Name the top things you’d like in a city hotel. Mine are location, comfort, service, engaging décor (of any style), character–and a little history wouldn’t hurt. Throw in a spa and an excellent restaurant, and I may never leave the premises.
The Merrion, Dublin’s Georgian gem, checks all the boxes. In the center of the city’s historic 18th century area and across the street from two museums and a complex of government buildings, including the Irish Parliament, it is two blocks south of Merrion Square, the first of the Georgian parks.
The Main House of The Merrion was fashioned from four adjoining Georgian townhouses, one of them the birthplace of the 1st Duke of Wellington. It is home to 33 elegant high-ceilinged bedrooms and suites; the rest of the 142 rooms are in the connecting contemporary Garden Wing overlooking plantings and patios that recreate 18th century landscapes with box hedges, water features, pathways, statuary and obelisks.
Opened in 1997, the hotel marries classical Georgian serenity with contemporary comforts and amenities.
All the interiors in the Main House were meticulously restored with Irish furnishings that replicate the fabrics and décor, even the colors, of the original Georgian interiors as well as their moldings and other architectural details. The noteworthy rococo ceiling plasterwork in the Drawing Rooms, for instance, were restored by a master stuccadore known throughout Ireland for his skill in that ancient art. Many of the Main House bedrooms feature fireplaces, and all have spacious marble bathrooms. In all the bedrooms, pale gray and beige fabrics, occasional sea foam green and light aqua accents and white furniture ensure a serene ambiance.
While the restoration and décor are faithful to the period, the technology is 21st century, with all the hi-tech you’d expect of a top hotel, including three telephones in bedrooms; wireless and broadband Internet; video conferencing; satellite and cable television with in-house movie channels, plus mobile phones and laptops on request.
Also post-Georgian is the Merrion’s vaunted art collection, one of the most important in private hands in Ireland. It features 19th and 20th Century Irish art and hangs throughout the hotel. It is also celebrated at the hotel’s signature Art Tea, a delightful daily afternoon treat in the Drawing Rooms where traditional sandwiches and scones are followed by three desserts, each inspired by a painting in the collection and presented by small replicas standing on miniature easels.
Two dining rooms take care of serious eating. Patrick Guilbaud, Ireland’s only 2-star Michelin restaurant, overlooks the interior garden and offers French cuisine with Irish ingredients that might include Wicklow lamb, Galway oysters, and West Cork scallops. You can beat the pricey a la carte menu with a 3-course lunch for €50.
The Cellar Restaurant, next to the original 18th century vaulted wine cellars, serves a contemporary menu in casual surroundings at gentler prices — for instance, pan roasted monkfish or john dory, and Irish lamb stew.
Yes, there is a spa, with a 60-foot swimming pool, steam room, gym and private treatments.
As for The Merrion’s prime location, a short ramble around the neighborhood will introduce you to some of the city’s most important history, notably the golden 18th century when Dublin became a glittering center of social and economic activity. That’s when many of its main public buildings and its grand squares were built, surrounded by the homes of the aristocracy that give the city its distinctive look.
Stroll around Merrion Square, a tranquil haven of tree-shaded walks and open lawns, and you’ll pass long blocks of Georgian facades featuring colorful red, yellow, and blue doorways beneath lacy fanlights that are the signature of Georgian Dublin. Plaques identify the former homes of leading Dubliners, among them William Butler Yeats, George Russell, and Oscar Wilde, whose beloved statue in vividly colored stone lounges on a boulder in the Square opposite his home at No. 1 Merrion Square.
That corner of Merrion Square is just a block or two behind Trinity College, well worth a detour. Ask anyone the way. Follow alongside the green expanse of College Park, past university buildings, and into Parliament Square, the heart of the college, where a Bell Tower, or Campanile, stands as the iconic symbol of Trinity.
Surrounding the cobblestone plaza on three sides is a collection of handsome 18th century buildings, with the characteristic columns and pediments of Georgian architecture. Nearby, in the Old Library, is the Book of Kells, the country’s greatest literary treasure.
Wend your way home via St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin’s main public park, an oasis of tranquil greenery and ornamental lakes, with memorial statues to great Dubliners past, including James Joyce by Henry Moore, and Yeats. Just opposite the park, the first Constitution of the Irish Free State was written in 1922 in the venerable Shelbourne Hotel.
From St. Stephen’s it’s only two blocks to The Merrion, but you’re in luck; you’ll pass a fine place to stop for a pint: O’Donoghue’s Pub, original home of the legendary Irish music group, ‘The Dubliners.’ It’s still popular any evening for traditional Irish music and a friendly group of locals.
If you go:
The Merrion, Upper Merrion Street, 353 1 603 0600 or 800-223-6800 (Leading Hotels of the World), Double rooms start at $290, including taxes.
Photos courtesy of The Merrion