Living well in Waterford - My active break in Ardmore
The truth is that my perfect day would be spent lounging on my couch, eating ham and cheese brioche rolls and watching Agatha Christie.
That said, one adventure sports holiday earlier this year has gone to my head, and I now like to consider myself a daring, sporty type. It is only a matter of time before I begin forcing my four-and-three-quarter-year-old to eschew our annual two weeks by the sea in Spain in favour of activity holidays.
While my actual activity holiday involved abseiling down the side of a 28m cliff, that level of daring was most probably a one-off. My future aims are more for the mid-level activity range; cycling, walking, possibly some canoeing.
This level of activity has a new buzzword; you are no longer taking the sedate activity holiday option, you are engaged in active wellness. Gwyneth probably invented it. What it means is holidays which include movement that is all about getting out in the fresh air, taking time out in nature, without exhausting, or terrifying yourself.
On a recent bank holiday trip to the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore in West Waterford for a weekend activity break, I brought the BF with me. The BF is a true outdoorsy person, a woman who would think nothing of hiking whatever mountain you put in front of her, who swims in the sea on a weekly basis. I tend to forget she is an actual activities hun; none of these are things we do regularly together; I am, as I said, a pretend activities person.
The Cliff House Hotel is the third, and most stunningly situated of the three Cliff hotels, the others being the Cliff Townhouse on St Stephen's Green and the Cliff at Lyons in Kildare. Literally carved into the cliffside in Ardmore, a picturesque seaside town which one local informed us had its own microclimate due to its low setting and the surrounding hills (meaning it often avoids rain nearby hamlets are experiencing), the Cliff House is a five-star boutique-sized hotel, famous for its outdoor seaweed baths and spa treatment rooms.
I had recently staged my own active wellness holiday for my fortieth, going away with a group of friends for a weekend and forcing them to go on an all-day hike. I could sense their dubiousness before we set out, actual mutiny had been avoided by agreeing they could lie in until whenever they awoke; we set off late. If it hadn't been a big birthday I know there would have been outright dissension in the ranks.
In fact, they all came crawling back afterwards to concur, to my immense smugness, that it was a genius idea on my part. Those who knew each other got to catch up, those who didn't, got to know each other. I have become an evangelical walk bore since, so was delighted that this weekend's itinerary was kicking off with a ramble around the hotel's famous adjacent cliff walk.
The walk, which follows the edge of the cliff head, goes past St Declan's Well, the preserved Ardmore Round Tower and a 12th Century cathedral. We were accompanied by local guide Andrew Malcolm, a forager and whale-spotter who collects plants for the chef at the Cliff House Hotel. At the crest of the hill, Andrew showed us his favourite spot for whale, shark and dolphin watching, along with an impressive record of his most recent sightings. By the end of our walk I had chatted to everyone and stretched the legs after the drive down from Dublin.
Which was lucky, because the Cliff House Hotel takes food seriously; working up an appetite was necessary for the feast that was to come at dinner. The House Restaurant is Michelin-starred, and we were treated to a multi-course meal; tasting courses woven around our mains.
You are unlikely to find more imaginative food elsewhere. The introductory bread selection included sea vegetable brioche, potato, onion and blonde beer bread, and organic spelt, honey and thyme bread. A round of savoury snacks followed, which included fennel and seaweed dashi (a type of soup), white asparagus panna cotta, soy & thyme marshmallow, and a smoked popcorn Ardsallagh goats cheese dome.
The next day we set off to Mahony's Pub in Durrow, a traditional Irish pub worth a visit for a post-wellness pint by the fire. On this occasion though, we were there to meet our guide, Garvan Cummins, also known as the Greenway Man. As well as bike hire, Cummins also offers historical tours.
On my previous activities holiday, it had been the cycling part of the trip that, to my great surprise, had vanquished me (I blame rocky terrain and slightly dodgy gears). The Greenway offers a much calmer terrain for those who are getting back in the saddle for the first time in years. There are also options for children which involve an attachment to an adult bike, giving a child the option of pulling their weight and cycling, or sitting back and letting the parent do all the work.
In total, the route offers 46km of off-road cycling and walking trail along an old railway track between Waterford and Dungarvan. Our trip ended with lunch in Dungarvan at The Moorings, a bistro-bar style restaurant where the consensus was to carb-load (it's an activities person thing) with their delicious lasagne.
The final activity of our trip was to be on the water, with Ardmore Adventures. Paddle boarding is essentially surfing with a paddle, except the board is far bigger and more stable than a surf board, and the entire experience calmer. Wearing a wetsuit, you climb aboard your board in the water; it's fairly stable, so won't dip or sink.
To begin, you are kneeling, before eventually, in stages, making your way to a full stand. Yoga devotees can allow themselves to feel very smug about their core training with this one. You move at a slow enough pace, and get a view of the world you wouldn't from a boat. This isn't cardio, there's no adrenaline pumping, it is mindfulness. Wellness.
By the end of our trip, we were well to the max. Re-entry into real life was hard!
■ Cliff House Hotel is an intimate five-star hotel set in the cliffside at Ardmore Bay in West Waterford.
■ The hotel's spa, The Well by the Sea, includes an infinity swimming pool, outside tubs and a Jacuzzi. All enjoy spectacular views across the bay.
■ Cliff recently launched The Well at CLIFF, a range of handcrafted skincare products made from 100pc natural products.
■ Outdoor activities available for active wellness breaks include the famous cliff walk in Ardmore, cycling the Waterford Greenway and water sports with Ardmore Adventures (ardmoreadventures.ie).
■ Cliff House Hotel, (024) 87800, cliffhousehotel.ie
NB: This feature originally appeared in The Sunday Independent.
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