Waterford: Travelling down the magic road
Adventures in the Deise
Gemma Fullam checks into Faithlegg House for a tour of her childhood stomping ground... Waterford's Copper Coast.
For me, setting off on the road to Waterford always induces a little frisson of excitement, not least because the beaches of that county were where I whiled away many a childhood summer; Tramore, Bunmahon, Dunmore East - names that conjure up egg-sandwich-and-SodaStream-filled, sandy, sunny memories of idle pleasure.
The days of girlhood are long gone, but Waterford has much joy to offer a grown-up traveller, and after a two hour-drive from the Big Smoke, weary from the week, I surrendered myself to the stately spendour of Faithlegg House Hotel & Golf Resort, which is situated in bucolic bliss a short drive from Waterford City.
After a chilled glass of white and a scan of the day's papers in the Aylward Lounge, with half an ear on the first-rate live music, I succumbed to end-of-week exhaustion, and took myself off to the vast Lady Olivia room, with its equally enormous bed, and sweet oblivion.
Next morning, my mother arrived in time to join me for breakfast (served until a civilised 11am at weekends) in the Roseville Rooms - which are decked out in elegant Elephant's Breath and taupe tartan - and we feasted on smoked hake and poached eggs. After a catch-up chat, it was back to the Lady O to don fluffy robes and then off to the Estuary Spa, in Faithlegg's vaulted basement.
I opted for a much-needed full-body massage, expertly administered by the capable hands of Jackie, while my mother succumbed to the delights of a Four Seasons Organic Facial; the spa uses Eminence products, a truly gorgeous biodynamic range from Hungary.
Faithlegg House, Co. Waterford
Suitably revived and refreshed, we set off for lunch in Dunmore East, a seaside fishing village that's less than 20 minutes drive from Faithlegg. The beach in Dunmore is small, but perfectly formed, while the village itself is home to some lovely places to eat, including the Strand Inn, which overlooks the beach; Azzuro at The Ship, which is in a lovely old building; and the Haven Hotel, which completely lives up to its moniker's promise of sanctuary.
The Haven, a Victorian mansion, featured in a 1988 TV adaptaion of Maeve Binchy's best-seller, Echoes; if you're staying, ask for Josie's Room (it has a gorgeous four-poster). It's very romantic.
The village plays host to a bluegrass festival - 2015 is it's 20th year - on the last weekend in August; I've been several times and it's mighty crack, especially if the sun shines. It's so popular that accommodation in the area is booked out almost a year in advance, so get organising now if you fancy it. See discoverdunmore.com for the line-up.
Sated by the Haven's delicious chowder, we set off along the Copper Coast drive; along the route is Tramore and the iconic Metal Man (legend has it that if you hop thrice around the lofty perch of the British sailor, you'll be married before the year is out. He's on private property, so you can't anymore, but I hopped around him years ago when you could, and the ring finger of my left hand remains unadorned, so draw your own conclusions).
The Metalman, at Tramore
From there, it was on to Annestown, which has a beautiful beach, so we stopped for some bracing sea air and a walk across the dunes. My mother, my sister and my 12-year-old self cycled this hilly route from our Tramore base many summers ago, and I vividly recall a well-deserved picnic on the strand, the sun blazing down and our legs aching from effort, as we drank TK lemonade and chomped through our ham-filled floury blaas.
The Copper Coast (coppercoastgeopark.com), so called because of the history of metal mining, was designated a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2004; stretching from Kilfarrasy (which is between Tramore and Annestown) and Stradbally Cove (near Dungarvan), the whole area is essentially an outdoor museum. Fenor bog, which has a boardwalk through protected fenland, is a must-see if you've any interest in flora and fauna.
We left the route to make our way to Mahon Falls in the Comeraghs, and while we stopped off to admire the waterfall - and it is fabulous - our true destination was nearby: the famous 'magic road'. It's easy enough to locate, as it's in the environs of raggedy bush that has a nearby rock, which has 'magic road' carved into it. We pulled up on the infamous tarmac, put the car into neutral and let off the brake; the car rolled up the hill.
Result! Ye cannae change the laws of physics, eh?
Fun over, it was time to return to Faithlegg via the surfers' paradise of Tramore, with a pit stop at Cliff Road for tea and a chat at my mother's first cousins, the Powers, who have been researching the family tree.
Faithlegg House Hotel
Back at Faithlegg, a little digging (OK, we asked at reception) revealed that it was a family called Power who bought the estate in the early 19th Century and subsequently sold it to the De La Salle brothers, who ran it as a teaching college until the 1980s, after which it became a hotel. My mother then twigged that my grand uncle had trained as a teacher there under the De La Salles; in a twist of coincidence, his surname was also Power.
Faithlegg's mysterious logo - a crucifix between a stag's antlers (it's also on the Jagermeister bottle) - is from the Power family coat of arms, but the symbol dates back to 100AD. Placidus, a Roman general, who, while taking aim at a stag, saw a cross appear between the animal's antlers, and a voice ask 'why are you persecuting me?'. He converted to Christianity and on refusing Emperor Hadrian's order to offer incense to Apollo, was roasted alive inside a bronze ox.
We had dinner that night in the Roseville Rooms, and it was a delight from start to finish for two gluten-avoiding fusspots. I love risotto; I can't abide chorizo; they left it out; it was a stellar starter. We both had almond-encrusted hake - as you'd expect from somewhere a stone's throw from the sea, the fish was sublime, meaty, melt-in-the-mouth delicious. We shared a creme brulee and finished with a superb espresso.
Full as ticks, we toddled off to our gargantuan beds and, next morning, after another leisurely breakfast, we reluctantly headed for home, vowing to return again to the Deise before too long.
Current special offers at Faithlegg House Hotel & Golf Resort include:
The Four Seasons Organic Facial is currently on special offer for €70.00 (normally €85.00). The facial brings together the finest fruits, vegetables and herbs of the season to deliver the most potent and active facial. Using only the freshest of ingredients, combined with hot thermal-spring water, the skin is rebalanced and restored to a perfect pH. Treatment time is 55 minutes.
Faithlegg House Hotel & Golf Resort also offer a free pass to the Waterford Museum of Treasures, or Daily Golf Clinic.
Current rate for an overnight B&B is priced from €110 per room, see faithlegg.com.
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