Celebrity real estate journalist Lisa Johnson Mandell shares her impressions of an immersive and intimate excursion into Irish culture and design.
When it comes to luxury travel, access makes the heart grow fonder. The Retreat, a new and exclusive travel concept, amps up the access to “11.”
Guided by Dublin-native Grania Murray, an internationally-known interior designer, the Retreat is a nine-day immersion into Irish culture with an emphasis on design. Lisa Johnson Mandell, editor in chief of At Home in Hollywood and a contributing writer to the revamped and redesigned Yahoo Real Estate website, recently traveled with a test group of journalists and shared her impressions with Millionaire Corner.
“This is a whole new way to travel,” she gushed. “This may be a watershed moment for luxury travel.” How so? “Grania Murray,” she explained, wants to introduce Americans to the Irish aesthetic. When you think of design, you think Paris or Milan; you don’t necessarily think of Ireland. She’s trying to change all that by taking small groups of people—12—on a very intimate tour of the Dublin area and inside the homes of Ireland’s great artists and designers. The Retreat goes behind the doors not open to conventional tours to meet the designers themselves.”
“Many travelers have been to Ireland many times,” Mandell added. “One can get a bit jaded with an attitude of, ‘We’ve seen enough castles and churches.’ This is a completely new way to sight-see.”
Each Retreat is unique, but on this trip, Mandell said, participants met Louise Kennedy, who in 2013 was dubbed “the uncrowned queen of Irish design” (her studio is pictured above) and Lainey Keogh, whom Mandell calls “the queen of cashmere.” “They’ve dressed royalty and rock stars,” she said. “Kennedy lives and works in a Georgian townhouse in Dublin. Keogh has this amazing country estate in County Wicklow. She had a champagne luncheon for us. It was a priceless afternoon.”
One of the biggest surprises of the Retreat, Mandell said, was the dining. “You don’t necessarily think of Ireland when you think of the world’s great cuisine,” she said. “But the Retreat visits several of Ireland’s finest and most unique restaurants. Wicklow Heather, for example, is like an old Irish pub; the difference being that in the main dining room, there are curio cabinets all along the walls containing first editions of books by the great Irish authors. In-between courses you can stroll around and look at first editions of ‘Ulysses” “Gulliver’s Travels’ and ‘Dracula.’ They should be in a museum, but they are in this funny little inn.”
The five star accommodations rang from the traditional and historical (Powerscourt Hotel) to the contemporary (The Marker Hotel Dublin). The group also stayed at the Merrion Hotel, hosts of a world-renowned Art Tea. The hotel houses one of Ireland’s largest private art collections outside of the National Gallery, whose curator himself gave the group a private tour of the hotel’s collection.
Another stop is Luggage, also known as the Guinness Estate, whose celebrity guests have included Bono, Van Morrison, and Michael Jackson.
“Service in Ireland is the most gracious and friendly,” Mandell enthused. “They always make you feel like you’re a welcome family member no matter how hip the establishment. You can’t say the same for L.A. (In some places), the staff considers themselves just too cool for school and treat you like a country hayseed.”
But perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Retreat, Mandell reflected, was a greater respect and appreciation for the creative process. “We were taken into the forge of (metalworkers) Calnan & Anhoj and we watched how they forged these beautiful sculptures and chandeliers. I have a newfound respect for artists who are so committed to their craft.”
The next Retreat, scheduled for Nov. 28, is sold out. Upcoming departures are scheduled for April 2, 2016, Sept. 17 and Oct. 1. The price is £6,500 (which translates to about $7,400 in American money), which includes everything but flights and meals during free time.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.