It's a scenic drive to Ardmore from Waterford. The road twists and turns its way around the coastline, giving glimpses of the destination ahead. As the name suggests, the Cliff House Hotel is perched on a cliff side and looks out over Ardmore Bay. The site has been home to a hotel since the early 1900s, but three years ago a modern boutique hotel opened and it is something of an architectural feat. The hotel links two buildings that drop seven levels to the sea, ensuring that all of its 39 rooms have views of the bay.
The hotel opened when Ireland's economy started its decline and one might expect that it would be a casualty of the downturn. Thankfully, there was no sign of recession during my visit in March; all the rooms were booked and the restaurants full.
Many credit Adriaan Bartels with the hotel's success. As the manager, he runs a tight 'ship' with good service and attention to detail. He is joined by celebrated Dutch chef Martijn Kajuiter who is head of the kitchen in the hotel's House Restaurant. The House won a Michelin Star after just 18 months and is the only Irish restaurant outside Dublin to receive the much coveted award.
The hotel's style is simple and elegant. On entering the reception area you are instantly seduced by the view of Ardmore Bay. The walls are natural slate and the whole hotel is bathed in natural light from its large windows. A classy spiral staircase weaves through three floors and if Nicole Kidman descended it in a satin dress she would fit right in.
Up the stairs from reception is the Cliff Veranda Suite, my home for the night. The suite is the perfect love nest for a romantic weekend away. It is spacious with siding doors that lead to a balcony that nearly equals the size of the room. By leaving the door slightly ajar, the room is filled with the sound of the Irish Sea crashing against the rocks below. It's the perfect atmosphere for curling up in an armchair or lazing on the big, comfy bed.
The adjoining bathroom is one of the most stylish hotel bathrooms I have ever seen. It's the kind of place where you want to spend time, either bathing in its freestanding egg-shaped bath or rinsing in its double shower which has a glass wall looking out to the balcony. This gives you the choice of two views while showering; your partner or the sea. And if all that romance is too much, there is a large flat-screen TV, CD player and Wi-Fi. The only fault I had to find with the room was that there was no kettle, so I couldn't make a cup of tea!
On request, the hotel's sommelier Anke Hartmann offers wine tasting sessions (€30) and what a way to kick off a weekend. Anke picked six of her favourite wines and supplied good notes and insights on each. She had chosen a mix of old and new world wines from Canada (I didn't even know that Canada had a wine industry), Spain, France, New Zealand and her native Germany. Those with a modest knowledge of wine can be intimidated by sommeliers, but Anke was down to earth and seemed genuinely stimulated by my interest in wine, as poor as it is. Each tasting was a sensory journey and a historical trip around the world. She told stories of the wine makers and the geographical factors that have influenced the taste.
It wasn't long to wait before the much anticipated dinner in The House restaurant. The room is small, yet stylish, but I was disappointed by our table, which was in a corner. My companion faced a wall and we both felt cut off from the atmosphere in the restaurant. After requesting a move we were relocated to a table more to our liking. Later the manager told us that couples often request this table as they feel it's like a 'private' table in the restaurant. An interesting example of the fickleness of people's likes and dislikes.
But after the rocky start the meal didn't disappoint. We opted for the tasting menu (€85) with matching wines (€40) and the waiter told us it would take two-and-a-half hours. Fast-forward four hours later, we emerged satisfied that we had eaten some of the best food that Ireland has to offer. The eight courses were a gastronomic experience of pure bliss. I 'ummed' and 'aahed' my way through West Cork scallops, breast of pigeon, cod and Angus beef. I really 'aahed' when the smoked salmon arrived at the table still smoking. Anke matched the wines perfectly and, eager for our continued learning, she brought a Chardonnay from the wine tasting so we could compare it to the Chardonnay on the dinner menu.
The next morning I went for a walk - a good way to work off the gluttony of the night before. The hotel has two good options for walks nearby. To one side is a stunning cliff walk that takes about an hour. To the other is a beautiful stretch of golden strand by the village of Ardmore.
Spending the departure day in the Wells Spa is a good way to ensure that you go home suitably relaxed. The spa is small but faultless with an indoor infinity pool and an adjoining steam room and sauna. The outdoor Jacuzzi is a terrific place to while away a few hours and look out at Ardmore Bay. The therapist, Aileen, sent me home floating after my facial.
The Cliff House shows that when something is done right it will do well, regardless of bailouts and recessions. It's a perfect retreat if you want to spend money treating yourself, but the best thing about it is that you will go home feeling it was money well spent.
A Gourmet Weekend package costs €355 based on two people sharing. This includes one night bed and breakfast in a 'Deluxe' room with dinner for two people in the Michelin-starred House restaurant. The Cliff Veranda Suite and the bed and breakfast rate starts at €395.00 per night up to €470.00 per night in the summer.
Visit: www.thecliffhousehotel.com or call: +353 24 87 800 for more information on packages and rates and to book.
In celebration of the Waterford Food Festival, The Cliff House is offering a wine masterclass with Felix Meyer followed by dinner in The House restaurant. The masterclass, dinner and wine costs €95 per person. Or the masterclass, dinner, wines and bed and breakfast cost €360 for two people sharing. To reserve a place, call: +353 84 87 803.
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