IT MAY be the country’s oldest city — celebrating its 1,100th birthday this year — but as a tourist destination Waterford city has, perhaps unfairly, suffered from a perception as the poor cousin of the likes of Dublin and Cork.
An airport with very limited connections means it does not get tourists dropped on its doorstep to anywhere near the same degree as its rivals. Furthermore, as a county with some of the country’s finest beaches, many visitors to the Deise are drawn to the wonders of the sea rather than the city.
Yet dig a little deeper — literally below street level in some places — and you will quickly find Waterford City has a fascinating history — as well as a team of experts who are more than willing to recount it in a fashion that is friendly for all ages.
I will admit that when we arrived at the city’s Medieval Museum for the start of the “Epic Tour of the Viking Triangle” we were more than a little concerned that our three- and five-year-olds would struggle to appreciate what was, after all, an hour-long history lesson in fairly dreadful weather conditions.
Our concerns grew further when we were told that we would be sharing the experience with more than 40 senior American tourists barely off a coach. Indeed the tour started a few minutes late while a few were retrieved from a Waterford Crystal building by their rather formidable chaperone.
However, our fears were quickly dispelled when we met Derek, our guide for the tour, and his rucksack of tricks. He immediately bonded with the kids before turning his attention to the US visitors, disarming them with a few choice quips about the weather and their outfits.
Five minutes later and a Viking helmet was being propped up by my five-year-old daughter’s glasses and a large American man was booming out “hear ye hear ye” while ringing a bell to which the whole ensemble would respond equally loudly “we hear you, we hear you”. Every time Derek mentioned Larry’s name, the performance would be repeated — our three year-old was not Larry or the bell’s biggest fan.
The tour features brief but informative stops at the city’s Medieval Museum, Bishop’s Palace and Reginald’s Tower, all just a few minutes walk from each other and contained within, you guessed it, a triangular area in the north east corner of Waterford city centre.
The hour flew as Derek interspersed interesting historical facts about the various buildings — who knew one of the first murders to be solved by forensics was committed there? — to fun asides such as throwing soft balls at an American tourist constrained by a pair of sturdy stocks.
Realising that we would be pushing it to try to instil any more culture into the children, we were forced to forgo what is a city institution, the Waterford Crystal facility. Visitors are able to take a tour right from the early stages of the glassware in the mould room, up to the intricate engraving stage.
Instead we decided to divert to the city’s “People’s Park”. This is a fine amenity which has well-maintained playground equipment for kids of all ages, as well as a café, skatepark and — very importantly for small bladders — toilet facilities onsite.
The Faithlegg House Hotel and Golf Resort is just a short drive from the heart of Waterford city.
In spite of the ominous clouds as we arrived, the hotel’s main building was still stunning to behold as we drove up, albeit with a brief stop to allow a golfer to take his tee-shot across the laneway.
The family room had ample space for the four of us with a double and two singles, though we were a tad disappointed that the beautiful décor of the rooms in the main hotel building which are amply on show on the hotel’s website, was replaced with standard paintwork and fixtures in the room we stayed.
Mind you, the chocolate cookies and filter coffer provided as standard and the buns which were in our room on arrival, were a lovely touch.
The breakfast at the Faithlegg was a definite hit with us all. It offered a wonderfully varied choice of hot and cold food that was all well presented and well prepared, using quality ingredients.
We had dinner in the hotel’s main restaurant on both nights. There was a good range of choices on the children’s menu. The extremely fresh battered fish which our three-year-old picked was certainly a distance from the pre-packed rubbish often presented as a kid’s option on hotel menus.
Our food, too, was tasty with the fresh, well cooked vegetables which came with mains a particular highlight. However, the options, particularly for main courses, were somewhat limited. We were left wishing we had opted to eat on one of the nights in the hotel bar where a further menu was on offer. The wine selection, though, was extensive.
Not being a golfist myself, the course a few steps from the front of the hotel remained unhacked. However, there was still plenty to keep us occupied. The 17m-pool might not be the biggest in the world but it is positioned with a lovely view overlooking the gardens which could be enjoyed while the kids paddled safely away in the adjoining children’s area under the watchful eye of a lifeguard literally inches away. The fitness area also features a sauna, steamroom and one of the biggest jacuzzis I have ever encountered indoors.
My wife managed to escape for an hour to the spa area for a facial. I am reliably informed that: “I was made to relax straight away even before the treatment began. The facial was customised to my skin concerns and used organic products. It included an arm and shoulder massage ensuring full and total relaxation.”
Hotel playgrounds are normally non-existent or filled with broken, often hazardous equipment but the Faithlegg’s small offering had a good array of well-maintained equipment that kept the kids happily entertained for a half hour twice during our two-night stay.
The bottom line
The Faithlegg is a comfortable base from which to set out and explore all that is on offer. Its staff are friendly and attentive, especially to the needs of children. A summer family break, including two night’s bed and breakfast and one dinner, costs €129pps, with children €15 per night, B&B.
The Waterford Spraoi International Street Arts Festival, August 1-3, www.spraoi.com
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