The Cliff House Hotel is renowned for its five-star class and excellent facilities. Esther N McCarthy joins the resident whale expert for a weekend with a difference.
WHEN I think of whales, I think of my second near-death experience. It happened in Mozambique in 2005. I was swimming with whale sharks (which are perfectly friendly, even if they are the size of a bus and not technically whales).
The boat chugged off without me after I stopped to clear my goggles, I couldn’t find the rest of the group in the water and was fully convinced I’d been left to languish in the Indian ocean. It all worked out in the end, though.
Thankfully you don’t have to travel that far these days for whale spotting. Ireland is gaining quite the reputation globally as a destination for whale and dolphin watching enthusiasts.
One of Ireland’s leading whale watchers, Andrew Malcolm, leads a whale watching weekend in conjunction with The Cliff House hotel in Ardmore, so off we went to have a look at them from the safety of the cliff top — no fear of me drowning up there - although a cliff does feature heavily in my other near-death experience, but I’ll keep that story for another day...
Andrew and his faithful hound Ocho, took us out to Ram’s Head on the Cliff Walk, pointing out flora and fauna, getting us to taste the wild garlic and sorrel growing along the way.
As well as resident whale expert, he also forages for the hotel’s kitchen and is a mine of information on the locality and its treasures. He tells us the coastal waters off the southwest are a feeding ground for a number of whale species such as fin, humpback and minke as well as resident dolphin species. Just a couple of weeks back, Andrew saw 200 dolphins and a fin whale at this very spot. The weather wasn’t on our side so we didn’t get to see whales but we did spot a cute sea otter.
The Cliff House on a cold January day is an experience to savour. You arrive in on the fifth floor to the reception and a wall of glass reveals one the most beautiful views of any hotel in Ireland. A blazing fire in the lobby, a wonderful welcome and a hearty lunch in the bar sets the scene nicely for the weekend.
The lunch was wonderful, I had a bla, obviously, when in Waterford and all that... we knew for sure we weren’t in Cork anymore when we realised there was no Murphys stout , but we soldiered on in our 5 star boutique hotel and went out to walk the glorious Ardmore strand to build up an appetite.
This a Michelin star restaurant and boy, does it live up to its hype. We opted for the 3 course menu for €70 but do not be fooled — it felt like a 10-course meal, there were so many accompaniments, breads and extra little surprise dishes here and there. Not for the faint of stomach. Himself added the wine matching option for €27.50.
For starters I had the chervil roots and chestnut — sounds simple enough but the complex textures and structures were an unexpected — and delightful – surprise.
There was foraged mushrooms (thanks Andrew) and seaweed dashi, hidden bursts of flavour from grapefruit, black rice, toasted shallots and lots of fresh garden herbs.
Main course was McGrath’s black Angus beef fillet, that came with grilled sausage, garden spinach, potato with Kilbeggan whiskey, and a little teapot infused with rosemary and other herbs with a beef tea that was infusing away on the table before the main made its appearance.
Dessert was a cranberry and orange sphere with consomme, sorbet with aerated soymilk, ginger and a glorious brown sugar crunch. Ridiculously good.
Executive chef Martijn Kajuiter is the man behind the Michelin star food, suffice it to say, it lived up to all the hype.
The Cliff House has the stunning Well Spa with a relaxation room that exudes peace, you cannot but be tranquil here. You look out the wall of glass at the Atlantic, seagulls playing on the wind currents, the cliff grass wafting, a living television that I could have watched all day.
Don’t miss out, well worth a visit, but book in advance for a treatment, especially at the weekends, the spa is popular. The room we had was a loft style suite with a huge private veranda showcasing that amazing view.
It was a split level room that was 5 star all the way. The cliffside location is made the most of upstairs with floor to ceiling glass doors, glass-sided showers, a huge deep bath, I’d have happily spent all my time in the bathroom, quite honestly.
Every inch of the hotel is glorious, with sea views no matter where you look, a real treat.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A whale watching break at The Cliff House Hotel is a two-night stay with dinner on one night and a two-hour whalewatching cliff walk with Andrew Malcolm.
The package costs €510 for two people B&B midweek in a deluxe seaview room, with one dinner in the Bar restaurant and a 2-hour guided whale watching walk.
The same package costs €600 for 2 people at weekends, and there are reduced rates for groups of 6+. www.thecliffhousehotel.com or 024 87800.
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