Last spring, my husband and I traveled once again to the beautiful Powerscourt Estate and Gardens in County Wicklow, Ireland. As many times as I have been there (and I’ve visited a lot!), I never tire of stepping onto the grounds of this gorgeous country estate.
I love the ‘house’ if you can even use that term. The building is actually a medieval castle that was made over into a grand mansion by the 1st Viscount of Powerscourt. And the gardens...so stunning! Anytime I’m missing Ireland’s beauty, which seems to happen more and more, I take out my travel journal and read the entries I’ve written.
Here are a few excerpts from our last time at Powerscourt:
This morning, we drove from Dublin out to the Powerscourt Estate. As usual, we stayed off the M11 and just took our time, weaving our way through the winding roads, over cobbled streets and passing by numerous pubs of course! The green spring Irish landscape surrounding the little towns was breathtaking as usual and I never get tired of taking it all in. Even though the drive from Dublin to Powerscourt only takes a half hour, of course we had to stop along the way to look at interesting shops and just admire the landscape.
We arrived at Powerscourt around lunch time and as usual, Mark was famished. I was a bit disappointed to find that Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant that was located here is now closed, as my husband and I had really been looking forward to having dinner there. For lunch, we decided to go to the Avoca Terrace Café. The place was packed as usual but because it’s informal buffet style, we really didn’t have to wait long at all. The weather was simply perfect, and we couldn’t resist stepping through the tall French doors and sitting in the warm spring sunshine on the terrace with its simply splendid views of the surrounding green countryside and distant Sugarloaf mountain. So lucky to find an empty table this time, especially since the weather was so nice.
I love a good Caesar salad, so I had the Avocas Cajun Chicken salad and Mark had the Sweet Chili Salmon on a bed of Asian noodles. The fish was perfectly cooked and fortunately, he was in the mood to let me have a taste! We ordered a bottle of the Elderflower with Raspberry Juice to share. The juice is wonderful, but I have to admit I couldn’t resist the look of the clear glass bottle with its elegant D.P. Connolly & Sons, Merchant Family label.
The desserts are displayed in a shiny curved glass case that makes them irresistible, so I had the lemon tart and Mark chose the double chocolate cheesecake (how could you go wrong with that!) We finished our meal off with two steaming cups of freshly brewed coffee with cream which perfectly set off the rich sweetness of our desserts.
After lunch, we headed toward the shops located in the mansion itself. Naturally, Mark and I couldn’t stay away from going upstairs to the Design Loft, with its Irish designed jewelry and crafts, all showcasing local designers and artisans. Then we headed back downstairs to the Avoca store to drool over all the locally sourced jams, homemade bread and made from scratch cakes. By this time and after all that food, we decided we definitely needed a walk outside. The Powerscourt Gardens have to be experienced to be believed and I love coming here in all seasons, but especially spring.
I think what I love most about the Gardens is the variety. There is almost too much to see and every time I come here I can never decide which of the gardens to see first or which one is my favorite. There’s the Italian garden with its terraces and the lake, partially covered in water lilies floating on the surface. I love the Japanese garden too, with its stone lanterns and central pagoda. And there are more gardens as well, the Walled Garden and the Dolphin Pond, as well as terraces and statues.
But today we decided to go to the left side of the lake and take the shaded path to the Tower Valley and Wicklow Gardens, where the Pepper Pot Tower is located. Turns out that the eighth Viscount, who was the Chief Scout of Ireland, built this tower in 1911 based on the shape of one of his small pepper pots, which sat on his dining room table! We climbed the winding steps to the top and as always I was amazed at the lovely view of the main House and the Gardens. There were very few visitors today and Mark and I had the top of the Tower all to ourselves for quite awhile. Mark loves the cannons guarding the top of the tower. Standing there on the flat stones, I felt like I was an Irish Queen surveying my green ancestral lands below.
I love animals, so I never visit Powerscourt without stopping by the Pets Cemetery where the beloved pets of the Wingfield and Slazenger families who once owned the estate are buried. The pets include dogs, cats, horses and even cows! Today we stopped by one of my very favorite stones, which marks the resting place of Tommy the Shetland pony who died in 1936 at age 32. Engraved below Tommy’s details are the words “also his wife, Magic died 1926.” There is something sweet and sad and at the same time lovely and comforting in remembering the Shetland pony who was apparently devoted to his female companion Magic.
We thought about driving out to see the waterfall but decided not to do that today, as it’s nearly a four-mile drive. The waterfall, set at the base of the Wicklow Mountains, is magnificent though and I remember the first time I saw it many years ago. The falls are the highest in all of Ireland at 398 feet and the drive there is lovely, through flat peat fields with mountain views with the road eventually meandering through beech and oak as well as pine, larch and other trees planted some 200 years ago. The cascading water spreads out over the side of the mountain and comes down in a wide stream, resembling a shimmering, living bridal veil. Our children have always loved visiting the falls, as the park has a playground and in the summer they can even get hot dogs and ice cream from a small stand on the grounds.
After a full day we were in the mood for some really great food, so we headed to the Sika Restaurant in the Powerscourt Hotel. We stepped into McGills Pub at the hotel for a cocktail before dinner. I love the warmth and ambiance of the place. I smile every time I think about what is written on the cover of their drinks menu: McGills Pub - Slingers, Slammers and Cocktails with Manners. I ordered my favorite, their Blueberry Mojito made with Bacardi Gold, fresh mint, a dash of soda and of course, fresh blueberries. Mark had a Smoked Old Fashioned made with light Bulliet Bourbon, maple syrup, angostura and orange bitters and sugar syrup.
Then on to the Sika for dinner. I was so let down when I found out Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant at Powerscourt had closed before I had a chance to try it, but we had heard good things about Sika as well, and we were not disappointed. The Sika Restaurant is named after Ireland’s sika deer, introduced into the country by Lord Powerscourt in 1868. Apparently, today the Irish deer is a cross between the Japanese Sika and the Irish native red deer.
Sika’s dining room was warm and inviting, the staff friendly and welcoming and I liked Sika the moment we walked in. We started with an appetizer of chicken liver pate spread on toasted brioche with a savory fig chutney. I had the roast cod, with parsnip puree, smoked bacon, pearl onions and chanterelle mushrooms. Mark chose the 8-ounce sirloin, with roasted carrots, mushrooms and watercress and served with a Bearnaise sauce. After the main course, we indulged in dessert; a warm apple fondant topped with toasted almond ice cream followed by cups of rich brewed coffee with cream.
Normally we stay at the Powerscourt Hotel, but because we were visiting friends in Dublin and were driving back there after dinner, neither of us had any more alcohol. I adore the lovely crescent sweep of the hotel, with its stunning views of Sugar Loaf Mountain across the valley and its Palladian-style architecture. The spacious rooms are richly appointed befitting its five-star status.
After dinner, as we walked to the car for the drive back to our friends’ house in Dublin, I thought to myself that life couldn’t get much better. The night was cool and the stars sparkled overhead. Powerscourt Estate and Gardens, as well as the whole of Ireland, has my heart. Can’t wait to get back here!