THE Irish wedding season is in full swing and it took a West Cork hand-fasting to bring me to Inchydoney after many years. Amazingly, I’d never been there before — knowing the Clonakilty area like the back of my hand, I had been on automatic pilot: I had established favourite destinations and most of those were inherited.
You parent as you were parented, so the seaside meant the Long Strand and Warren Strand — my father’s Austin A40 Countryman never fancied the curved and congested road to the strand at Inchdoney. And when my own children were in their crab-fishing days, I trod the same old, rutted route.
So, out of the blue, I went to the Inchydoney Island Hotel and Spa — and I’m so glad I did. Now, writing this on the Monday after my Sunday return, the sense of place remains and I feel calm and rested.
Usually, I turn down offers of weekends away — I know, weird, huh? But when you work at full pelt all week, you don’t want to pack up and go, find a sitter for the dogs, dodge the housework, garden and washing, and all the other stuff that gets in the way of letting go.
This time, I had no choice. The wedding was a royal command performance —close family friends and the chance to meet up with three generations in one go (it went swimmingly, by the way).
But, after the dress, the ceremony, the food, the wine, the dancing — the winding way back to Inchydoney was the cherry on top of a great day out.
It was quiet and calm as the road wended southwards and the hotel was a beacon of light at journey’s end. Weary and worn out, I climbed into a huge bed to the sound of the soft susurration of the sea immediately below.
Check-in had been a brief flight upstairs and down again, so I didn’t get a chance to absorb the environment until the following morning — which, amazingly, broke to bright sunshine, a stiff breeze and a hearty breakfast.
Down corridors lined with a quirky choice of art work, you get the sense you’re in someone’s home — — yes, it’s a big enough hotel, but the style is so autobiographical, you feel cosy — welcomed.
And there’s the west Cork accent of the staff, the friendliness that even just an hour up the road fades with time and turnover. There, the pace is slower, guests stay longer, people engage — and it shows.
I don’t know what the star rating for the Inchydoney is — I know it’s probably five-star — but it’s not like a five-star of a large metropolis — or, heaven forfend, a flunky-filled, Gulf State gaff, but here the right stuff is high quality and all the rest is relaxed.
So, no silver service nonsense in the dining room, but a superb kitchen that makes its own marmalade, jams, pastries and bread. No huge buffet breakfast, but real quality fruit, overnight oats, and an artisan (I know, but here it means something) fry-up with fresh fish and pancakes and scrambled egg cooked to order. Tea is served in a decent pot and here’s where I’d quibble — why, when there’s so much of a palaver about estate coffee and quality, do we not get good quality, loose tea? Tea bags are the instant coffee of the tisane world and if there are shrines to proper tea in Paris, why in heaven’s name aren’t we making a song and dance of it at home?
The morning was spent in walking with dear friends and having coffee in the outside terrace of the bar, which, while windy, was a safe refuge from the squalling waves of children inside — it was that familiar May/ June collision of wedding and Communion season. God help us.
I should devote a whole article to the quality of the sea, sand, beach, tide, water, dunes, atmosphere — but I don’t have time and, instead, those of you who haven’t been to Inchydoney beach in a while should go again. It is sublime — with a quality of white sand and blue water that I last saw in the Indian Ocean.
Take a long walk behind the hotel, into the dunes, and lose everyone — it’s not trying or trekking, just gentle, beachside walking, which, with a fresh breeze, dulled the heat of the sun — so wear sunscreen — we didn’t and burned.
In the late afternoon, we took wonderful treatments in the spa, which ironed out the wrinkles of the long week before. Scrubbed, glowing and full of well-being, we joined all the other rejuvenated patrons in sunny, indoor relaxing rooms, where we dozed under glass in much the same way as a tomato plant in a greenhouse.
Magazines abounded and there was a free juice, fruit and tea bar, where you could help yourself all day, if you wished. (Same as the residents’ lounge, which offered pastries and sundries throughout the day and had the craziest collection of books you’re likely to see outside of a second-hand bookstore.)
That evening, spruced up and shining, we dined in the Gulf Stream restaurant — and late enough, as the room was booked up fairly fast.
A table by the window allowed us watch the sun set over the wide expanse of sea, and, despite the classic number of courses on offer, we took just two. And just as well: starters were delicious scallops with classic black pudding accompaniment and slow-roast pork belly, with trimmings.
Main courses of steak and monkfish came with incredible, oxtail fondant potatoes and pommes puree, respectively, and the vegetables were fresh and local, including wild garlic, served simply wilted. An outstanding meal.
We had spent that whole day, and the following morning, in Inchydoney and still didn’t cover everything. We didn’t get the surf lessons — or the midnight kayaking — or any other of the list of things on offer through the hotel. But that’s for hyperactive types — instead, we got the blessing of calm and rest —which, in this busy world, is enough. n Check out www.inchydoneyisland.com for special offers and for holiday bookings.
* Tomorrow, Inchydoney hosts the only island point-to-point racing in Ireland, when the Carbery Foxhounds event takes place on Beamish’s farm, just over the hill from the Lodge and Spa.