If you want to stay in an Irish hotel with a playful and punchy sense of identity, banging cocktails (and terraces to sup them on), staff who seem to enjoy their jobs, and plans for treehouse-style “nests” to sleep in, your search is over.
hat hotel is The Montenotte in Cork. Oh, and it also has a slick private cinema, eye-popping art, a decent 20m pool, super city views, and a focus that I think could take it to a five-star rating.
Phew. In a time of inflation, when staff are harder to find than loo roll in early lockdown, it’s fun to see a hotel that is driving on, delighting in its mission, and clearly bankrolled by owners with vision (and nerves of steel).
During the pandemic, The Montenotte splashed on a €1m terrace bar and Victorian garden upgrades. Next up is a €10m ‘Woodland Experience’, with the first of 23 treehouse-like ‘Octagon Nests’ and ‘Cantilevered Units’ set to open in 2023. Perched up to 25ft in the treescape with Scandi styling, balconies, dedicated residents’ lounge and concept restaurant, it sounds like an Instagram shoo-in.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I checked in a few weeks ago; not in the future. For now, the hotel remains a four-star, and I experienced some blips along with The Montenotte’s thrilling sense of momentum.
Arrival & location
Within two years, this Cork escape wants to be “Ireland’s leading destination urban resort”. Frankie and Josephine Whelehan, who also own The Wilder in Dublin, have invested in a guest experience that’s plain to see when staff unload our luggage and a new guest relations manager walks us to our rooms. How a hotel makes you feel is important, and it starts at the front door.
Hospitality staff are under pressure in Ireland, but they don’t show it here. Smartly dressed in navy suits and fitted dresses, or tweed waistcoats over white shirts, they make eye contact, and many remember our names. As I work on the laptop one morning, a server offers coffee, water and a tip to walk to the Marina Market (“it’s a lovely circle”). It’s well-judged, adding a little something to my stay.
The front door, incidentally, is up a steep hill on the Middle Glanmire Road. That makes for woozily good views over the River Lee, but also a calf-busting schlep up from the action. Best to enjoy an easy, 15-minute walk down to the city and book a taxi back up (€9-€12). 8.5/10
Service & style
It may be built around the 19th-century home of a butter merchant, but The Montenotte’s eclectic art collection is pure contemporary eye candy — from the big, pixellated square piece on its facade to ‘Douglas’, the ceramic, paint-splashed bulldog in the lobby, garden sculptures and three-dimensional paper works by Miriam Fitzgerald Juskova (the hotel’s current artist in residence).
When its plush luxury, playfulness and Art Deco-inspired spaces click, I see a mix of design hotels like The Dylan and dashes of Doyle Collection confidence (the UK’s Gilpin and Chewton Glen are also providing inspiration for the future resort feel, I’m told). But the lobby is a little cluttered, the pool and its changing areas will need a do-over, and occasional spaces can feel lost, like the bar area by the cinema, or an unused terrace under the main one.
But mostly, the place hums, and the new Glasshouse Bar, with its picture windows, loud, leafy wallpaper and list of “botanical cocktails” (mine’s a Beara Ocean gin with Poacher’s and pink grapefruit for €11) is a splashy, OTT den in the best possible way. For quieter vibes, try the small spa or 50-seater Cameo Cinema. 9/10
Room choice will make a difference to your impression of this hotel. Sizes of boutique or executive rooms and suites are fine for an urban four-star, but may feel on the small side in a future five-star, while 26 apartments offer extra family or corporate options, but with slightly off-putting open-air halls and a lower standard of décor. I also felt there were too many mini toiletries and plasticky bathroom amenities for this day and age. That said, room designs are crisp, with wall decals, gold and navy trim to curtains and throws, and pops of colour like the yellow Pantone cup in our Nespresso machine. Junior suites (pictured above) are worth a stretch. 7.5/10
Food & drink
The Panorama Bistro & Terrace is the hotel’s hub — a busy, glamorous set piece with long, marble bar, mix of mosaic and parquet flooring, boothy banquettes and, of course, those classy city views. It gets quite loud later on, when voices rise along with the piano, but I really like the cosmopolitan vibe.
On our visit, food was at a bit of an inbetween stage, with new menus in development and dishes like a lovely tender lamb rump (€29.95) and velvety tuna tartare starter (€13.95) slightly let down by some clunky presentation and inconsistent veg. Surprisingly, sorbets and fruit were the only gluten-free desserts on offer, though managers were eager to hear feedback, and they now have four choices that are gluten-free, or can be adapted as such, including a panna cotta and a Montenotte gin and dark chocolate mousse.
That’s a good sign. 6.5/10
The bottom line
The Montenotte aspires to be a ‘bucket list’ stay and top-end urban resort. Marketing speak is nothing without soul and staff who care, of course, and the fact that these are in place makes me excited for the journey ahead (whatever about five stars, it’s already out-performing four). Cork’s hotel scene is on a roll, with classics like The Imperial and River Lee upgrading alongside new arrivals like The Dean and The Address. This could be a future leader of the pack.
The warehouse-style Marina Market hosts some 40 food and retail vendors from 8am-8pm daily. Start with fresh cut chips loaded with toppings from Prátaí. marinamarket.ie
For a whiff of Celtic Tiger times, a ‘High Life Escape’ package at the Montenotte has two-night stays with Champagne, dinner and a helicopter ride from €600pp.
B&B with dinner from €295 for two this summer. Pól was a guest of the hotel. themontenotte.com