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Summer Sale - Save up to 40%
Summer Sale - Save up to 40%

The Irish Isles

Escape to Ireland

Arrival

After arriving at the Shannon airport, we jump in a rental car and head out for the Park Hotel Kenmare! We haven’t gone far when a pub lunch of soup, buttered brown bread, and our first chance at a Guinness beckons. Then it's on to Molly's Gap, a stretch of landscape that we deem to be heaven on earth, and suddenly we’re in Kenmare!

Warm, inviting, and friendly, the hotel is beyond luxury for travelers just arriving. We’re shown to a room that overlooks a sloping lawn down to a park with the waters of the Kenmare estuary beyond and is the perfect home base for our week-long program.

Our group assembles at a cocktail reception in the salon and then joyously gathers is the dining room for our first meal together. The many-course dinners are prepared by the brilliant young chef Marc Johnstone and his team. The menus highlight fresh salmon and other locally caught seafood, Kerry lamb, duck, pork, delicious potatoes, and luscious desserts. Fine French wines provoke lengthy conversations and our party closes down the candlelit dining room every evening. We all love listening to Eimer, the resident pianist, performing in the salon, and at the hotel’s always lively bar, the irrepressible John Brennan guides us through an extensive collection of whiskys, Scotch, wines, and perfectly poured Guinness.

Each morning a soul-satisfying breakfast starts with a basket of brown soda bread, scones, toast, and cups of hot, strong Irish breakfast tea or coffee. Then comes an array of fruits, porridge, eggs, potatoes, and smoked salmon.

During our cooking classes, chef Marc Johnstone demonstrates how to make Goat Cheese Spring Rolls, Brown Bread, Smoked Salmon with Leek Quiche, Roasted Baby Potatoes with Rosemary, Mustard Glazed Salmon, and an Apple Cake in the restaurant kitchen. We leave with printed copies of all the recipes.

During our cooking classes, chef Marc Johnstone demonstrates how to make Goat Cheese Spring Rolls, Brown Bread, Smoked Salmon with Leek Quiche, Roasted Baby Potatoes with Rosemary, Mustard Glazed Salmon, and an Apple Cake in the restaurant kitchen. We leave with printed copies of all the recipes.

Our visit to the Kenmare Smoked Salmon Kiln gives us plentiful information about delicious smoked salmon. We see each of the many steps in the process of cold-smoking salmon and have a great talk with the guide named Remy, from the South of France, who sells Kenmare salmon to some of the world's finest restaurants.

Next we're off for a visit with the philosophers of Irish cheese, Veronica and Norman Steele. After the couple married, they moved to a little town in West Cork and when Veronica began making cheese she thereby started the artisan cheese making movement in Ireland. Their Milleen’s cheese is glorious, and now it tastes even better because we know the funny, brilliant, and very independent family who makes it.

Members of our group are taking advantage of the golf course adjoining the hotel and also nearby Ballybunion (considered to be in the top 10 courses in the world), while the rest of us are swimming in the Olympic-size indoor pool and enjoying saunas, yoga classes, invigorating/relaxing water treatments, and glorious massages at Kenmare's world-class spa. Another highpoint of the program is the traditional Irish music session. Playing the accordion, guitar, fiddle, and whistle, the soulful ballads of the Bog Myrtle group touch us all and their lively jigs even include dancing by children of the band members.

During the afternoon following our second cooking class, my husband John and I drive along the Ring of Kerry and are mesmerized by beauty before we arrive at Skellig Chocolates, Finian's Bay. In this happy place for chocolate making, we're soon swooning over truffles of brandy plum, apricot amaretto, baby figs with rum enrobed in rich Callebaut chocolate. Menus and Music ends up becoming the first importers of these chocolates to the United States! You can now purchase a box or two or three from our catalog or online at www.menusandmusic.com.

Our final dinner is a 10-course chef's tasting menu, and chef Marc Johnstone orchestrates the meal to perfection. We depart with a week of fond memories, a few extra pounds, and a huge appreciation for the Irish spirit, imagination, humor, and graciousness.

Park Hotel Kenmare has been a wonderful place to stay! After one more rousing breakfast, our program is complete and John and I say a fond farewell. We’re already looking forward to next years program!

For those who wish to stay in Ireland a bit longer and explore on their own, the possibilities are endless. John and I decided to cross the river Shannon and drive north towards Galway and the Burren, one of the world’s most mystical landscapes. We’re heading towards Gregan's Castle and can't yet imagine the adventures that await us.

In the village of Lisdoonvarna, we enjoy meeting Slow Food members, Birgitta and Pat Curtin who own Burren Smoked Salmon and The Roadside Tavern, with great traditional pub food and traditional music in the evenings. We then visit the Burren Perfumery, where fragrances are made from wild flowers of the Burren, before enjoying an organic lunch in their charming tea room.

The highpoint of our stay at Gregan's Castle is a 4-hour guided hike we take with Shane Connelly, an expert on the area's natural history, botany, ancient monuments, archaeology, and folklore. With keen eye and fierce honesty, Shane regales us with his extensive knowledge. We hike up Black Mountain over shelves of limestone and through soft meadows of wildflowers to a round stone fort that overlooks Galway Bay and the Atlantic beyond. We actually walk far enough to be ravenous for chef Mickael Viljanen dinner back at Gregan's Castle. His innovative cooking style has won many recent awards and his reinterpretations of classic dishes that we sample are sensational.

Sadly it's time to fly away home— but we're carrying smoked salmon sandwiches on buttered Irish brown bread that are the envy of everyone who watches us devour them in the JFK airport!