Room Key: The Merrion Hotel

Address: Upper Merrion Street, Dublin 2, Ireland
Reservations: (800) 223-6800
Telephone: (011) 353-1 603-0600
Fax: (011) 353-1 603-0700
E-mail:[email protected]  
Web:www.merrionhotel.com
Rooms/Suites: 123/20
Rates: About $470 for a garden room
Commission: 10%

DUBLIN -- The sedate exterior of the five-star Merrion Hotel, stately as it is, doesn't give first-time visitors much of a hint of what lies within. In fact, such is the contrast between inside and out that arriving guests might be forgiven for passing the property by altogether, if they weren't alerted by the row of flags out front and the doorman in an ever-so-proper cloak and top hat.

Inside, this Georgian mansion-turned-hotel -- or, to be more precise, four 18th century townhouses painstakingly restored and joined -- encapsulates the split personality that characterizes Dublin itself.

In short, it's both modern and traditional as well as quirky yet very posh.

Situated on Upper Merrion Street in the city center, directly across from St. Stephen's Green, the hotel has racked up enough industry awards to impress even the most jaded upscale traveler.

In addition to its four red pavilions in the Michelin Guide, the Merrion has been singled out by Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler's Gold List and won the top overall score for Commitment to Quality from the Leading Hotels of the World.

None of this means, however, that the hotel is staid or boring: One look at the art on the walls will tell even the most casual observer that, grand as it is, this is a hotel where guests are expected to have fun.

Designers cheerfully mixed eye-popping contemporary works with paintings dating from as far back as the 1600s.

Nearly all the works are by Irish artists, and some are strikingly modern, including Fabricated Evidence, a surreal pair of paintings by John Boy that depict masked men in strange, hawk-like poses.

Dramatic art notwithstanding, there are plenty of traditional elements at the Merrion, including cozy seating areas, stately gardens and a private dining room with blue wedding cake plaster work.

Irish designer Alice Roden worked to create a contemporary environment, incorporating light and space while respecting the Georgian architecture.

The Main House comprises a combination of public areas, including a series of drawing rooms where guests can collapse in upholstered furniture inspired by 18th century Irish manors. There are also guest rooms in the house, outfitted with Irish linen, toile and high-end fabrics.

Guests also can opt to stay in the Garden Wing, which offers a subtle decor combining neoclassical design and light fabrics.

For all-out luxury, a new, two-bedroom duplex penthouse suite offers a private roof terrace, complete with cedar hot tub, private entrance, living room, multipurpose room and two Carrara marble bathrooms.

The 3,800-square-foot space, including the terrace, is priced at about $2,800 a night.

Eating in, working out

And while the atmosphere at the hotel is upscale, the odd guest in a bathrobe can be seen scooting from the on-site Tethra Spa to his or her room, looking dazed from one of the spa's signature treatments.

During a recent visit, I chose a 75-minute hot stone treatment that incorporated the use of aromatherapy, hot oil and lava stones along with an ingenious addition: a temperature-controlled massage table.

A daily challenge for waistline-conscious guests is resisting afternoon tea and Irish coffee in front of the drawing-room fireplace, served with groaning trays of scones (with the requisite clotted cream and preserves), crustless sandwiches and pastries.

I could have worked off the scones at the fully outfitted fitness center but chose instead the infinity swimming pool, which, with its murals and limestone surround, has a grotto-like, classical ambience.

Scones aside, full-on dining is the real draw at the Merrion, with eateries that range from the Michelin two-star Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, overlooking the garden, to the Cellar Restaurant, offering upscale dining in a more relaxed setting.

Otherworldly stays

Clients for whom price is no object can go all out via the Merrion's Out of This World package, good through December.

The three-night deal includes penthouse suite accommodations; use of a chauffeur-driven, vintage Rolls-Royce or S Class Mercedes; a private tour with a curator of Dublin Castle; and lunch with local luminaries such as Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney.

The package also includes a helicopter transfer to Ballybunion Golf Club for 18 holes; lunch at Glin Castle; and a ball in the client's honor at the Hon. Desmond Guinness' 13th century Leixlip Castle, complete with a performance of Riverdance.

Guests also get a day at Leopardstown racecourse, a private visit to the Berry Brother & Rudd wine cellars, guest of honor status at the Gate Theatre, a Wicklow Mountains eco-safari and transfer to Dublin airport via helicopter.

The package, commissionable at 10%, is priced at nearly $900,000.

To contact reporter Felicity Long, send e-mail to[email protected].

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