Can a hotel be poetic? It seems so as Brian and I arrive in Ireland for a poetry festival and find ourselves admiring the Royal Marine Hotel's exquisitely carved Victorian stone façade. Even though we are exhausted after the flight to Dublin and the coach ride to this quiet seaside suburb of Dún Laoghaire, the hotel lobby's high, airy ceilings and majestic black crystal chandeliers draw our eyes upward in mute appreciation.
It's only 9 a.m., and check-in isn't until 2 p.m. We steel ourselves for the inevitable wait but instead receive our first taste of the hotel's sublime service. "We have your room for you now," says the clerk. We soon discover the Royal Marine is like a dance partner who knows how to lead and won't let us stumble.
Within minutes, we are ensconced in the comfort of our spacious room, pulling the curtains back to reveal an expan- sive view of the Irish Sea, broken only by the soaring, picturesque local churches. Some say the mark of a truly great hotel is the quality of its bathrooms. If so, this is hotel paradise -- a shower stall and a bathtub large enough for two, with bubble bath ready at tubside.
After an extended soak, a long nap, tea and scones in the Bay Lounge, we step out. Dublin is just a 15-minute train ride away. Our first goal is to visit Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, the ornate manuscript of the four gospels that dates back to 800 A.D. We discover its historic pages, accented with gold, scarlet, sapphire-blue and emerald- green designs, a highlight of any literary tour of Ireland. Then we head to Grafton Street to check out antiquarian booksellers and other shops. At Clarke's Irish & Celtic Jewelers, I try on a sterling-silver Irish Claddagh ring, two hands holding a heart topped by a crown. The heart's point faces me, which, the clerk tells us, signifies I'm "taken"; a heart facing outward would indicate "available." "No worries," Brian says to the clerk, earning infinite Brownie points. "She is definitely taken."
Back at the Royal Marine, we slip in for a late, decadent dinner at Dún Bistro, the hotel's upscale restaurant. Our meal of contemporary continental cuisine -- roast smoked salmon fillet with spring onion mash and a black mustard-seed-and -cassis sauce, and char-grilled fillet steak with foie-gras glaze and truffle croquettes -- artfully combines flavors with textures. And with almost psychic timing, our servers are attentive yet unobtrusive.
Work, though, soon intrudes. Brian is reading at Dún Laoghaire's Poetry Now, one of Ireland's largest literary festivals, featuring poets from around the world. The next morning while he meets with festival organizers, I visit the new sansanaSPA. I want everything on the menu of massages, facials and other indulgences, but I just can't resist the oxymoron of the state-of-the-art mud-bath treatment. After slathering dark, warm mud over my body, I sit baking on a throne-like stone chair, looking like the bride of Swamp Thing. An hour later I'm "done," and a fine mist of water descends. Gradually the pressure increases, sluicing the mud from my skin, which now feels like velvet.
At the Pavilion Theatre that night, Brian and I watch Ireland's Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney read from his book District and Circle. "In the ivy when I leave," he says. "It's you, blackbird, I love." Afterward, the crowd migrates to the Royal Marine's pub, Hardy's Bar. Talk runs, naturally, to favorite authors and books -- new finds and old classics. Eventually Brian and I slip away to a cozy alcove by the fire, drinking Guinness until the wee hours, enjoying the simple poetry of a quiet romantic moment.
Plan Your Trip
- Fly to Dublin Airport (DUB) on multiple carriers, including direct from the U.S. on Aer Lingus, aerlingus.com. The Patton Flyer shuttle has a 35-minute trip to Dún Laoghaire and the Royal Marine Hotel. thepattonflyer.ie
- Stay at the Royal Marine Hotel. The first hotel was built on the site in 1828 and has since undergone several updates, including a major redevelopment that closed the hotel from 2004 to June 2007. Accommodations include sea-view rooms and presidential suites. Dining options range from Dún Bistro to two bars and a lounge perfect for afternoon tea. royalmarine.ie
- Eat out in central Dublin at the Clarence Hotel. Owned by rock stars Bono and the Edge from the Irish band U2, the hotel offers fine dining in the Tea Room. On Executive Chef Mathieu Melin's ever-changing menu, try cannon of Irish lamb or pan-fried filet of Irish Hereford beef Rossini style with a selection of Tea Room potatoes -- from hand-cut chips cooked in duck fat to roasted sweet potatoes. Finish it off with Guinness ice cream, then retire for the evening to the hotel's Octagon Bar with a Clarence Classic cocktail, a delectable mix of Midori, a sugar cube infused with cherries and champagne. theclarence.ie
- Find more intimate escapes at islands.com/intimate.