When the Knights Templar settled at the Earle of Clare's castle in Ireland in the 13th century, little did the holy military order envision that 800 years later, nights of a different kind would revolve around vintage Irish whiskey and Cuban cigars at the estate.
Restored in 2006 by the owners of the Capella hotel brand, Capella Castlemartyr is a golf and nature lover's dream. Set among 220 verdant acres in Country Cork, the 103-room hotel boasts a challenging Robert Kirby-designed championship golf course, a swan lake, a chapel and a meadow where horses and donkeys graze happily. The ruins of the original castle still exist; but the hotel occupies a 400-year-old manor house that was once owned by Sir Walter Raleigh and until recently served as a college for boys. Guests are treated as if they are lords of the manor as each occupant is assigned a personal assistant to see to his or her needs. Relax in the large, airy rooms with their silk-paneled walls, down-filled beds, expansive dressing rooms and bathrooms, and massive windows with views of the majestic property.
While Ireland may not be heralded for its cuisine, a meal at the Bell Tower may change that view. Using fresh local produce and indigenous meats, chef Roger Olsson has created a menu that takes what you know about Irish cuisine and turns it deliciously on its head. Duck, pigeon, Cork trout and Irish Hereford beef garner top billing in dishes that combine the wholesomeness of Irish cooking with a modern flair for fragrant herbs and Port wine reductions. The results are both creative and gastronomically satisfying.
After dinner, venture to the Knights Bar where bar manager Barry Delany will astound you with his knowledge of Irish whiskey and cigars. A native of County Cork, Delany prides himself on his love of all things Irish and its most famous spirit. He even hosts tastings for guests of the many varieties the bar has on shelf. His knowledge of cigars is not far behind, either. He carefully chooses which cigars — Cuban and non-Cuban — to include on the hotel's small list and writes brief histories of the brands and the particular frontmarks. Current choices include the Cohiba Siglo VI. Although a bit pricey, the smokes are worth it.
Like many other countries, Ireland has abolished smoking indoors. Capella Castlemartyr follows the law, but guests are free to step onto the terrace and light up. While that may not seem ideal, you'd be hard pressed to find a more beautiful setting for cigar smoking. Dozens of centuries-old trees abound as does a gravel path that leads into a carefully manicured garden. A picture-postcard view of Ireland is all one can see for miles around. At night, the hotel lights a cozy bonfire and many guests can be found regaling others with droll tales as they sip their whiskey and savor a cigar. We found it to be the perfect way to end an evening after tarrying around the estate. What could be better than enjoying a cigar with friends in a beautiful bucolic setting as you gaze at the heavens in wonder?