Parents, the last precious weeks of summer holidays are upon us. Don't waste them shopping for uniforms and longing for that school bus to arrive - instead, pack up the kids and get in a few days of quality family bonding, before schedules, once again, rule. Kate O'Dowd took her little clan travelling on our southern coast, staying at three idyllically-located hotels, along the way.
Posh parents?SHEEN FALLS LODGE, Kenmare, Co Kerry
After a loooong journey, with a small child in the back, the sheer arrival at somewhere like Sheen Falls is an elixir. That log fire smell (welcoming, even in summer), the genuinely friendly staff, those views over Kenmare Bay! And that was before we reached our swanky suite (a suite is always a thing of luxury, but when you're travelling with a child, a bona fide two-room suite - which means you don't have to sit in silence, after the nipper has bedded down at 7pm - is heaven). The temptation to stay in that giant bed, watching Tractor Tom's Busy Day (just one of the choice DVD options) was strong - and the Falls to which the hotel owes its name, were directly outside our window - but out we went, strolling the picturesque streets of Kenmare; wandering little boreens that always lead to something that made us smile. On a rainy afternoon, we took to the hotel's plush Easanna Spa, where we felt as much at ease relaxing in the Jacuzzi as we did teaching the little man to swim. Mealtimes were a treat, in the hotel's newly launched restaurant, The Falls. Everything you'd expect from a five-star, minus the feeling that you want to retract inside your clothes when the young lad pulverizes his posh burger; thanks to very considerate staff and plenty to keep him entertained. Which meant that we could actually enjoy the great local food, with a modern feel?(tastes were fresh, luxurious and intuitive, in case you wondered). For a more traditional Kerry eating experience, don't miss local favourite Packie's ? the thought of this food might just get you through winter - then back to that bed, oh, that bed.
Beach bums?INCHYDONEY ISLAND LODGE & SPA, Co Cork
What we lost in bidding farewell to the grandeur of our Sheen Falls room, we gained in rarely needing to be in our room at all, at Inchydoney. What wins here is its unbeatable location, directly on the perfect, blue flag Inchydoney Strand, the focal point on Inchydoney Island, a sparsely inhabited little mountain, connected to the mainland by two causeways. Each morning, we'd stroll to the shore (furnished with buckets and spades on loan from reception), returning to our terraced family room only for the odd wee (it's that near!), or to collect the picnic materials chilling in our fridge. On saying all this, a dull morning wasn't particularly grim, either - Mamma spent some time luxuriating in the Island Spa, while father and son enjoyed the very well appointed playroom. The spa comes complete with a seawater pool - a dream, just for swimming in (especially for chlorine-haters), but intended as a therapeutic experience; the water is pumped in daily from the sea and heated to 31 degrees, which allows for maximum absorption of its healing minerals. Heaven. Nearby Clonakilty is the type of town you might actually consider leaving your city comforts for - properly picturesque (especially on the Ring Road; be sure to stop at seafood restaurant?Deasy's Harbour Bar for fresh, modern fare in the cosiest setting), but with a side of organic wholefood store. The hotel also offers a number of self-catering options, which we've already decided will make for a longer break, next year.
Still cool?THE CLIFFHOUSE HOTEL, Ardmore, Co Waterford
Having always intended to visit The Cliffhouse in our footloose days (even the website gives off a super hip vibe), I wondered whether a marauding three-year-old would fit in. But like at any very good hotel, of course he was made to feel extra welcome - right down to being provided with his own fluffy, toddler-sized bathrobe. Built into the cliff-face, on the edge of pretty Ardmore, the view directly out to open sea will pull you in for a few seconds, every time you pass a window. It's majestic. And the hotel is designed specifically so that you end up in front of a big, picture window, quite often. Our room, a Terrace Suite, was open plan, but divided by the clever placement of a double-facing gas-fire hearth, which meant the cot could go on the opposite side to the very comfy superking bed (allowing TV after dark, without blasting the little man out of it). The existence of two separate terraces also enabled moonlit wine-sipping overlooking that view? and even some music, as if more romantic accouterments were needed. The beach at Ardmore is a ten-minute stroll away - a big, white, sandy expanse in close proximity to Shipmates (a great, posh chipper) and White Horses restaurant, who not only serve delicious Mammy-style evening dishes, but the most tempting array of afternoon cake-age you're likely to encounter. But you can't visit the Cliff House without eating in their Michelin-star restaurant, The House - it's what people come here for. Book a babysitter through reception, settle in for a meal you won't easily forget and follow with cocktails on the terrace. Boom - still cool.
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