DUBLIN -- "The Merrion!" exclaimed the cab driver on our way back to the hotel after the theater. "The chicest!"

Indeed, the five-star property, located in Merrion Square across from the parliament, is worthy of such a sobriquet.

Like Dublin itself, the hotel distinguishes itself by being both old and new.

Only open as a hotel since October 1997, the Merrion, Dublin resides in a row of Georgian buildings -- four to be exact -- all of which have been restored masterfully by artisans.

The public rooms in the 145-room property, including the entryway and reception areas, consist of a string of rooms with cozy fireplaces and lush fabrics juxtaposed with striking modern art and contemporary touches.

Rooms wrap around a central garden terrace, featuring sculptures from different eras.

Guests have a tendency to settle into nooks and intimate corners in the public rooms, where they can have afternoon tea or sip cocktails in front of a roaring fire.

Guest rooms boast a light, airy ambience with Georgian-period furnishings and inviting, puffy bedding.

Phones in the guest rooms double as a fax machine and e-mail system. You can type in e-mail messages on the phone keyboard, which are transmitted through the phone line, and each room has its own e-mail address.

Visitors can dine at the Morningtons Brasserie or the Cellar Bar, but most will want to try the two-Michelin-star Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud at least once during their say.

A three-course meal will run about $25 per person for lunch and $70 to $85 for dinner. The cuisine lives up to its hype, using fresh local ingredients and a menu that changes with the seasons.

The decor, with its thought-provoking modern sculptures and paintings, provides a lively contrast to the more traditional interiors elsewhere in the hotel.

The hotel also features No. 23, a cozy cocktail bar on the main floor.

A nice feature at the Merrion is the Tethra Spa in the Garden Wing, which offers spa treatments such as facials, wraps and massages, and a fitness center with a small but complete circuit of fitness equipment.

I especially loved the infinity swimming pool, set in a kind of glassed-in grotto adorned with trompe l'oeil murals, and the generous-size marble steam room.

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