REVIEW: The Shelbourne, Dublin
Standing in the centre of the the Irish capital for just short 200 years, this spectacular hotel has withstood the test of time
"The truth is that I am in love with Dublin. I think it is the most beautiful town that I have ever seen, mountains at the back and the sea in front, and long roads winding through decaying suburbs and beautiful woods."
These words belong to the great Irish novelist George A Moore, and they were what inspired me to visit and sample the magic of Dublin first-hand. In fact the hotel in which I was going to stay, The Shelbourne, was immortalised in his third novel ‘A Drama in Muslin', and one of its grand dining rooms bears his name.
The iconic hotel resides in the heart of the city, overlooking St Stephen’s Green. This 22-acre park is a Dublin treasure, an oasis of calm away from the hustle and bustle of downtown city life. Dublin's main cultural attraction and the Grafton Street shopping mecca are within a few minutes' walk, and the city's finest Georgian architecture is visible everywhere from the hotel's windows.
This grande dame of Dublin has been the cultural and social hub of the city for almost 200 years, and remains the number one destination for all discerning visitors to the Irish capital. To give readers a flavour of the hotel's importance to the city and country overall, the Irish constitution, which provided the backdrop for the birth of the Irish free state as we know it today, was written in room 112 exactly a century ago in 1922.
A number of the hotel's exquisite rooms look out directly onto the famous College Green of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland’s oldest university and a bastion of education which boasts such names as Jonathan Swift, Bram Stoker and Samuel Beckett as alumni. However, arguably its most famous son is Oscar Wilde and his quote ‘I have simple tastes, I am always satisfied with the best’, was one that I decided to put to the test. What I discovered during my stay in Dublin was that Oscar Wilde would not just have been satisfied by The Shelbourne; he would have been overjoyed.
Having passed the immaculately dressed doormen and made my way through the vast foyer ordained with chandeliers and roaring open fires, I was greeted with the warmest of Irish welcomes before being shown to my room on the third floor.
As the customary rain fell in Dublin and the temperature plummeted, I was warmed by the sheer beauty and elegance of my heritage park-view room, but what element was I to luxuriate in first? My magnificent king-sized bed with luxurious Italian linens? Or should I revive my body in the deep, elegant, marble tub before drying off and wrapping-up in the heavy towelling bathrobe?
In the end I decided to leave these treats for later in the day and instead, I headed to the hotel's very own health club to try and burn some calories in order to be able to sample some of Dublin’s most famous creation: Guinness.
The Health Club at The Shelbourne offers a range of excellent facilities, including an 18 metre swimming pool, both a sauna and a steam room, and a state-of-the-art gymnasium with an extensive range of fitness classes. I only managed a somewhat feeble representation of breaststroke for a matter of minutes, before being tempted away into the luxurious haven of the spa to properly unwind. The hotel also boasts a beauty salon and a barber shop, leaving guests no excuse to not be looking their best.
For those on a culinary adventure, such as I was later that evening, Dublin has something for everyone. From the simple, traditional, Dublin Coddle (sausage, bacon and onion hot pot) and an Irish beef stew with soda bread, to an array of innovative food being served by each of the city’s five Michelin star restaurants - whatever your fancy, you will find it here.
It is often the little touches which set competing five-star hotels apart, and I have to say that upon returning to The Shelbourne that night, the turndown service was as impressive as the hotel’s red-brick Victorian façade. Never have I witnessed so many treats hidden in different corners of one room.
I had time to sample breakfast before checking out the next morning. The buffet spread rivalled the finest hotels I have stayed in, with an abundance of fresh produce and ample variety. But the à la-carte was even more impressive, curated by head chef Garry Hughes, who has elevated dishes by putting a local Irish twist on breakfast staples. The highlight for me was undoubtedly the Omelette with Three Superior Irish Cheeses. Divine.
As I set out into the spring sunshine to discover more of Dublin's undeniable beauty, inspired by the great literary figures of the past, I couldn’t help but think of how the city's landscape has changed over the past 200 years. The one constant in Dublin with its timeless elegance and never-ending luxury, is The Shelbourne hotel.