Sunday 22 September 2019

Ardmore's Cliff House and that floaty feeling

Did you know the five-star Cliff House hotel also has a self-catering cottage? Deborah Spillane checks in.

The swimming pool at the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore. (There are also steps down to the sea, if you want the salt-water feeling)
The swimming pool at the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore. (There are also steps down to the sea, if you want the salt-water feeling)
An element of one delightful course
Deborah at the Round Tower in Ardmore and 5th Century ruins

Deborah Spillane

I've reached that time in my life when I know what I need to keep healthy and balanced. I have also come to appreciate the value of my good female friends, and the need to nurture and maintain their friendship. That was why I decided it was time for a road trip with two of that select sisterhood.

We wanted an opportunity to swim and walk and explore. But, let's be honest, our first priority was to be spoilt rotten. Eventually, we plumped for the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore. I had visited the hotel before and hugely enjoyed the experience. Apart from the amazing location, the staff had been welcoming, enthusiastic and unpretentious. And the food is a unique experience that's not to be missed.

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Staying in the hotel's self-catering cottage gave us the freedom to lounge around in our jimmyjams, a huge plus. It also meant we would have individual bedrooms where we could escape to, if our talk marathons became, well, a little extended.

Our cottage was set on the high cliffs above Ardmore village, with wonderful sea views, and it was only a short walk to the mother ship - the fabulous Cliff House Hotel.

An element of one delightful course
An element of one delightful course

Inside, the cottage reminded me of the sort of holiday home you might find at Cape Cod or on the Maine coast. It was light, relaxed and with nods to its seaside location in its eclectic furnishings. It also had a welcome pack of cheeses, ham, brown bread and preserves, as well as many chocolatey treats.

Sharon, the hotel manager, was extremely helpful and organised two local trips for us for the following day. We would follow the course of the Blackwater River in the morning, and take the famous Ardmore Cliff Walk later that afternoon.

But first, the tasting dinner menu at the Cliff House Hotel which is pure theatre. So much so, in fact, that I was tempted to give each course a standing ovation.

Head chef Martijn Kajuiter presents guests with a feast for the eyes as well as for the palate. His food is based on locally sourced produce, and each course had several elements with a recommended order in which its delicacies might be eaten. This feast was accompanied by the most exquisite and carefully selected wines.

Highlights included Helvick cod, heirloom tomatoes, foccacia and oregano; McGrath beef; duck foie gras; white asparagus, herb pancake and a wonderful woodruff-hollandaise; guinea fowl with a stuffed courgette flower; the tender and mouth-watering McGrath lamb with green asparagus and polenta.

Everything was described to us with such expertise by the staff that I felt I was attending an informal tutorial in haute cuisine. Desserts included sea buckthorn rice ice cream and strawberry popcorn with caramel.

As will be gathered, this is a very large menu, so you do not need to finish each and every course. But be warned, it can prove hard - if not impossible - to resist that temptation. I had hoped to begin the next morning with a dip in the hotel's rock pool. However, to our surprise the previous night's full lunar tide had delivered hundreds if not thousands of moon jellyfish. These delicate diaphanous creatures seemed to drift dreamily in the clear waters. We were assured they were harmless, but were also advised that we would be swimming at our own risk. We decided to go for it, and the water was stunning but it was a bit eerie swimming through jelly and we finished our swim in the spa pool.

Later that morning, we headed off by boat on a trail along the Blackwater River. Tony Gallagher was our guide, and he was full of stories. Apart from enjoying the beautiful scenery and native waterfowl, we also learned about the remarkable history of the river. That includes the so-called Point of Blood where horrific deeds occurred between the local population and the Knights Templar back in medieval days. By the time we reached the imposing ruins of Templemichael Castle and Molana Abbey, we felt it was time to head back.

Our walk that afternoon began at the early Christian site of St Declan's Well, a place of pilgrimage for many centuries. Led by another local guide, Tommy, we passed through a landscape of rolling arable land which led us back to the cliffs over Ardmore and their wheeling seabirds and dramatic sea swells.

Before long, we came across the wreck of the crane barge Sampson which hit the rocks one stormy night in 1988. We learned that, in order to claim salvage rights, one man was mad - or brave - enough to live in the precarious crane cabin for several months. Further along the coast are two lookout posts - used in two wars, separated by centuries. One was built during the Napoleonic era, and the other during World War II. The latter is now used for whale spotting, and apparently many species of whale, dolphin and shark have been sighted here.

Our walk ended at one of the earliest monastic sites in the country. It dates from the fifth century, and was founded by St Declan, a predecessor of St Patrick. In addition to the monastery, there is a very impressive Round Tower built in the 12th Century.

On our way back to the hotel, we strolled through Ardmore village to visit some of its wonderful craft shops. We returned to the village later that night for dinner though we still felt full from the night before.

The next morning, after another hearty breakfast, I headed over for a relaxing massage in the hotel spa. The massage rooms hang over the sea, and the sound of driving rain and gusting wind added to the whole experience. I left the room feeling years younger, thanks to the generous application of assorted magical oils and creams.

Then it was time to head back to reality. Our friendship and our bodies had been successfully revived. The weather may have been turbulent outside, but we all left with a sense that inner calm had also been restored.

And we vowed to come back for a proper sea swim.

Getting there

Deborah at the Round Tower in Ardmore and 5th Century ruins

* Cliff Cottage is a luxuriously elegant self-catering cottage just steps from Cliff House Hotel, the intimate, five-star holiday hideaway overlooking the historic village of Ardmore in West Waterford.

* Cliff Cottage can sleep up to six adults and four children. Guests can enjoy a welcome hamper on arrival and access to all the subtle, stylish comforts of Ireland's standout small five-star luxury hotel while enjoying all the independence of your own front door too.

* Rates from €500 per night.

NB: This feature originally appeared in The Sunday Independent

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