The unique personality, beauty, and charm of West Waterford from Cliff House Hotel to the wonderful cuisine, distilleries and 800-year-old castle and so much more!

IrishCentral contributor Arlene Harris shares her experience of traveling to Waterford and the West Waterford Festival of Food.

Sandwiched between Cork and Wexford on the far southeastern tip of Ireland, Waterford often gets overlooked by its supposedly sunnier neighbor on one side and somewhat feistier one on the other – but this should not be the case as it has a unique personality, beauty, and charm of its own.

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This was in evidence from April 26 to 28 during the West Waterford Festival of Food in and around the scenic seaside town of Dungarvan, where for the past 12 years, food lovers have flocked to the town to sample some of the mouth-watering produce of the region.

Ahead of the event, I took a trip to this county (famed of course for its crystal and unique bread) to discover what will be happening at the event and what the area has to offer.

The weather prior to and just after my visit was stunning in every part of the country, but as luck would have it, for the duration of my two day trip, the heavens decided to grace the country with a deluge worthy of a monsoon – so it rained from the moment I arrived until just as I was getting into the car to leave when the clouds parted and a beam of sunshine burst through.

Perhaps the Gods were trying to negatively influence my impression of west Waterford – but I have to say that if that was their plan, then they failed miserably.

First-stop on my whirlwind tour was the stunning Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore. This place has to be seen to be believed as no amount of weather, good or bad, could take away from its splendor - in fact, the wilder the winds, the more impressive the views.

Views from The Cliff House Hotel (Cliff House Hotel, Facebook)

Views from The Cliff House Hotel (Cliff House Hotel, Facebook)

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As the name suggests, it is set into the cliff overlooking the ocean and all rooms are water facing. There was a fire burning in the grate and the reception (which although is on ground level from the front, is actually on the fifth floor) boasts a huge window spanning the height of the hotel which offers breathtaking views of the wild waves beyond.

We were shown to our balcony suite, which, on the first floor, was one of the closest to the sea and while the room itself was the height of luxury, we were mesmerized by the view and could have spent the entire trip watching the waves, the seabirds, the curious seals bobbing up and down and the different weather fronts rolling in across the bay.

But time and tide wait for no-one so dragging ourselves away, my other half and I pondered what to do first.

Well given the fact that the was rain pelting against the window frame, we made an executive decision to give our full attention to the hotel facilities – there is a sea pool outside, which we decided to forgo in favor of the spa, outdoor tub (if you have never sat in a hot tub while the rain is falling on your head, then you haven’t lived), infinity pool, sauna, and Jacuzzi.

In the name of research, we spent a leisurely afternoon floating and lounging before heading back to the room to get glammed up for the evening.

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The Michelin starred hotel restaurant was closed during our stay (it is open from Tuesday to Saturday) but we had a table booked in the bar restaurant and we were certainly not disappointed.

With a lively but genteel buzz, the ocean-facing restaurant was far from second best – after a pre-dinner a glass of champagne, we were shown to our table (which of course had a wonderful view) and having perused the menu, settled on a smoked beef with pickled vegetables and a wild mushroom starter followed by locally caught cod and monkfish.

All of the dishes were sublime, cooked to perfection and perfectly paired with a crisp white Burgundy.

Then after the exhausting day we’d had (ahem), there was nothing for it but to enjoy a dreamless sleep in a super king size bed and awake fresh and ready to take on the next day.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t change much the following morning, but we had a lot to do so after a delicious breakfast, we set off in search of oysters.

And after a short drive in the beautiful countryside, we arrived at the Harty Family oyster farm in Dungarvan Bay. The farm has been in the family since 1835 but it didn’t start harvesting oysters until the 1980s and for many years Ita and her siblings have been supplying the delicacy to France and now more recently to the Far East.

The Dungarvan native was a font of knowledge and extremely welcoming as she told us how they nurture the oysters from seed and after about three years of growth (being intermittently shaken to produce the perfectly shaped oyster), they are ready for harvest.

The family story was fascinating and the end product of the highest quality – so good that we even went away with a small box to enjoy later in the week.

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The next stop on our whirlwind trip was Blackwater Distillery where visitors can take a tour of the premises to find out how the gin and whiskey (and absinthe in the near future) is made and taste the finished product.

Located just outside Cappoquin, this place is well worth a visit. Owner Peter really knows his stuff and is happy to impart his impressive knowledge to spirit lovers over a cup of tea or a shot of the hard stuff.

Moving on to the grain of an entirely different nature, our next stop was Barron’s Bakery and teashop in the village of Cappoquin which has been run by the Barron family for almost a century. After a quick chat with Esther Barron over a delicious bowl of soup and a traditional Waterford blaa (a white bread roll typical of the region), we were given a tour of the bakery and the wonderful brick ovens which are still the same as they were when the business began all those years ago.

#ProducerProfiles  Meet Esther Barron of Barrons Coffee House & Bakery ☕️稜 Esther is the fifth generation of the...

Publiée par West Waterford Festival of Food sur Jeudi 28 février 2019

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I’m a sucker for crusty bread so could have lingered in the bakery all day but compromised by buying a loaf of sourdough and a lemon cake to bring home.

Thoroughly warmed up (from the soup and the bakery tour) we headed back to Dungarvan and Mike in the Wine Buff; where we were entertained with chat and left with more treats – some delectable wine and a bag of locally made chocolates.

Also on the agenda was a trip to the Dungarvan Brewing company, Baldwin’s Ice Cream, and Knockanore Cheese and we finished up with a window seat in The Moorings bar and restaurant where we enjoyed even more delicious food – locally caught shrimp and plaice – served by wonderfully attentive staff in a warm and cozy atmosphere.

Over the past decade or so the West Waterford Festival of Food has gained something of a reputation for itself and with the snapshot of local produce we were lucky enough to sample, it’s not surprising.

Visitors to the weekend event can also enjoy foraging trails in the Comeragh Mountains, a supper theatre event in a cattle mart and a sumptuous dinner in a historic castle.

Hiking in the Comeragh Mountains (Ireland's Content Pool)

Hiking in the Comeragh Mountains (Ireland's Content Pool)

We had arrived a week too soon for the stunning menu (created and prepared by Michelin starred chefs, Ross Lewis and Danni Barry along with Paula Stakelum) set in the historic setting of the 800-year-old Lismore Castle, so we made do with a tour of the gardens, which were spectacular. And given the amount we had already consumed, a walk in the fresh air was a necessity.

Lismore Castle (Ireland's Content Pool)

Lismore Castle (Ireland's Content Pool)

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During the festival, there will also be ‘A Great House Dinner’ cooked by some of Ireland’s rising female chefs while the supper theatre will regale diners with tales of the intrepid Antarctic explorer, Tom Crean.

Supper Theatre at Dungarvan Mart with Tom Crean Antarctic Explorer on Saturday 27th April, sponsored by Dawn Meats Group

Publiée par West Waterford Festival of Food sur Jeudi 2 mai 2019

And while we visited all the producers by car, there will be a Bus Bia (or food bus) operating during the festival weekend to allow visitors to sit back and take in the scenery and perhaps even enjoy a tipple.

There are also plenty of attractions for children and families over the festival weekend and organizers are hoping to see in excess of the 50,000 visitors who attended last year.

And for anyone who feels guilty about sampling all of the delicious produce of this wonderful Gaeltacht region, there are mountains for walking and the glorious Greenway for cycling and exploring.

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I hadn’t been to Waterford since I was a child and it rarely crossed my mind – but I will definitely be making a return visit. And given that the weather was at its worst during my brief stay, I’m sure my next trip will be even more spectacular.

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