Emily Hourican: Wexford is the perfect spur-of-the-moment break
Short breaks in Ireland
Wexford is the obvious choice for a family break within comfortable distance of Dublin, says Emily Hourican.
For most of my life, holidays in Ireland have meant just one place - Kerry.
As a child, I sat and shivered on cold beaches waiting for my dad to finish playing golf. As teenagers we hitch-hiked miles into the nearest town in order to stand around, bored but hopeful, in front of the local library. Now, as a mother with three children, I watch as they sit and shiver on cold beaches, telling them what fun it is.
However, for all its many charms, Kerry is a good four-hour drive away. Not always desirable with three sets of 'are we there yet?' going on in the back.
I have long felt that I need to explore options closer to home (Dublin), for short holidays and spur-of-the-moment getaways. And Wexford is the obvious choice. Beautiful beaches, plenty of interesting/ cultural/nature-related things to do, an easy commute, and a feeling of being away from it all, that is, for me, indispensable.
A recent visit proved me right.
Of the many attractions Wexford offers, my first preference vote goes to Hook Head Lighthouse, built in the 12th century and painted in dramatic black-and-white stripes. Apart from the amazing views, and the sheer excitement of contemplating the isolated life of a lighthouse keeper, the guided tour is exactly the right length, with the right quantity of information to keep kids saying 'wow!' rather than 'Ok, I'm bored now . . . "
The John F Kennedy Arboretum is a 622-acre natural homage to that most glamorous of US presidents, with 4500 different species of tree and shrub, including 500 different types of rhododendron. For those less entranced by minor variations in flower and leaf formation, there is also a pony and trap tour, a cafe and a jolly good playground.
The variety of places to walk - nature reserves, windswept beaches, forests, manicured gardens - along with sea safaris and ten-a-penny (in a good, prolific sort of way) spots of historical interest, make Wexford a kind of gift that keeps giving in tourism terms. Vinegar Hill - site of one of the bloodiest battles in Irish history - is a poignant place, pleasingly underdeveloped, while a trip to the wildfowl reserve lets you in for the chance of seeing thousands of ducks, geese and swans spread out across the sandbars and mud banks.
This Wexford trip might have been a dash to the unknown, but some of the uncertainty was taken out of the equation by the fact that we were staying at Kelly's Resort Hotel in Rosslare. This may have been my first visit, but I know enough about Kelly's to know that, for generations of families with children, this is a sort of Willy Wonka land.
Built for comfort and efficiency - light, bright and spacious are the guiding principles here - the hotel sits on exactly the right kind of Wexford beach, stretching far into the distance on either side, with soft white sand and rolling breakers.
Inside, the seaside theme runs right through the decor and colour scheme, backdrop to the family's impressive art collection - pieces by Jack Yeats, Louis le Brocquy, Felim Egan, Elizabeth Magill, Michael Mulcahy and Mainie Jellett.
Our family bedroom - king size bed, three singles - had the pleasing feel of a ship's cabin, with the single beds tucked into little corners and plenty of room left over.
Midweek as it was, Kelly's was packed, and promising an evening of very glamorous entertainment - ballroom dancing - which meant the bar area, where we had a quick drink before dinner, was full of elegant, beautifully coiffed women and dapper men, most of a certain age, who entirely put us to shame in our casual jeans and jumpers.
Watching them, lit up with the expectation of fun, as decoratively turned out as movie stars, made me feel we were on board some kind of fabulous cruise, and I mentally added 'ballroom dancing lessons' to the French and Italian courses I plan to occupy my time with some years hence.
Dinner was at La Marine bistro, where the menu mixed seafood - mussels, chowder, cod - with steak, duck and pork belly, accompanied by the likes of puy lentils, pickled vegetables, braised red cabbage, and managed to be 'traditional' (ie not too alarmingly trendy; there were Dauphinoise potatoes, and truffle mayonnaise) but without feeling like The Land That Time Forgot.
Kelly's of course has strong links to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape area of the Rhone - owner Bill, the fourth generation of Kelly to run the hotel, is married to Isabelle Avril, daughter of Paul Avril, a leading French wine-maker from Chateauneuf-du-Pape - and the wine list reflects this heritage, with a clever, well-curated selection. We chose by the glass, a Petit Vin D'Avril, made by the Avril family, and a Chateau de Monthelie.
The next day, first stop was the leisure centre - frankly, the kids were mainly in it for the pool. Or rather, the two pools. Hours of splashing around followed, with occasional trips to the sauna, Jacuzzi and hot tub (adult only) - which is located on a deck overlooking the beach, meaning that the very daring could take a freezing plunge into the ocean, and be back in the delicious warmth of the hot tub within minutes. This may just be the future of out-of-season sea swimming in this country.
The quality and quantity of possible childcare at Kelly's is very appealing - the Children's Club runs from 9.30am to 9pm, and includes a merry selection of art, drama, sports, story telling, games and so on. On the basis that we would not really be plumbing the fully Kelly's experience otherwise, we dropped the five-year-old into the supervised playroom for a couple of hours, where she was as happy as a lark.
Lunch at the Ivy Room buffet was pretty much a romp through everything we all like most - cold meats, cheeses, platters of fish, roast meats, lasagne, chips, curry, an array of tiny desserts, just made for taking two (or three).
Afterwards, a game of crazy golf in the landscaped back garden settled a question I had been turning over in my mind for some time - no, the eldest is not yet old enough to be beaten soundly by his mother and take it in good part.
Emily and her family stayed at Kelly's Resort Hotel (kellys.ie).
Kelly's are doing a two-night midweek (full board - all meals) specials from €260 per person + 10pc service charge, available March-June 2016.
The mid-week break includes accommodation, Kelly's Afternoon Tea upon arrival, dinner in Beaches Restaurant nightly, and breakfast and lunch up to departure day.
Also included are nightly entertainment, tennis, snooker, crazy golf, bowls & croquet, the Aqua Club, Jacuzzi, sauna & steam room, outdoor Canadian hot tub, jogging track, yoga & aerobics studio, gym, badminton, table tennis, children's playground.
For more on Wexford, see visitwexford.ie.
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