buildings is an architectural triumph.
Financier J.P. Morgan is reputed to have answered when asked how much he paid for a pricey purchase, “if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.” Not that The Merrion is out of sight price wise with any other European Euro cash rich 5 star accommodations, but character, sophistication and the ultimate service don’t come cheaply. However, it hasn’t hindered their popularity. Their annual occupancy rate is well over 75% and they have never to shout their popularity from the 18th century roof tops.
Imagine the surprise when not even out of the cab, the doorman was there to assist me, umbrella in hand through the familiar Irish downpour and quickly whisked me and my light bag into the pillared foyer hung with some of the hotel’s major canvases including two Jack Yeats ( poet John Butler Yeats’ brother) paintings. Through the historically important doorway (house #22) into what could only be described as a traditional Irish Georgian drawing room, is the reception desk. Here, the Irish-woven traditional fabrics cover the antique sofas, the fire ablaze, and more art fill the walls. In fact, the independently owned Merrion Hotel has what is considered, the most important 19th and 20th art collection in Ireland.
Everyone is so polite I realize that the publicity about Irish friendliness isn’t just another ‘spin’. It’s true. I’m taken into the adjoining drawing room, once part of the next door mansion, also decorated in traditional and cozy style. I yearn to sit on the terrace among the lush garden which I see from the wall of heavily draped Georgian windows, but it’s still raining. Even the diehard Irish aren’t sitting under the oversized umbrellas. One more interconnected drawing room from yet another house is filled with guests who are reading their morning paper or having a continental breakfast. Merrion boasts of being like a home away from home, and we’ve certainly heard that phrase about many small hotels, but this 125 room 20 suite establishment really comes across as the real thing.
Behind two heaping baggage carts surrounded with a few children and what I suspect is a wife, while the concierge helps pile the mega- load into the extremely long limo, is John Walsh, of TV fame. He’s just one of the notables who stay here. While Sarah Jessica Parker and Broderick Crawford were looking for an Irish homestead, The Merrion Hotel is where they decided to hang their hats.
A good trust fund or generous parents, maybe an inheritance certainly would help since high end discretion costs. It’s easy to appraise that this is where the well-heeled choose to stay while in this fair city of hero/author James Joyce and Trinity College’s Book of Kells. This hotel comes across like a “nicely run private house”, right in the heart of the city. Two gardens at the hotel are designed completely differently. The main is called The Garden and can be viewed from the drawing rooms. While Lady Mornington’s Garden is strictly decorative and designed in 17th century style. These are divided by a clear plastic walkway leading from the new to the old building.
Georgian houses were designed as homes and are known for their large doorways, sashed windows that get smaller towards the top, handsome but plain exteriors and most importantly, the beautiful door fanlights and interiors with large public areas. Interesting fact is that each Georgian door must be a different colour then the one next creating a colourful array. The Merrion’s 18th century buildings have maintained their architectural and decorative features especially the intricate rococo plasterwork ceiling moldings. Where needed the reproductions were skillfully restore by a master stuccadore. Typical of the era were images of flowers, baskets teeming with fruit and birds in flight. The Duke of Wellington’s birthplace, Mornington’s House, now part of The Merrion, after months of ‘sympathetically restored’ renovations, revealed important plaster detail. However, when some of the details were missing, each was recast and fixed into the space..all done by hand. It would certainly be fair to say The Merrion Hotel public rooms are full of pomp and circumstance. A conscious decision was that none of the rooms have wallpaper since simple paint are typical of Irish Georgian interiors and better for displaying the awesome art collection.
The ceilings of my room #180 (house #21) are approximately 5 metres high, the moldings simple and angular. Sage green walls and the hand-woven light ecru and sage curtaining are an usual colour palette for an hotel room but stunning in a Toile de Jouey pattern which would have been seen in private homes of this period. Overlooking the Government Buildings, as so many of the rooms do, is an opportunity to see the grandeur of these mammoths edifices straight on. The Garden Wing, the relatively new and contemporary guest rooms built behind the original townhouses, have a blend of fabrics and textures in a neo classical acanthus design with curtains woven in fine wool.
The old meets new with all the modern conveniences of in-room fax, voice mail, air conditioning, TV, Carara marble bathrooms and amenities by Ken Turner.
A luxurious spa, Tethra, (Irish for The land of the Young) has an 18 m swimming pool set in French limestone and a spectacular trompe l’oeil neo classical landscape mural at one end. A feature here is that it has an environmentally friendly ozone filtration system. Treatment rooms and a comprehensive choice of treatment by trained estheticians and a large gym with up to date equipment makes Tethra Spa, for the time, the only complete hotel spa in the city.
I pre-ordered early morning breakfast which came on the dot. Try requesting hot skim milk for your coffee in most hotels and you can be sure, it won’t arrive. Here, a full and frothy jug was placed beside the very adequate thermos of very good coffee. The Merrion doesn’t miss a beat. When the TV changer didn’t work, one phone call had a service man and an apology up to the room within 15 minutes.
FOOD AND DRINK
The Irish have a new reverence for food. The old was for their drink. Gone are the days of a variety of recipes for potatoes. Now imagine a two star rate Michelin restaurant, Patrick Guilbaud, that just happens to be within the hotel complex although it does have it’s own entrance (House #21). To receive all the kudos is no mean feat and if you’re up to spending a few hundred Euro on a meal, then it’s a treat of a lifetime. However, the Cellar Restaurant with its vaulted ceiling, in the new building, has a fine menu which isn’t a “slave to fashion and fad” and prices are relatively reasonable. Breakfast is the time to see all the other guests who gather around the circular buffet table, no soggy edibles here since hot choices are ordered. The vaulted roof and the several nooks in this new addition follow closely the décor of the original wine cellar’s vaulted stone ceiling and walls. The adjacent bar (house #23) always has a buzz with both young and older locals and clients partaking in some Irish spirits.
THINGS TO DO
1. At the end of Merrion Square is The National Gallery of Ireland which houses a collection of Irish and European paintings. Admission to the permanent collection is free.
3.Hop On, Hop Off on the City Tour sightseeing bus. The complete tour is over 1 hour but you can get off and on throughout the day at any of the 19 stops. One stop is conveniently located on Merrion Square. Tel 8734222
4.Within walking distance is Trinity College founded in 1592. Of course, the highlight is the Book of Kells -Turning Darkness into Light, a background of the famous gospel manuscript.
While there, walk through the Long Room which houses over 200,000 of Trinity’s oldest books and get there at opening. Lines form early.
5. Take time to walk through St. Stephen’s Garden, a two minute walk from the hotel into a wonderland of lakes and greenery. Also, the pedestrian Grafton Street, is the shopping hub and within walking distance of The Merrion Hotel.
Broadband Internet connection, video conferencing facility, mobile phones on request.
Single Euro 320 – Euro 345,
Deluxe Euro 345- Euro375,
Suites from Euro 670- Euro 875
MAIN HOUSE from Euro 400- Euro 435,
Suites Euro 630-Euro 1020
Penthouse Euro 2400
Vat is included in the price