Fractional Life in Ireland: For peat's sake!
Fractional Life founder Piers Brown, our designer Pete Matthews of Cave Creative and myself were recently lucky enough to enjoy the splendid hospitality on offer at Ireland's Doonbeg Lodge, in West Clare.
After a quick hop on Ryanair from Stansted to Shannon, we de-iced the hire car to brave our way through the heavy mist on icy, winding country roads to our destination, standing alone on the stunning Atlantic coast.
Doonbeg was built by the team behind the famous Kiawah Island resort, and as you get closer to the hotel and cottages, you begin to see the attention to detail which has quickly made it one of Ireland's top resorts. The buildings have been sensitively designed to look as if they have been proudly bracing themselves against the elements for hundreds of years, rather then being a newly constructed resort.
The region's all pervading sweet smell of peat smoke hit our nostrils for the first time as we were met in the hotel reception and shown to our four-bedroom cottage. The term cottage is a little misleading here – these beautifully appointed units, which are for sale on a fractional ownership basis – are spacious enough to comfortably accommodate a large family. As well as offering a wonderful lifestyle purchase at this stunning location, Doonbeg is also a member of the Timbers Resorts reciprocity programme, giving buyers the opportunity to exchange some of their time for stays at Timbers properties across the US, Mexico and Italy. Below is a picture of one of the cottage bedrooms, with the winter Irish sunlight streaming in through the window.
Once settled in we met real estate and membership director Brendan Murphy for a bit of background on the resort, a tour of the property and then a good old chinwag over a couple of pints in the bar. Our good intentions (sightseeing, heading into the village etc) soon dissolved and we spent a good few hours putting the world to rights in this friendly and welcoming environment.
The next day, although the sky was as clear a blue as you could hope to see, the ground was still frozen solid, so Piers and Pete didn't get a chance to check out what is widely regarded as one of Europe's best links golf courses. The Doonbeg course was designed by Greg Norman, and hugs the contours of the Clare coastline, providing a stern test for even the best of players.
We decided to take a trip up the coast to the awesome Cliffs of Moher (left), which didn't disappoint with their sheer scale and grandeur, and then drove around the local area enjoying the characteristic rural landscape of beaches, cliffs, peat bogs, small fields with stone walls, rolling hills and forests. At one stage I spotted an Irish hare (a smaller cousin to the brown hare found in England) enjoying the sun's rays.
A stop in a Milltown Malbay pub for a quick livener led to a great spur-of the-moment decision and a terrific demonstration of the hospitality you get in this part of the world. We were wondering if there was a local Gaelic football match to take in that afternoon, but the landlord said that Munster were playing London Irish in rugby's Heineken Cup in Limerick, a 45 minute drive away. He also said we could take his season ticket with us, to which the incredulous London dwellers among us said: "Are you sure?" – the guy had only met us five minutes before. "Of course," he said, before adding "as long as you bring it back, mind".
So off we went to Thomond Park in Limerick (below), where the local Munster crowd generated an impressive din despite witnessing what may well have been rugby's first ever 0-0 half time score. Thankfully the second half was a big improvement and a fired up Munster, driven on by the brawn of Paul O'Connell and the boot of Ronan O'Gara, won the day.
Back at Doonbeg, after a delicious meal in Darby's bar (try the burgers if you are ever there) we headed in to the village to try and find the craic and the music the region is famed for. Truth be told it was a pretty quiet night, but the black stuff was flowing and we were treated to an impressive impromptu set from West Clare's 80-year old answer to Johnny Cash.
As Sunday dawned, the weather began to warm up, and although the main course was still closed, we were unleashed on the driving range. I have to state here that although Piers and, particularly, Pete are keen golfers, I barely know one end of a club from the other. As the lads began to spray the range with drives and chips of every description, I alternated between air shots and building up my divot collection. Just as I finally felt like I was getting the hang of things I hit a drive, only for several hundred pounds worth of carbon fibre to snap and the club head to sail further down the range than the ball. I don't think I am destined to become a golfer, but Piers (left) and Peter certainly enjoyed themselves.
Another scenic drive in the afternoon was followed by a sauna, and then a last meal and pint in Darby's before we headed back to the airport and home. It is something of a cliche to talk about the warm hospitality you receive in Ireland, but it is always mentioned because it is true. Thanks to everyone at Doonbeg for making our stay a thoroughly enjoyable one – we are all planning to return, although the pro shop staff needn't worry, I will be going fishing rather than golfing next time.
George Sell, Fractional Life editor