Luxury living on the edge
There's something mystical, magical even, about the sea. Once it casts its spell, so they say, it holds one in its net of wonder forever. You certainly feel caught up in that net of wonder when you take in the view from the tiny pier in Ardmore on the south coast of Ireland in Co Waterford...
The dark, broody sea and the bracing wind blew the post-Christmas cobwebs off us, as did a walk along the sandy beach, and a brisk trek in wellies and hiking boots along the cliff walk.
On a good day, you might even see a whale out at sea, or the seals playing below in the waters. Somewhere down there is the shipwreck of The Samson, which met its end at Ram Head during a ferocious storm in December 1987.
There's nothing better in January, after all the calorific carry-on of the yuletide, than to be gazing out to sea from the top of a cliff pondering your existence or the world about you. I had read a book about John F Kennedy on the train to Waterford; in it he says: "We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch, we are going back from whence we came."
You get that sense when you are in Ardmore – and a little more besides. It is like you are breathing in not just the incredible sea air but also a bit of the immense spiritual history of the place too.
It is apparently the oldest Christian settlement in Ireland. Your man, Saint Declan, lived here in the period 350–450AD. He Christianised the Ardmore area before the coming of a certain other saint by the name of Patrick. We went for some much-needed hot soup, pasta, sandwiches, cakes and a pot of tea for two in the White Horses restaurant in the village. I had the best baked ham with chutney sandwich imaginable. I know I was starving after the walk, but this was some sambo.
We went for a little nosey around the village, which is picture-postcard pretty, and spied a craft shop, Ardmore Pottery and Gallery, on the hill. We bought some lovely teacups and a woolie hat.
We then walked along the seafront to the hotel we were lucky enough to be calling home for the next two days.
The five-star Cliff House sits dreamily on the cliffside facing out into the ocean. It is not difficult to see why the Cliff House is part of the Relais & Chateaux super-exclusive collection of 475 of the chicest hotels around the world. You couldn't but relax and feel refreshed staying here.
The first thing we did after we checked in, was jump in the pool downstairs.
When myself and my girlfriend came up for air again in its warm water, five seconds later, the first thought in our heads was 'We're in heaven.'
The second thought was 'Why would you want to fly 10 hours to the Caribbean when you could come here in a hour and a bit?'
We went to the jacuzzi. It was outside. Don't let that put you off. You haven't truly lived until you've sat in the jacuzzi on a cold winter's day.
We went up to our lovely suite upstairs. There was a big shiny TV at the end of the bed which disappeared into the end of the bed at the push of a button.
The bathroom was like something out of James Bond. The bath was huge; the shower overlooked the cliff. There was also a balcony big enough to hold a small wedding.
Standing out on the balcony, my girlfriend and I had a glass of wine and took it all in: the magnificence of Ireland essentially, and perhaps even the beauty of staycations.
There's something wondrous about being outside on a cold blustery day nursing a glass of red wine and looking out on the waves rolling and tumbling outside.
The hotel itself is deeply stylish and luxurious and a joy to just potter about in, or linger in with a book.
I went for a pint of Guinness in the bar before dinner, while herself got ready up in the room. The bar had such a relaxed ambiance to it that I didn't notice my girlfriend's de rigueur lateness in arriving.
I simply had another pint and looked out at the view.
We might not have uninterrupted growth in the economy any more but we have uninterrupted views in Ardmore, inspiring for their unblemished beauty.
There was a similar sense of unblemished beauty on our plates when we dined in the Cliff House's famous House restaurant – and the only Michelin-starred hotel restaurant in Ireland.
Executive chef Martijn Kajuiter had prepared the most mouth-watering feast for us. I had West Cork scallops with Irish caviar to start; my girlfriend had Bantry Bay organic salmon.
For main courses, we had wild sea bass with leek fondue, rock samphire with saffron infusion, and Skeaghanore duck with celeriac, wild garlic, stone leek, duck tea.
We had a bit of each other's dishes. It was an unforgettable dinner, to say nothing – and please don't as I feel fat enough – of the pavlova, rhubarb and white chocolate, washed down with a few more glasses of wine, the odd Irish coffee and probably even a brandy at the bar.
The following morning in bed, it had to be done.
No – not sex. We had breakfast of hangover-soothing smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and fresh pastries in bed washed down with a pot of fresh coffee.
Then I hit the magic button and the TV came out of the end of bed (if only there was a magic button to erase hangovers). We watched Anna Karenina on the hotel's pay-movie-channel.
It seemed perfectly decadent to lie in bed eating brekkie and watch Keira Knightley star as the aforesaid aristocratic cougar and posh totty Anna, losing her mind over a younger man.
We had just about time for a massage in the hotel's ultra-bling spa The Well, named after the nearby sacred spring at St Declan's Well, and another rejuvenating dip in the swimming pool, before we had to, heartbreakingly, check-out of the Cliff House Hotel.
We went for one last walk along the beach in Ardmore.
The sea was still dark and broody – I suspect it always will be.
The Cliff House Hotel Midweek Getaway, from €410, Sunday to Thursday inclusive.
The Cliff House Hotel is offering a two-night midweek break including a three-course dinner in the Bar Restaurant, use of The Well Spa, and breakfast on both mornings, all with uninterrupted views of the bay from €410 based on two people sharing, Sunday to Thursday inclusive (until March 31, 2013). Rate is subject to availability and not valid on bank holidays or during school holiday or mid-term periods. For more information on The Cliff House Hotel log on to www.thecliffhousehotel.com. The Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore, Co Waterford.
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