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Eamon Barrett finds grandness, and then some in Killarney's The Europe Hotel

All the best places to eat, shop and stay in Ireland. A local guide to local places.

There are five star hotels and, then, there’s The Europe in Killarney. While the gargantuan and somewhat severe building gives little away as you arrive, the interior is truly spectacular - from the double height reception area with glass walls overlooking the McGillycuddy Reeks, to the delightfully kitsch mirrored bar, to the numerous lounges and comfortable spaces you can disappear away to – this hotel really is like no other.
Completely refurbished over a two year period from 2006 to 2008, The Europe looks as fresh now as it did eight years ago - the marble looks like it might only have been laid yesterday and we didn’t spot so much as a scuffed piece of paintwork.

Then there’s the activity centre and pool -  as glamorous as a ballroom and complete with chandeliers, it is the most glorious indoor swimming pool in the country. And then it gets better: pull a cord and a sliding glass door allows you exit the indoor pool to an outdoor heated infinity pool. Leaning on the edge of that pool, looking across Lough Léin to the mountains is a truly zen place to be. Oh, did I mention there’s a salt water jacuzzi, and an ice fountain?

Away from the activity centre the bedrooms, particularly those that face the lake, are very large and hugely comfortable, with bathrooms that are beaten only by The Marker in Dublin for luxury fittings.

But buildings are one thing and hospitality is another and the greatest achievement of The Europe is that it - almost - manages to crack that nut too. The staff were universally friendly and helpful, and were always ready with that bit of chat that transforms service from being merely competent to being personal.

When one of our main courses at dinner was poor it was cheerfully handled and removed from the bill by the brilliant Stephan (who greeted us at breakfast the next morning like long lost friends). Gillian, who cooks the eggs fresh at breakfast, is an absolute star and must never be allowed to leave. Confronted with a request for cocktails that aren’t on the list, the barman doesn’t bat an eyelid and serves up excellent drinks.

But expectations are high at this level and there were some glitches: despite it being the afternoon when we checked in, the hallway leading to our room was littered with empty coffee cups and room service items, and a friend’s request to send some Prosecco to our room was never actioned. In the grand scheme of things, these are small issues and it’s perhaps a reflection of the fact that the Europe excels on so many levels that throws these small flaws into sharp focus.

Where The Europe really misses a trick, however, is with their food offering, which is probably the hotel’s weakest point. There’s not a mention of a local supplier and the menu (we ate in The Brasserie restaurant) offers no reflection of the country we’re in, never mind the county we’re in. This is a huge missed opportunity.

The acid test though, is always whether you’re already planning the next visit as you depart and, in that regard, The Europe is firmly written into our calendar.

The Europe Hotel theeurope.com

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