Anonymous inspectors from AA Ireland's Hospitality Services Team have named a Kilkenny hotel as the best hotel in Ireland for 2020.

Mount Juliet Estate, a five-star hotel in a Georgian manor house, won the award for its exceptional service, warm welcome, and excellent food options, in July 2020.

The hotel sits on a stunning 530-acre estate and has gained a Michelin Star for its restaurant, Lady Helen, and added a 93-bed accommodation block, the Hunter's Yard since it was taken over by Tetrarch Capital in 2014.

It joined the Marriott's Autograph Collection of independent luxury hotels last year in a bid to boost overseas tourism. 

The luxury hotel impressed a team of trained inspectors from the AA to claim the prestigious award. 

Inspectors noted the hospitality, services, cuisine, facilities, and staff of hotels around the country before choosing the Kilkenny hotel as their best hotel for 2020, 

The inspectors additionally looked for hotels that demonstrated continued improvements over the past 18 months.

"While much is changing in the world around us, Mount Juliet Estate will continue to be a jewel in the crown of the Irish hospitality sector," AA Director of Consumer Affairs Conor Faughnan said in a statement. 

The award comes at a strange time indeed for Ireland's hospitality sector. 

Hotels, holiday parks, and B&Bs only reopened on June 29 amid heavy social distancing regulations, limiting the number of guests and imposing restrictions on certain services. 

Mark Dunne, General Manager of the luxury hotel, said that the award was a "little ray of sunshine" in the midst of the madness and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Dunne said that it was difficult to operate in the current circumstances, citing that problems striking a balance between the safety of guests and the safety of his staff. 

"It's been really tricky, really difficult. You have the care of the guest on one hand and the care of your colleagues on the other, and you're trying to make them both meet in the middle in a very safe manner," he told the Independent. 

The hotel has installed visors and screens at customer service desks in a bid to strike that balance, while guests have to book in for breakfast or to use the swimming pool. 

Mount Juliet Estate is offering rooms for €169 as part of its "welcome back" special. 

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* Originally published in July 2020.