“Would you like a reservation in the restaurant?” asked the friendly gentleman as I checked into reception of Faithlegg Hotel in Waterford?
“I have a one-year-old,” I explain awkwardly, thinking I would be shunned to the some dinky corner of the bar.
“So you’ll be wanting an early reservation,” he replied smiling.
“I suppose,” I say suspiciously.
Let me clarify, it had been nearly 10 long months since I had gotten dressed up and walked into a formal dining setting – a night where I didn’t have to plan, cook or clean up after my dinner. I was aching to feel the crisp white napkin on my lap and to hear the pleasing lull of silver cutlery tipping against porcelain plates. I just assumed the little loud person on my hip would be receiving dagger looks from fellow diners.
But my need for normality prevailed, I quickly confirmed the reservation and hoped for the best.
“Bella Molly,” the assistant restaurant manager Jovan Celebic exclaimed as we entered the Roseville Rooms Restaurant. “Welcome,” he greeted with his warm Montenegro accent pulling out the high chair for my little one. She grinned as he placed a slice of brown bread in front of her, and so set the tone for our family’s first fine-dining experience. It’s safe to say that Molly is destined to be a fan of the finer things in life (like her mother) as she sampled the pan-fried fish of the day from the children’s menu. It was so refreshing to be offered a kids meal that isn’t nuggets and chips or sausages and chips as is far too common.
The fish and vegetables, coupled with the entertainment of a busy dining room guaranteed some peace while I enjoyed the delicate flavours of the Meadowfield Farm goat’s cheese parfait which was elevated with a vibrant pear and tomato chutney smothered on sourdough crisps (€12.50). It was followed by the zingy flavours of a blackcurrant marinated pork steak, complemented by the more subtle flavours of pearl barley, pea gel and Marsala jus (€27). A fresh-fruit salad was given to the baby, allowing us an extra few minutes to enjoy a stunning raspberry and chocolate mousse with a salted caramel ice cream that added that extra bit of decadence.
Conscious of other diners, we were out of the restaurant at 7pm and the night stretched before us. Faithlegg Hotel has recently completed a huge refurbishment of its bedrooms, beautifully decorated in relaxing muted tones. For this holiday however, we opted for the self-catering cottages.
After the baby was asleep upstairs, we enjoyed the home comforts of a cosy sitting room, sipping a glass of wine, clinking the first night of our holidays. For families, a self-catering cottage on the grounds of a good hotel is a great way to travel. You get all the benefits of the restaurant, leisure centre, the spa and the beautiful walkways of the grounds while still enjoying the space and convenience of a cottage. I even got a few hours to enjoy one of the best hot stone massages that I’ve ever had from David O’Leary.
Faithlegg serves as a great base to explore the city and the sea of Waterford. Within a 25-minute drive, you have either Dunmore East or Tramore.
As soon as we drove down the hill into the quaint town of Dunmore East, I had my eyes fixed on the Strand Inn. Perched over the beach, with beautiful sea views, the lunchtime queue indicated this was a spot not to be missed. This is a restaurant made for outdoor long before there was a hint of a pandemic.
Highlights on the menu included crab claws smothered in garlic butter, enough to also dip your crispy chips into, Duncannon Mussels tossed in a creamy black bean and ginger sauce, a house special that sat on our table and many others around us as well as beautifully smooth homemade pâte.
Afterwards, you’re lured onto the beach where a gentle paddle is the perfect end to a seafood feast. But for those that really enjoy the water, then Badger’s Cove is considered one of the nicest swimming spots in the country.
On your exploration of Dunmore East, be sure to walk up the hill from the Strand Inn towards the town passing quaint thatched cottages on your travels. Or for those looking for a more scenic walk seek out the coastal walk along the headland, catching views of Hook Lighthouse.
Dunmore East is also a great day-trip destination if you’re looking to entertain kids or teenagers. Dunmore Adventure will be the highlight of a young person’s Irish holiday. It’s a purpose-built adventure centre at the water’s edge, home of Ireland’s biggest aqua park. You’re talking inflatable slides, water trampolines and obstacle courses and a huge action tower. All this guarantees hours of entertainment and a good nights sleep afterwards. Other activities include archery, kayaking, sailing and abseiling.
Tramore has a different vibe to Dunmore East. It’s bustling with its busy beach and ice cream cones and amusements, with that sense of fun and adventure radiating in the air as children scream with glee. But recently, it’s become a bit of a foodie gem.
If you’re browsing around the town, be sure to stop into Mezze which last year was named the Newcomer of the Year by the Guild of Fine Food in the independent retailer category. This is a big award, especially as it judges stores right throughout the UK and Ireland. Husband-and-wife team Dvir Nusery and Nicola Crowley have created a Middle Eastern mecca where you can pick up crispy falafels with freshly made dips, pittas dipped in zingy hummus, spicy shakshuka or salted tahini chocolate chip cookies. They also embrace all things Irish, stocking local produce such as Knockalara semi hard cheese from Cappoquin and Mella’s salted caramel fudge from west Cork.
No matter where you’re staying in Waterford, carve out a bit of time to explore the Waterford Greenway, a 46km cycle trail that follows a disused railway line from Waterford to Dungarvan. This one we did on a couples afternoon but it is something I look forward to doing with Molly when she is a little older. The looks of glee on the little kids faces on the trailer bikes was infectious.
As we were a bit pushed for time on this occasion, we decided to do some of the route, travelling from Kilmacthomas to Dungarvan. We picked up our bikes from the Waterford Greenway bike hire in Kilmacthomas and both bikes were light and in excellent condition. If you’re worried about your fitness levels, the electric bikes are also a great option – you’re still cycling but it takes the effort out of the hills. We opted for this a few years ago when we did the greenway in Mayo but because the route we were taking in Waterford was shorter and flatter, a normal bike was perfect.
The scenery is stunning and one of the first highlights is the 19th century Kilmacthomas Viaduct. You often see these viaducts from the car when you’re travelling, but how often do you get the opportunity to cycle over them and that excitement continued onto the Durrow Viaduct gazing out at the beautiful countryside below. You could hear the echoing squeals of excitement from kids as we entered Ballyvoyle tunnel. As you cycle through, drops of water drip down the stone walls giving a glistening appeal to the moss and creating a magical atmosphere. Make sure to watch out for the little fairy trail on the way.
There are plenty of places to stop off for a rest with pop-up coffee wagons dotted along the way as well as a playground for the kids but the gorgeous renovated Railway Cottage was a personal highlight. A warm freshly baked scone with coffee and a bottle of local Ballycross Pink Lemonade was just the substance we needed.
Back on the bike, we descended into Dungarvan with the coast sweeping before us, the promise of a steaming bowl of chowder and a celebratory pint of Guinness waiting for us in the Dungarvan favourite, the Moorings.
If you’re planning a trip to Waterford, then a great time to visit is 6-12 September as the Waterford Harvest Festival will be running for the whole week. It’s seven days of bespoke menus, dining-out experiences, seasonal dishes and local producer collaborations celebrating the food champions of the sunny southeast.
Waterford city will be transformed into a food lover’s paradise and one of the places we love to visit is Everett’s. It’s such a cool and quirky place to eat, set in the remains of a historic 15th-century house and wine vault in the Viking Triangle. They’ll be hosting Everett’s Appreciation of Harvest: A Meal to Celebrate, a three-course celebration meal of the land and sea with specially selected wines.
The award-winning restaurant Momo will host a five-course tasting menu celebrating Waterford produce, including vegetables from Ballybeg Greens with Bernadette Kervick sharing tips from her vegetable garden.
Seafood lovers need to check out Waterford’s iconic landmark, The Reg, where they’ll be shucking oysters while lovers of the blaa should head to Walsh’s Bakehouse where they will be doing a one day live outdoor mini “feastival”.
For a relaxing vibe, the Stable Yard Food Hall, the artisan food hall at the epicentre of Waterford city, will feature Harvest specials from chocolate to ice cream, pizzas and Mediterranean cuisine.
And the award-winning Blackwater Distillery is also doing collaboratives with museums and restaurants. One of the most interesting is an eight-course Waterford Food Tasting Menu inside the atmospheric 13th-century Choristers’ Crypt.
For full details and to book, check out www.waterfordharvestfestival.ie