It’s a bit of a traditional place, is Galway. Hand-built stone walls border the low lying fields throughout the western county, quality Irish music bellows from the many lively pubs in the city centre and beyond, while the Irish speaking Gaeltacht takes you west towards the bold Atlantic Ocean.
So amidst all the tradition, is there a place for a slick, stylish, contemporary and ultra cool five-star hotel in this capital city of craic agus ceol? Well there was only one way to find out and, like most Irish people, a trip west to Galway is always something to look forward to.
Bordered by a busy stretch of road on the approach to Galway’s city centre, I was a little underwhelmed by my arrival at the hotel’s entrance. Blink and you’ll miss the valet-style entrance as the hectic traffic keeps your mind occupied, while the hotel complex could be mistaken for a business park or a multi-storey car park.
But once inside, you will soon forget the hustle and bustle of rush hour traffic and the not-so-aesthetic exterior as you wander into the intriguing low-lit lobby with its black glass walled tank of Connemara-bred seahorses and illuminated signing telling you that ‘This Must Be The Place’.
Out of the darkness, you cannot but notice the striking pink carpet that runs off an adjacent corridor. It just begs you to go exploring. But first to the room and to unpack.
Upstairs, the dark theme continues as you are guided to your room by spots of light which reveal a plush raspberry carpet contrasting nicely with the blackened walls. More subtle lighting exposes a range of paintings and posters, while oversized, 1960s-style, vivid-coloured armchairs are dotted throughout.
An explosion of light welcomed me into my junior suite – bright and very spacious with a full-length glass wall looking out over Lough Atalia and Galway city beyond.
The hotel has 101 bedrooms and each has a distinctive touch by the famous designer Philip Treacy, who was inspired by both the landscape and sea shores of Galway.
A super king-sized bed dominated my suite and the spacious and stylish living area provided a very homely touch. The ample sized bathroom had a double walk-in shower, free standing egg shaped Villeroy and Boch bath, double wash hand basins and a flat screen TV.
The hotel also boasts three speciality suites – The Atrium, The Corner Suite or the Linda Evangelista Suite, which I’m told measures 120 sq m of pure, unadulterated luxury.
Five-star dining can sometimes prove a bit of an ordeal with dress codes and nouvelle cuisine often detracting from the experience. But Gigi’s Restaurant proved otherwise.
The restaurant design is superb. Purple velvet banquettes and jewel coloured Andrew Martin chairs grab the attention before you set eyes on the menu, created by their award winning chefs, which offers a wide range of culinary delights inspired by the use of local and seasonal produce.
I started with the char grilled scallops and braised pork belly, followed by the grilled fillet of organic sea trout, served with crushed potatoes and plum and scallop tartar. The recommended organic red wine was another success and combined with the visual treats of Treacy’s design and the first-class service, I couldn’t find fault in this five-star gastronomic experience.
And the restaurant is not just aimed at hotel residents as local trade accounts for a large percentage of its patronage, with the very affordable Dining at Dusk menu proving great value and is available Sunday through Thursday from 6.30pm to 7.30pm with prices from €29.50 per person, including a beveragea at the cocktail bar.
So back to the aforementioned bubblegum pink carpet. It runs the length of the ground floor taking you past the three individually styled lounges, on to the cocktail bar and finishing up at the entrance to the restaurant.
The designer certainly left his mark in the three lounges -the Grand Salon is designed to relax with its oyster and silver tones, the Blue lounge could easily fill a lazy Sunday afternoon with afternoon tea and a couple of newspapers.
Then there’s the Pink Lounge, which is very, very, pink and may not be everyone’s cup of tea but worth popping in to see the Andy Warhol camouflage pink fabric covered chairs. The black and white spiral carpet accentuates the brilliant colours and while you may not be able to sit in there for too long, it certainly brightens up the place.
The Cocktail Bar serves throughout the three lounges and a carpet of a thousand red Swarovski crystals adorns the bar, guaranteeing, as they say, “a glamorous start or finish to any evening”.
After a hearty breakfast, enjoyed in the restaurant, where the coloured chairs were equally impressive by daylight, I headed for the city.
The hotel feels like it is a long way out of the city centre, but a 10-minute stroll along the banks of Lough Atalia – not Galway’s most picturesque lake, it has to be said – and I was soon back in the familiar surrounds of Eyre Square, Shop Street and the Spanish Arch for an afternoon’s entertainment.
And after a long day reacquainting myself with the sights and sounds of one of my very favourite places, it was back to the g for an appointment at the luxurious ESPA Spa.
A lazy hour in the Thermal Suite with its crystal steam room, lifestyle and rain showers, rock sauna, ice fountain and heated loungers kicked off the rejuvenation. An hour-long treatment was the second phase, while the ‘secret’ bamboo garden on the roof top completed the process. The only problem being that it was Saturday night and there was a very lively city on my doorstep, not to mention the designer bars and clientele downstairs.
For more information about the g Hotel, visit: www.theghotel.ie
By Ed Leahy.