A warm wel­come to west Water­ford

ROOM AT THE INN

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Britain & Ireland - A. Z. B. KNIGHT

MY driver says there are two speeds in Ire­land: slow and stop. As we mo­tor through sleepy vil­lages and past posters for the Na­tional Plough­ing Cham­pi­onships, I don’t doubt it.

This part of west Water­ford is beau­ti­ful and un­de­vel­oped and our desti­na­tion, the vil­lage of Ard­more, is no ex­cep­tion. There is a pub, school, church, shop and restau­rant serv­ing sand­wiches and tea and slabs of pie. Oh, and sweep­ing down the banks of the cliff in sheets of mod­ern glass, the Cliff House Ho­tel.

How could such a place, trail­ing in its wake a Miche­lin-starred restau­rant and a glitzy spa, have found it­self here?

My driver says the spec­tac­u­lar water­front site was up for sale and the vil­lage, pop­u­la­tion 500, was wor­ried some ‘‘nasty de­vel­oper’’ would get their hands on it. So they went to the O’Cal­laghans — a lo­cal fam­ily with a thriv­ing me­dia busi­ness — and told them they should buy it. The O’Cal­laghans, with no pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence in ho­tels but with the moral sup­port of the vil­lage, did just that.

Each of the ho­tel’s 39 gue­strooms looks out over a mag­nif­i­cent sandy bay. The decor is trendy. There are 18th­cen­tury cab­i­nets and brass lamps mixed with mod­ern art and ma­genta car­pets; bath­rooms are mo­saic-tiled in funky colours, with two-per­son show­ers and wa­ter­fall taps; beds are huge and supremely com­fort­able.

The spa does the full line of fa­cials and mas­sages; its cen­tre­piece is a swim­ming pool with an almighty wall of glass over­look­ing the ocean. The bar has very fine food all day, in­clud­ing ad- dic­tively good, deep, cakey soda bread served with thick slices of salty but­ter.

From The House Restau­rant, Dutch chef Mar­tijn Ka­juiter sends rain­bow­stud­ded plates of trick­ery out to packed ta­bles. (Book well in ad­vance.)

If this all sounds slick, hip and pol­ished, think again. The Cliff House is the labour of love of two non-hote­liers and is run with tra­di­tional, home­grown warmth. The porter has a story to tell you, the wait­ress doesn’t stop smil­ing, and the vicar is tak­ing tea with a glam- orous young lady, eat­ing a fat scone and drink­ing a whiskey from down the road in Mi­dle­ton. Ev­ery­thing is slow (as my driver fore­told), friendly, rus­tic — but what­ever you ask for is no prob­lem. ‘‘Of course, it’ll be right there.’’

There are quirks aplenty — such as the float­ing golf­ing green 175m off­shore. If you man­age to pot one of the biodegrad­able balls, the cham­pagne is on the house. And if you want to ex­plore, down in the vil­lage is Ard­more Adventures, an op­er­a­tor of­fer­ing wild swim­ming, wind­surf­ing or snorkelling out past pods of dol­phins. My morn­ing of kayak­ing is glo­ri­ous, and far too short.

The great­est sur­prise is what a se­cret the Cliff House has been un­til now. It opened in 2008, and while it filled im­me­di­ately with Ir­ish glit­terati and ap­pre­cia­tive lo­cals, it has stayed un­der the radar. All that is chang­ing. AZB Knight was a guest of The Cliff House Ho­tel.

The Cliff House Ho­tel, dra­mat­i­cally perched in the vil­lage of Ard­more

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