After four days at Parknasilla Resort & Spa, I have a bold but true assertion to make: Of all the family-friendly resorts we’ve stayed in across the world, this is our new favorite. We have been fortunate enough to experience some pretty amazing places, but Parknasilla, situated on the Wild Atlantic Way along the Ring of Kerry in western Ireland, stands above the rest. From the unique, spectacular landscape of the area and the wonderfully planned children’s activities to the accommodation choices that are perfect for families, Parknasilla offers beauty, exploration, discovery, relaxation and a significant opportunity to make wonderful family memories.
Family-Friendly Review and Highlights of the Parknasilla Resort & Spa
What struck us most about Parknasilla, other than the natural beauty of its surroundings, is the number of activities that it offers. The resort spreads over 500 acres of lush tropical vegetation to explore. On the dozen mapped-out trails and walks, you’ll encounter small islands, inlets, hidden beaches, castle ruins, wooden suspension bridges and local wildlife like seals and crabs.
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Much to the delight of my children (ages 3, 5 and 6), we also found that there’s a Fairy Trail and a Treasure Trail. We searched for 20 fairy houses in the woods, tucked behind moss-covered trees or among the tall grass. It was so much fun to watch the kids’ enthusiasm as they used their maps to search for these unique structures. The Treasure Trail offers a similar experience, but children decode a secret message along the way and receive a special certificate upon completion of the task.
Parknasilla invites local experts to run educational programs for children several times per week — a true highlight of our time there. For example, a local nature guide takes families on a seashore walk to spot and retrieve local wildlife on the beach. Kids are given their own mini nets and buckets for the adventure; once they are finished collecting, the guide talks about the different animals and shares a box of his own wildlife treasures with the children. Families learn about his encounters with basking sharks and octopuses when night diving just off the shore of the hotel.
There is also an owl expert who comes to educate children about these creatures, both native and non-native to the region. Children get a thrill when they work up the courage to allow an owl to perch on their wrist. Twice per week there is an animal road show, where kids can interact with turtles, snakes, rabbits, guinea pigs, lizards and other wildlife.
Onsite amenities are phenomenal as well: tennis, golf (a 12-hole course and a family putting green), cycling, swimming, archery, a playground, and guided walks and hikes. For kids, there is a movie night every evening in the Kids’ Game Room, as well as specially designated times for puppet and magic shows, baking, face painting, arts and crafts, Legos and games. Adults can enjoy the outdoor Jacuzzi with a brilliant view of the Atlantic, a spa and sauna, Pilates and aqua aerobics. The staff can also plan a motorized kayaking or scenic boat trip directly from the hotel dock into Kenmare Bay.
It would be impossible to tire of the activities that the resort offers; families can be engaged and entertained 24/7 if they choose. The quality of the programming and wide variety of amenities make Parknasilla stand out from other luxury family-friendly resorts. We have looked the world over, and it is hard to find a property that achieves the balance of catering to both adults and children as well as this one does.
Parknasilla offers three different accommodation choices. Families can stay in the historic hotel itself, in the self-catering two-bedroom Courtyard Lodges, or in the three-bedroom Woodland Villas. While the 83 hotel rooms and suites offer the closest proximity to dining and onsite activities, the lodges and villas (only a short walk away) provide families more space.
Our family stayed in a Woodland Villa, a 10-minute walk from the the main hotel along a well-manicured trail. It was absolutely the right choice for us; there was a whole community of families staying in the villas, which allowed our kids to enjoy a whole “neighborhood” of other children to play with. Connecting lawns mean that children regularly ride bikes and scooters, play Gaelic football and soccer, or head to the nearby resort playground together.
In addition, the villas are cozy, offer ample space and are well-equipped with a dishwasher, a washer, a dryer, a fireplace and a private WIFI connection. All villas have two stories and include three bedrooms, a dining room, a kitchen and lounge, two full baths and a ground-floor half bath. Each also has a garden area with furniture for alfresco dining. The Woodland Villas were constructed in 2007 and are very well maintained.
When we sought downtime from the resort activities, our villa offered us the respite we needed. In addition, we really enjoyed the beautiful walk to and from the main hotel a few times per day. The surroundings are so stunning that you’ll want to be outside as much as possible.
Parknasilla offers three dining venues: the upscale Pygmalion Restaurant with a beautiful seaside view, the more relaxed Doolittle Bar, and the outdoor terrace overlooking Kenmare Bay.
A hearty breakfast buffet, which includes bacon, eggs, sausage, black pudding and Irish soda bread, is served every morning in Pygmalion. If you are staying in the hotel, breakfast is included; for guests staying in a self-catering lodge or villa, there’s an additional fee.
If you seek an exquisite dinner with wine pairings, Pygmalion is the place to go. The menu, based on freshly caught fish, prime local meats, and fresh vegetables grown onsite, changes regularly along with the wine list to ensure the best selection of local produce. The resident sommelier has more than 40 years of experience working at Parknasilla.
Our family enjoyed several meals at the Doolittle Bar, offering a wide variety of different dishes that are suitable for all family members — from salads to fresh fish, Hereford beef burgers and pizza. Tim, the bar manager, is an absolute delight. Say hello to him if you find yourself at Parknasilla (but more than likely, he’ll say hello to you first). Tim and the rest of staff went out of their way to let the kids know when special children’s programs were taking place. That not only got the kids engaged in something they enjoyed, but gave my husband and I the chance to have a glass of wine in peace. Now that’s hard to put a value on!
Surrounded by the Kerry Mountains with panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean, Parknasilla is a perfectly situated base from which to explore this magnificent corner of the world. The quaint Irish town of Sneem, with local pubs, ice cream shops, a pharmacy and a grocery store, is only two to three minutes from the hotel. Killarney National Park, the town of Killarney and the world-renowned Lakes of Killarney are only a 40-minute drive away along the Ring of Kerry. A half-hour drive north along the Wild Atlantic Way reveals stunning coastlines and beautiful beaches, including the sandy beach of Derrynane Bay. You will also catch a glimpse of the Skellig Islands, made recently famous by the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The famous Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, who was once a guest at the hotel, described Parknasilla as “a place of long sea views and intricate walks between ferns and fuchsias, rock and rhododendron, to burnt-out castles lost within the woods and along the various fingers of land that point South West into the warm Atlantic … It is part of our dream world.” And indeed it is. Parknasilla is a very special place, and within its rich heritage dating back to 1692, it has welcomed the likes of Charles de Gaulle, Princess Grace and Prince Rainer, Charlie Chaplin and, more recently, Colin Farrell, Rachel Weiss and Daniel Craig.
If I have one regret about our time at Parknasilla, it is that we simply did not stay long enough. I would recommend staying a full week to relax, take in the area’s fantastic beauty and take advantage of all the resort has to offer. Even that may not be long enough.
Editor’s Note: Loren was hosted by Parknasilla Resort & Spa in order to review the property. As always, our opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Loren Braunohler.