You can probably imagine that, over my years as a travel writer, I have had the opportunity to stay at countless lovely Irish inns, hotels, and manor houses.
Many of these properties have every amenity you could ever want from a place where you really only hang your hat for a night or two. Despite my acquaintance with so many wonderful accommodations, I stayed this spring at a hotel in Ardmore, Co. Waterford, that beats them all by a country mile.
The Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore is positively one of the loveliest and friendliest hotels I've ever encountered in Ireland - or anyplace else for that matter – with spotlessly clean rooms, a magnificent, waterfront setting, friendly and helpful staff, and divine food. Management at Cliff House has raised accommodation to an art form and has done everything exactly right, from the glass-fronted, airy, modern building and its elegant decorations – in bedrooms and public areas - to staffing. A stay at Cliff House is highly recommended.
I have to admit that I Googled the hotel before visiting and was a bit concerned about its description as a "boutique hotel." I anticipated finding "major attitude" from the staff – the kind you too often find in high-end properties where the employees act as though they are a cut above the clientele and can't stoop to interact with you. But that could not have been farther from the truth at Cliff House. Every single staff member we encountered was gracious, accommodating, chatty, totally down to earth. They made you feel like you were at home.
There were many wonderful people working at Cliff House Hotel when we visited, but space limitations permit me to only list a few. If you visit, be sure to look them up. There was Serena on the front desk; Tom, who heads up the maintenance crew, was born in New York, visited his grandmother in Ireland when he was 14, saw his future wife during that visit and refused to return to the States (yes, they are still married); Richard, who works in the dining room and lounge; Helen, from housekeeping, and Monica from the dining room staff. Every one of them was delightful.
And here's something that really struck me. One of my favorite bracelets – sterling, circular links interspersed with amethysts - somehow fell off after I put it on that morning. I was heartbroken and called back to the hotel. No one had found it and, honestly, I couldn't say for sure whether I lost it there or somewhere else; we were in Kinsale when I called and had stopped at other places along the route. It's a very nice bracelet and I was dead sure that I would never see it again and that whoever found it would keep it and enjoy it as much as I had.
But, to my complete surprise, I got a call later from Mairead of the hotel staff who said they found the bracelet and would send it along. It recently arrived by mail, very carefully wrapped and in perfect condition with a note from Mairead. I am absolutely thrilled to have it back, am mightily impressed by the honesty of the staff and add this vignette to all the other positives about Cliff House Hotel.
Aside from the wonderful people, the hotel itself is small enough (39 bedrooms) to be comfortable and homey and the waterfront location in Ardmore – near Dungarvan and Youghal – is sublime. There's a spa on site and you can easily walk down into the town, which we did one night to enjoy a delicious dinner at White Horses Restaurant (recommended by Georgina Campbell.)
Ardmore is a lovely little seaside town as well as being the oldest Christian settlement in Ireland. It's a perfect summer destination to enjoy the weather and water, visit the nearby 12th Century Round Tower and cathedral, St. Declan's Oratory, and more. There's a lovely cliff walk and the hotel has maps to help you find your way.
Is the Cliff House Hotel pricey? Well, it would not fit into everyone's budget, but there are special packages and let's just say that, for a heavenly splurge, you couldn't find a nicer, warmer, friendlier, better place. For more information, go to: thecliffhousehotel.com
There was an interesting story recently in the Connacht Tribune saying that new evidence unearthed by archaeologist Michael Gibbons, from Clifden, suggests there was a large human presence in the River Corrib catchment area 9,000 years ago. Gibbons says the discovery of two stone axes in Galway City and county suggests there was a Mesolithic pre-farming "hunter-gatherer" settlement in Connemara and in what is now the city of Galway between 6,000 and 9,000 years ago.
He added that these finds are "very important" and show that the popular perception that Connemara, Galway, and the West was populated only after Oliver Cromwell's "To hell or to Connacht" campaign is wrong.
MORE FROM GALWAY
It was great to read, in the Galway City Tribune, that the Volvo Ocean Race, that was such a hit in Boston, was also a huge success when it stopped in Galway and that the city is now positioned "as a world-class marine destination with the potential to attract several other major maritime events, races, and festivals which could generate millions of euro for the local economy in the coming years, according to Galway Harbour Company."
The story goes on to say that organizers of the European Powerboat Championships visited the city during the two weeks of the Volvo Race to check out the city as a potential destination for their next annual event, according to Galway's harbormaster, Captain Brian Sheridan. Sheridan also told the Tribune that informal discussions have also taken place with organizers of other major European and World maritime races and festivals – including Admiral's Cup, Velux Five Oceans, Louis Vuitton Challenge Series, Figaro Series, Clipper Round the World Race and Tall Ships Race – with a view to them stopping in Galway.
AER LINGUS AND MORE
I was sorry to read in The Irish Times that Aer Lingus has announced plans to cut seat capacity on its winter long-haul services by about 25 percent compared with 2008. I flew Aer Lingus to Ireland this spring, had great service and the smoothest of flights as always, and I really want Aer Lingus to survive the economic downturn currently gripping the world.
The Times said service from Dublin to Washington and San Francisco will be suspended from Oct. 25, while flights from Shannon to Chicago will be suspended from Sept. 1.
Apparently, average long haul fares are down by 19 percent for the first quarter due to weak economic conditions and weak consumer confidence on both sides of the Atlantic. The story said that four weekly direct flights between Shannon and New York remain "under review."
The changes, according to The Times, "are likely to prove controversial, particularly in the tourism sector in the Shannon region, which relies on visitors from North America." Cuts will take effect in late October and run until March and any recommencement will be subject to review, the newspaper added.
Delta Airlines was also said to be pulling its scheduled transatlantic services from Shannon starting in October. However, the Continental Airlines route to Newark will reportedly continue. Ryanair has also reduced its short-haul services at Shannon, responding to a decline in consumer demand.
The Times said the Aer Lingus cuts are part of a wide-ranging effort by the airline to trim costs in a year when it is expected to have losses of more than 100-million euro. As part of the plan, staff will be offered unpaid leaves. In May, Aer Lingus carried 90,000 passengers on its transatlantic flights (one of whom was me) compared with 114,000 in the same month of 2008 – a decline of 21 percent.
I had to laugh when reading a story by Kate Holmquist in The Irish Times urging travelers to consult a map when booking a vacation and that research by travelsupermarket.com had found that 95,000 British residents booked flights and hotels for the wrong destination.
Among the more common mistakes were confusing Palma Majorca with La Palma in the Canaries; mixing up San José, California, with San José, Costa Rica; mistaking Amman in Jordan for Oman, the country; thinking that Bucharest and Budapest are the same place and booking a holiday in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, instead of Lisbon, Portugal. The story also said that, "Men are twice as likely as women to book the wrong flights or hotels."
The story said, "Travel agents make mistakes too, confusing Bordeaux (BOD) with Bodrum (BJV), Los Angeles (LAX) with Lagos (LOS) and San Juan (SJU) with San José (SJO)."
GOLFERS AND MORE
Dublin Tourism has a great deal for golfers who visit the area. It's called the Dublin Golf Pass and is designed to make courses in Co. Dublin more accessible. Special rates are offered at various courses and the pass can be ordered online at www.visitdublin.com/golfpass or you can stop into any of Dublin Tourism's four information offices: Suffolk Street, O'Connell Street, Dublin Airport, and at the Dun Laoghaire Ferry Terminal.
If you're in the West, be sure to stop by the Museum of Country Life at Turlough Park in Castlebar, Co. Mayo, to view their many interesting ongoing exhibits and special programs. It's a lovely museum and a fun plan to visit. The museum has extended the closing date for the Moylough Belt Shrine exhibition to next spring. This unique Medieval treasure dates from the 8th Century and was found in Moylough, Co. Sligo, in the 1940s by a local man cutting turf. The Moylough Belt Shrine is the only known surviving example of a belt shrine in Ireland. Admission to the exhibit is free and opening times are Tues-Sat., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sun., 2 to 5 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays. For more information about this and other Irish museums, visit www.museum.ie.
There is so much going on in all parts of Ireland during the summer and every age and interest is sure to enjoy a trip there. So, when you make plans to visit Ireland this summer, be sure to stop by your favorite travel agent or go to the Aer Lingus website (aerlingus.com) for the latest direct flights and best ground deals. Aer Lingus has offered lots of sale prices this year and airfare has been very reasonable.
US Airways (www.usairways.com) and other airlines also offer flights and ground deals but their flights often involve layovers.
Check out all the summer happenings at Tourism Ireland's website (www.discoverireland.com) and enjoy your trip to Ireland whenever you go.