This is an unusual tale, the kind of tale I rarely tell. But I’m hoping that telling the tale will help you choose to go to this unique and special resort. It’s a one-of-a-kind place where the choices allow you to stay in the lifestyle you prefer and choose from an abundance of on-property and nearby features and benefits including spa, golf nearby, sightseeing and sheer enjoyment of being there. But there is a fly in the ointment.
Let me tell you first that I LOVE the Radisson Blu Farnham Estate resort and hotel. It’s a fun place in a peaceful setting and I enjoyed my first visit enough to go back to expand my knowledge of the place in preparation for including it in my upcoming travel guide, “1001 Reasons to Visit Ireland©.”
But it does have some unique problems which start at the top with its on-site management. In short, it appears that if everything goes smoothly, you will love this place but look out if you run into a snag and expect to find a caring general manager with a heart. Given that you are in Ireland where the “milk of human kindness” is found in abundance and caring and the warmth and hospitality of compassionate people are qualities that travelers both enjoy and quickly come to expect, this property cannot be relied on for compassionate decision-making or for making the kinds of logical decisions one would expect from any hotelier, especially one in Ireland. Maybe what is missing here is a caring on-property owner as you find at so many family owned and operated lodging choices in Ireland and something has gotten lost in the translation to the hired help. (Go Google the story about the pregnant guest on a breakaway who missed out on one night of her stay and the accompanying spa treatment when she was rushed to the hospital, missing the last night of her stay and offered an upgrade on her next trip and an extension on the validity of her spa treatment coupon instead of being offered a complimentary night on her next visit to make up for the one she missed out on due to her emergency! .WHAT?? I think the general manager would have flunked Customer Care 101 if this story were a case study on a final exam that asked, “How would you handle this situation?” The average general manager in Ireland would have invited the couple back for an “after emergency rejuvenating weekend” as the property’s guests! This so NOT an Irish reaction to a guest situation. I could write volumes on the things Irish hoteliers and Irish people have done to make other people’s lives better! What a horrifying response! And there’s more to the lack of solidly good management decisions but I’ll leave that for the end because the fact of the matter is that I think this is a marvelous place. . . it just needs some managerial attitude adjustment. Especially as it relates to an interest in travelers from the U.S.! So the schizophrenia relates to the sharp juxtaposition of the old and the new portions of the property as well as the welcoming resort where the general manager boldly makes it clear that his bread is buttered in Ireland by local visitors so there’s no need for him to focus on Americans. Truly, has he lost his last marble?
Why do I say this about a wonderful place in the most welcoming country in the world as it relates to Americans? Especially in a year when Tourism Ireland is working in over-drive to tell all people with Irish roots and all non-Irish people (like me) who have caught the Irish spirit, that this is 2013, the Year of The Gathering: a time when everyone is encouraged to go to Ireland!
Hold onto your Hanna Hat! (You know Hanna Hats. . . Tip O’Neill always wore a Hanna Hat, made in County Donegal. . . see me in the factory below). . . the general manager tells me that nearly 100% of his business comes from within Ireland and he has no interest in telling the story of the Radisson Blu Farnham Estate to Americans to which I can only respond: “Hello. This is your wake-up call! Why would the owners/investors of the property jump through the hoops it takes to invest in and take on the Radisson Blu brand if they weren’t interested in the North American marketing and reservations system of Radisson and the allure of the Radisson Blu brand?? Why would they pay franchise fees for something they wouldn’t need at all if all they wanted was Irish business as the Irish marketplace couldn’t care a hoot about the flag’s brand flying outside as the locals choose hotels and resorts by their location, their features and benefits, and their value for euros spent.” This kind of lack of insight and disconnect between brain and mouth seems to be typical of top management at this otherwise alluring property where the staff are doing a sensational job. But I have come to realize, and it took decades for me to figure this out, that when people behave in a bizarre fashion with me, I’m not the first person, nor the last, that they will behave badly with and you can find this born out in each of the bad reviews you’ll find online. When people have a stellar experience and everything goes smoothly, the reviews are great but when things go wrong they go all the way wrong and the wisdom of a good general manager seems to be greatly lacking so unhappy people just stay unhappy. And that’s a shame because this is really a great place! So the fact that the general manager isn’t interested in focusing on business coming from the U.S. I wouldn’t suggest you let stop you from visiting this marvelous place.
You see me standing in the top photo in the large, airy reception area where the furnishings look like the Jetsons decorated the lobby and the contemporary guest rooms are off in the wing behind the reception desk at the right. The guest bedrooms in the new wing are furnished in comfortable contemporary style and offer every modern amenity.
But if you look carefully just behind me in that top photo, you’ll see two-story tall columns covered in twinkle lights (it was Christmastime) with people sitting to the left of the columns in comfortable “porch chairs.” That porch area has been added on to the entrance to the historic Farnham Estate manor house that this Radisson Blu modern facility has been built onto and around so you feel like you’re sitting on a porch but you’re inside the new building. This is the part that some critics object to from a point of view that the hotel didn’t know what it wanted to be. I happen to like the choices it gives guests but you can make up your mind for yourself!
If you step up onto the “porch” of the manor house, you can enter what was the front door of the house and you’ll find inside four public drawing rooms, comfortably furnished, one with a grand piano, and more than one with a working fireplace. You’ll note, in the photo below, that there is an eclectic mix of 1800’s decor mixed with contemporary modern elements. My favorite of the public lounges in the mansion is the first salon where a roaring fire and a grand piano grab your attention at once. You may play the piano if you like!
There are also eight suites in the mansion and four additional suites in the new wing so guests have their choice of the experience they prefer to have during their visit. The resort, set in a beautiful park-like landscape, is a popular place for weddings and the bridal party often takes the mansion rooms for the bride and groom, their parents, and other family members. We weren’t able to see those rooms on our first visit to the property in January 2012 because the mansion rooms were all occupied. And, to attest to the popularity of those accommodations, they were also fully occupied on our second visit in December 2012. We tried to plan a repeat visit mid-week in April on our most recent visit when occupancy at the property was very low and rooms were available to experience and view in the mansion. But that didn’t happen because the general manager stated he wasn’t interested in reaching the American market. Close you mouth! I know what you’re thinking! Hard to believe.
When guests arrive, ,they drive up on the never-ending estate grounds, meander along what seems like forever on the entrance driveway to reach the manor house which first comes into view and then past the side of the manor house where the modern facade comes into view. The nicest doorman ever, William, welcomes guests with a big smile and a warm Irish welcome, even remembers and recognizes returning guests, helps with luggage and then makes sure your car is valet parked but available if you want to go exploring off the grounds. What a wonderful and cheery beginning to your resort experience! The man is a treasure!
While there are wonderful places you’ll want to visit in the area, I recommend you visit them on your way to the property or on the day you leave because you’re not going to want to leave the facility and grounds once you are at the Radisson Blu Farnham Estate.
The fabulous executive chef, Philippe Farineau (how do you like a chef’s name that means flour and water!!) was at Farnham Estate when we were there this past December but I’ve learned that he’s gone back to Mount Falcon, a fabulous resort in Foxford, County Mayo, Ireland so I can only hope that the new executive chef is as amazingly capable as Philippe. Certainly, the property has set high standards for food preparation and service so I’d give them a try and hope for the best. The dining room staff is nothing short of superb. They are on top of things and go out of their way to be sure that every guest has a wonderful dining experience even at breakfast! But I can’t speak to the food itself since I haven’t been back since Chef Philippe left.
If you’re into spas, the reputation of this spa is very good. But, if you are a fan of my nationally syndicated radio shows about travel, you already know that the most I’ll do in a spa is a manicure and pedicure and swim in their pool. (I have to love you before I’ll let you put your hands all over my body!).
But let me tell you about the indoor/outdoor swimming experience!
It was the end of December 2012. The deck area around the indoor pool at the Radisson Blu Farnham Estate was tropically warm as was the temperature of the pool’s water. The massive floor-to-ceiling windows that wrap around the pool area giving it a secluded but panoramic view were misted with condensation from the contact of the warmth within and the 40 degrees Fahrenheit temperature outside.You could also see steam rising and floating on and above the exterior pool as the contrast in temperatures created a ballet of dancing streamers of steam floating upward.
A small passageway was created by the design of the pool’s wall under the glass window-wall. A space about 3 feet wide was open in the exterior wall and, resting at the level of the water, under the glass wall was a sliding acrylic “door” that was 3 feet wide and about a foot tall which allowed those who wanted to walk from the indoor to the outdoor pool area easy egress. You could also swim or duck under the little “Alice in Wonderland-style” doorway.
I prefer to be warm rather than cold and the thought of swimming outside in Ireland in winter had no appeal to me. . . until three women, friends from Cavan who were at the hotel for a self-indulgent day at the spa, were making their way from indoors to out and encouraged me to come along. I decided to get over my first reaction and join them by stepping through the portal into what was truly a surreal experience. The pool water was bathtub temperature so if you kept your body immersed up to your chin you were quite comfortable. Observers saw four floating heads on the surface of the outdoor portion of the pool. . . actually, four laughing heads enjoying an incredible moment in time surrounded by ascending wisps of steam rising into the cold wintery air. And it was glorious to be surrounded by winter grass and the tall stems of plants that were dormant for the winter. Quiet, secluded, and suspended in time, that glorious moment will always be part of my memories of our stay at the Radisson Blu Farnham Estate and I’ll never forget those three women and their hysterical and very Irish sense of humor!
And then a gentle rain began to fall and one of those ladies announced the clearly obvious: “Who can believe we’re swimming outdoors on December 29th in Ireland in the rain?” I not only believed it, I lived it!
Exhilarating! Rejuvenating! Marvelous!
One quirky thing: In Ireland, all swimming pools require that all swimmers wear bathing caps! If you have them at home, pack and bring! Most hotels charge ridiculous fees to buy a swim cap at their spa but the fee at the Radisson Blu Farnham Estate was only 2 euros. It has the hotel’s name on it so you’ll be a swimming promotion for them wherever you swim in Ireland but it’s worth it as I’ve seen hotels charge 5 to 10 euros for a swim cap. It’s bad enough you need to wear the silly things but it’s worse to get ripped off in the process. Actually, I think we looked cute in these ‘flapper-style’ nylon caps. You can always bring your own if you still own one!
Do you really think Americans wouldn’t be interested in this place and it would be a waste of time for the management to focus on informing and motivating the US market to visit this resort? I don’t think so. But what do I know. I’m only a bona fide expert in travel!
If you are a frequent traveler with an account that provides you with free room nights at Radisson properties using your frequent traveler points, you just might want to use them to go to Ireland. There are a number of Radisson and Radisson Blu properties sprinkled around Ireland and this is the year you want to get up and go and use them! And whether you’re looking for the contemporary modern or the historic hotel experience, you can have them both at this unique property.
And when you check into the hotel, make sure the management knows that the Yanks have arrived and settle in with a pint!