Overgrown hedgerows, dodgy signposting and narrow twisting roads that could lead nowhere or anywhere……Ireland’s past is ever-present here just 40 minutes away from the bustle and traffic gridlock of Dublin.
A gateway to this drive back in time is the historic town of Blessington, Co Wicklow, famous for its nearby lakes and grand demesnes roundabout. We are on the lookout for Tulfarris House Hotel and Golf Resort. “It’s a proper hideaway” a golfer friend has revealed, describing the championship course as “beautiful and challenging”.
Ireland’s east coast and hinterland rebranded itself the Ancient East in the wake of the phenomenal success of the Wild Atlantic Way. Now we are heading into the ‘Garden of Ireland’ and when a sign points towards the wild remote Wicklow Way the GPS is challenged. Re-tracing our route towards Blessington we take a small by-road that’s Ireland’s version of a switchback.
I consider stopping to ask for directions at a house set behind railings. Convinced that we must be heading in the right direction my driver refuses to stop. We discover later that the famous Irish singer and songwriter Sinead O Connor lives here.
The sign for Tulfarris looms after a couple of bends on roads barely wide enough for two cars to pass. The surroundings are splendid. It is indeed a proper hideaway nestled against a spectacular backdrop of the Blessington Lakes and Wicklow Mountains.
The resort, refurbished some years ago at a cost of €6 million by its owners the international PREM hotels group, comprises a four-star 89 bedroomed luxury hotel, 18- hole championship golf course and clubhouse as well as a conference centre and banqueting suites.
Thanks to the romantic location Tulfarris is a popular weddings venue. An elegant 18th-century manor house, restored to its original classic design, sits at the heart of the estate, bordered by ancient woodland. The earliest written reference to Tulfarris dates back to 1192 and to the left of the original manor house lies a ‘tulach’ ancient burial mound.
As a non-golfer I was unaware that Tulfarris also happens to be one of Ireland’s top championship courses, having hosted the prestigious PGA Euro Pro Tour Irish Masters tournaments since 2018 on its Patrick J. Merrigan designed course where “no two holes are the same”.
The wildlife here also provides a diversion and a charming one at that. Polish-born Kasia who serves us breakfast in the Lime Tree Restaurant overlooking a lovely terrace and the 18th hole says “ Golfers need patience around here – waiting for the deer to pass before they can continue their round”.
Pointing to the ponds that swallow the balls of less adept players she adds “\Otters live in the ponds and we see them moving around between them, but they’re smart and know how to avoid getting hit by accident”.
Guests reviews praise the friendliness of the staff. Ireland is good at doing genuine warmth and Caoimhe the receptionist doles it out in large amounts as we check-in and assigned a room upgrade. She recommends a visit to her home village of Hollywood nearby. The name is spelt out in letters on the hillside behind the village, just like above the far more famous Hollywood, but a storm had swept two of the letters away. Only minutes by car from the hotel the village is charming with its old authentic telephone box, a couple of cosy pubs and a traditional market in summertime harking back to the pre-fifties era.
The reception area at Tulfarris is modern with furniture covered in bright jewel shades set off by the eye-catching lighting installation overhead. Our large room has a sitting room, large screen TV and there’s also a kitchenette for late-night snacking and entertaining.
Don’t expect lap of luxury accommodation – rather the emphasis is on understated comfort, the décor focussing on the lovely surroundings from windows looking out on stunning landscapes.
An interested added touch might involve displays of local art on the walls and decorating rooms with paintings or photographs showing off Co Wicklow’s ‘Garden of Ireland’
Because of ongoing refurbishment, the main restaurant was not open in the evenings during our stay. We repaired to the Elk bar’s emerald green cosy space instead, enjoying tasty well prepared and presented food from a decent sized menu. My hai Red curry and fish (haddock) and chips for him were both excellent. Earlier, before setting out for a drive and a short hike along part of St Kevins Way, a fascinating pilgrim path, we shared a chicken wrap to keep Wicklow’s wolf from the door.
A chicken wrap can be a chancy option, all too often flabby and bland. This one was perfect – warm pieces of chicken in a thin golden batter with easily managed salad, all wrapped inside a crisp coat.
Tulfarris hot and cold breakfast buffets are leisurely brunch affairs. We roamed the grounds first to work up an appetite, watching a large flight of crows who transformed the sky into a Hitchcock re-make of ‘The Birds’. Free-range eggs, bacon, sausages, black and white pudding and sautéed potatoes – a typical Irish breakfast – set us up for some further sightseeing – to the nearby Palladian Russborough House, a renowned part of Ireland’s architectural heritage, that stretches out spectacularly across the landscape, at the foot of the Wicklow mountains.
Using Tulfarris as a base you can easily explore the walker’s paradise of Wicklow, including stretches of the Wicklow Way. The stunning Wicklow Mountains National Park combines scenic drives with 20,000 hectares of wild bogland and heath, perfect for hill walkers. This treasure trove of nature includes native oak woodland, conifer forests, serene lakes and herds of sika deer scattered throughout. These are the hills in which Irish rebels once hid. They’re the place into which the powerful Powerscourt and Glenmacnass waterfalls spill.
Scrambling over a stony hill off the Glendalough road, we walk a little of the St Kevins Way Pilgrim path. It’s said that there’s a sweat house (an ancient spa used by weary pilgrims of old) But among the ruins of stone cottages and monastic settlements, we fail to locate it. There’s always next time and we’ll be coming back!
Tell me more about the Tulfarris Hotel in Wicklow
Tulfarris Hotel & Golf Resort Blessington Lakes, Blessington, Wicklow W91 EE95
E: firstname.lastname@example.org: T: +353 45 867 600
Deluxe double room (includes free breakfast) from €104.
Special deals for golfers include overnight stays with dinner and a day’s golf. From Dun Laoghaire harbour, by car, one hour via N81. See Stenaline for return ferry fares. Flights to Dublin, Aer Lingus and Ryan Air. Distance from Dublin Airport 1 hour and 15 mins.