It's some achievement to build a shower with a view that offers the illusion of a Mediterranean locale ... in Ireland, in December. I was at the Cliff House Hotel, a terraced edifice clinging to, yes, a cliff, less than an hour's drive east of Cork on Ireland's south coast. It was cold outside and the sea was colder still, but the sun, bathing the mile-long Ardmore beach, leant it a seductive appearance of warmth.
The hotel, where all rooms have sea views (mine also included a glass-walled, double shower looking over a vast private terrace) is a modern building in steel, glass, stone and turf roofs that match the flora of the Ardmore peninsula on which it sits. It has been around for a good five years now, doing brisk domestic trade, but its owner is starting to shout louder about it from a criminally under-visited corner of Europe.
You can see why Barry O'Callaghan wants you to make the journey. The Irish millionaire has ploughed big money into the land here with the ambitious replacement of a traditional old hotel with the "only five-star seaside hotel in Ireland". In The House, it also offers one of only eight Michelin-starred restaurants in Ireland. The hotel's website, meanwhile, is one of the most enticing I've browsed. So, does the place match the promise?
Let's start at the spa, which is a triumph, not least its giant pool with a wall of glass to capture that ever-present view. In summer, take the cliff path down from the terraces, via the spa's outdoor bathtubs, and a golf tee with a far-off waterborne target, to a private, natural pool in the rocks.
Food is the preserve of the hotel's hot-shot Dutch chef, Martijn Kajuiter, who has been here from the start. A long bar – all brass and upholstered stools – is the place for non-Michelin- starred stuff, but it's clear from the serviceable if unexciting menu (I had an OK corned-beef dish then cod) that the restaurant gets all the attention. And it's good. I settle in on my second night for the eight-course tasting menu, which takes in local scallops, halibut and salmon as well as squab, veal and a delicious pear dessert. Breakfast is as big as you can stomach, but don't leave without at least one full Irish under your belt.
It would be remiss not to note some quirks of Cliff House that do it a disservice. There's evidence of some confusion when it comes to the interior design of the hotel. Blue carpets throughout are a bit department store-meets-city academy, while some furnishings feel like they've come off a lorry from Acme Antiques (the job lot of travel chests, for example). Most peculiar are the books. I counted seven boxed sets of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, including three in my room alone. Very strange.
These are small things that could very easily be remedied, along with the cobwebs in that shower, the carpet peeling away from the entrance to my bathroom, and a clunky grey PC in the library that appeared to predate the hotel by a good decade. And I hope that they will be remedied because this is an otherwise captivating place that, together with the area in which it shines as a bright if slightly flawed jewel, deserves lots more tourist traffic from across the Irish Sea than it currently receives.
Cork is a little over an hour away by air from many British airports, and small enough that you can be behind the wheel of a hire car minutes after landing. The city has a growing reputation as a gourmet destination and the gateway to a stunning coastline. Drive east into County Waterford and Ardmore, where local attractions include a walk above Cliff House along the cliffs themselves, as well as the delightful Ardmore Pottery.
I headed further east to Dungarvan, where the Nude Food café is the place for a ploughman's, while the keenly priced Tannery is among the best restaurants in Ireland. Keep going along the Copper Coast road to Tramore, then come back via the main road to Lismore Castle. On your way back to Cork, stop at the renowned Ballymaloe Country House for lunch (book ahead).
All rooms include superking beds and sea views. Most have at least a balcony, working up to the spacious terraces of the roof-top, split-level veranda suites. Amenities are basic – there's no minibar and only instant coffee – but comfortable, while the decor (lots of tartan, dark wood and hints of nautical brass) could do with warming up a bit. Spacious bathrooms include toiletries from Paris-based Anne Semonin.
Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore, Co Waterford, Ireland (00 353 24 87800; thecliffhousehotel.com)
Double rooms start at €225, including breakfast.Reuse content