Wednesday 24 January 2018

Travel: A cliffhanger that will leave you wanting more


The Cliff House Hotel at Ardmore, Co Waterford.
The Cliff House Hotel at Ardmore, Co Waterford.
SEASCAPE: Madeleine Keane takes in the stunning view at Ardmore.
Madeleine Keane on a childhood holiday in Waterford
Madeleine Keane

Madeleine Keane

WATERFORD. A county I've been drawn back to time and time again. When I was about 10, my mother sprang me from school one Friday afternoon and piled me along with my siblings into the back of a station wagon with her best friend, an elegant redhead called Tonia, and her two children.

We took off for Tramore and I remember it as a weekend of brilliant fun – swimming, running along the endless beach, getting up to all sorts of high jinks while the mummies drank gin and tonics. I've a photo of that weekend – my long hair is wet and combed like I've just come from the pool, I'm looking pensive and gazing out over that tra mor, with not an idea of the joys and sorrows ahead.

Four decades later, and I'm back with one of the joys, my elder daughter Natasha. There have been innumerable holidays in Waterford over the years, mostly to Dunmore East for bucket-and-spade, Enid Blytonesque holidays with friends, assorted children and pets. Now it's time for something a little more grown-up. While I know the east of the county, I'm less acquainted with the west and its Copper Coast, so called for its metal mining industry, the historic legacies of which earned it UNESCO accreditation in 2004.

We're in the centre of Waterford in under two hours and stop for coffee, but the city is somnolent this sunny Sunday, so we beat on to lovely Ardmore and the fabled Cliff House Hotel. I've heard much about it and always longed to visit, loving above all the sound of its location, virtually cantilevered as it is over the sea.

There's been a hotel here since the Thirties, when it was run by a Mr Kelly from Connemara; even then they had a swimming pool carved out of the rocks. Bought by the O'Callaghan family from Mitchelstown a decade ago, the place was razed to the ground and rebuilt. A massive financial injection and physical transformation later, it's now a gorgeous boutique hotel and part of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group. I have not crossed the threshold but genial manager Adriaan Bartels is out to greet me, remembering how we met many years ago when he managed another legendary hotel, Kenmare's Sheen Falls.

We're staying in Aran House, a wonderful veranda suite which is organised split-level loft style: a downstairs sitting room has TV, all the latest magazines, books and that chic accoutrement of all stylish hotels – a Nespresso machine.

Upstairs, pink Donegal tweed throws cover the comfy beds and a magnificent bathroom features an iridescent rose mosaic floor and a huge rainforest shower with a glass wall overlooking the spacious balcony – the latter has recliners and breathtaking views and is very private: you could sunbathe nude – Natasha points out it would be ideal for Kate Middleton. There's a moveable flat screen TV at the end of our bed and later the two of us tuck up under toasty duvets to watch Tom Hanks being hurtled around the Somali Basin by his piratical tormentors.

The hotel is superbly located if you love walking, as I do. Right outside the entrance the Cliff Walk takes us on a 5km loop round Ardmore and Ram's Heads. It is a balmy March afternoon so we've stunning views of this majestic coastline and, at every turn, there are historic sights – the coastguard station and the lookout post used for observation during the Second World War; most spectacular of all, at the base of the cliffs, lies the wreck of the crane ship Samson, blown ashore while being towed from Liverpool to Malta in 1987.

The next day, despite the driving rain, I have a windswept walk along the beach, where the detritus of the spring storms is still visible. I head through the pretty village up to the graveyard and its 12th-Century Round Tower, which was used in days of yore for the safe keeping of relics and chalices and as a place of refuge.

All the walking and sea air stoke our appetites; unfortunately, it being a Sunday, the hotel's Michelin-starred restaurant is closed so we head to Dungarvan for aromatic chicken korma and onion bhajis in the Indian Ocean overlooking the harbour. Then it's home for a date with Captain Phillips, aka Mr Hanks.

Breakfast is every inch the five-star experience at a table with a view – even if it is of thrashing grey waves. Fresh carrot juice, fruit and yoghurt followed by smoked kippers in a lemon and herb butter for me, and waffles with strawberry and cream for Natasha, are as utterly indulgent as they are delicious.

Happily we can work off some of our sins with a long swim and a sauna. And it's a sensory treat to brave the bitter wind and plunge into the warm bubbling waters of the outdoor jacuzzi before checking in to the hotel's Well Spa (named after the spring at nearby St Declan's Well), which offers plenty of therapies and treatments.

Despite the sheets of rain, Natasha, undaunted, gets into an outdoor organic bath laced with peat and ginger which relieves her sore shoulders.

I opt for the Voya experience. In 1912 the first seaweed baths opened in Strandhill in Sligo and since then the Walton family has developed a range of seaweed products – Voya – designed to support, nourish and soothe the skin. My 'experience' comprises an exfoliating back brush and massage and a facial; at one stage my face is covered in seaweed. After an hour and a quarter of marine-inspired pampering, my skin feels like butter.

And, after two days at the sublime Cliff House, I feel restored and rejuvenated. I'm actually glad its famous restaurant was closed – it means I have to come back some day.


The Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore, County Waterford: Deluxe seaview rooms from €210, bed & breakfast.

The Well Spa Voya Experience €135: An exfoliating back brush followed by a back, neck and shoulder massage and a moisturising Voya facial.

Cliff Spa Classic, Spa & Sleep package, from €355-€450 for a deluxe seaview room for two people, includes one night accommodation, a three course table d'hote dinner in the Bar Restaurant, breakfast and a 25 minute treatment in The Well Spa, chosen from a specially curated selection of treatments.

Contact: The Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore, County Waterford. Phone: 024 87 800

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