After four months of coronavirus lockdown restrictions we were almost giddy with excitement and anticipation, at last, to head off for a quick break at Ferrycarrig Hotel, Co WexfordChosen for its lovely location and an award-winning restaurant tucked away in Ireland’s sunny South-East.
The challenge was to have a look at the rebooted Irish hospitality industry’s strict ‘new normal’ protocols, demanded by Government before Ireland’s shuttered hospitality businesses were allowed to re-open early in July (2020).
Returning guests were already warned that hotel stays in Ireland would be a very different experience from the kind we were used to in pre-COVID times. Would renowned Irish Cead Mile Failte (a hundred thousand welcomes) disappear behind face masks and Perspex screens, we wondered.
The beloved breakfast buffet would no doubt be a thing of the past whilst assigned ‘slots’ for the use of hotel swimming pools and gyms awaited. But after a stressful and uncertain period in lockdown, most would-be guests were jumping with joy, booking their getaways as soon as hotels re-opened their sanitised doors and deep cleaned bedrooms.
With many a hotel stay under my belt by now, I have not lost that frisson of curiosity and expectation that precedes turning the key or inserting the room card in the door reader for the first time. What would now greet us? I can hardly wait to see!
Entering our spacious minimalist suite, we are dazzled, not just by the splendid watery views from the large corner balcony but the ultra- whiteness of its interior, from bed linen to furniture. It takes me a couple of minutes to realise that the customary splashes of colour provided by ‘bed dressing’ -cushions and throw – and more sofa cushions are absent. So too are in- room pens and magazines, the mini bar, bathroom glass tumblers, in fact, anything that could be touch-sensitive and a possible source of spreading coronavirus infection.
Our search for a welcome in-room ‘cuppa’ yields a sealed plastic bag of disposable beakers and tea and coffee sachets in place of the customary china and coffee maker. It’s a sign of the times we now live in but I am impressed by the thought that has gone into all of this to instil a feeling of being secure and safe. The next morning I enjoy my allotted 50 minutes in the hotel’s spotlessly clean large indoor pool, disappointed but resigned to the fact that facilities like a steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi which carry the familiar COVID yellow signs are put out of bounds.
Overlooking the estuary of the River Slaney, a few miles outside historic Wexford town and less than 30 minutes away from Rosslare ferry port, four-star Ferrycarrig Hotel has been the go-to destination in the region for everything from romantic short breaks, family long weekends and weddings for decades.
Only two guests at a time are allowed to check-in allowing us to stretch our legs around the grounds, strolling along the decking clad paths and lawns that run right down to the waterside. Passing attractive Mediterranean style terraces, framed by greenery and potted exotic plants, happy al fresco mid-afternoon diners are spied clinking glasses and chatting, shaded from the bright sunshine.
The curlews, herons, gulls and cormorants who pick and peck, searching for worms and tiny fish that lurk beneath the shallow muddy surface appear to perfect the art of social distancing. Increasingly threatened because of the encroachment of their territories by agriculture these curlews, other water birds and starlings who nest under the hotel’s eaves, are reason enough to love this tranquil location merging into the wetlands beyond.
Ferrycarrig’s 102 bedrooms, most with balconies and all with views of the water and the wrap-around wooden verandas project the relaxed vibe you find at many of New England’s coastline hotels.
Vikings, followed centuries later by the conquering Normans sailed up the wide river estuary, passing close to where the hotel stands today. From castles – including majestic Johnstown Castle nearby- to round towers ruined Norman fortifications and excavated ancient sites, the locality has countless reminders of the ancient past.
The Irish National Heritage Park, a few minutes away, has an open-air museum featuring reconstructions of ancient homes within Crannog and Viking settlements. The hotel recently introduced its own app’ Vamoos’ for guests, listing the best attractions in the area, featuring themed walks and a myriad of close by activities, from kayaking to horse riding and golf to beach escapes. My own choice is an exploration of Johnstown Castle Estate boasting fabulous wooded grounds, three lakes, the renovated mansion full of antiques and history and a wonderful agricultural museum of 19 exhibitions which explore rural life over the centuries.
Another must-see – a little further afield across the county border into Waterford but well worth the journey – is to Mount Congreve’s 70 acres of spectacular gardens just outside Waterford city. One of the largest private collections of plants in the world are found here at unique Mount Congreve and there’s hardly a plant anywhere from all continents that isn’t represented.
On arrival at Ferrycarrig, checked in by the friendly receptionists I can tell they are smiling behind their masks as they hand out leaflets detailing the ‘new normal’, from sanitisation stations to in-room dining options. General Manager, Derek Coyne emerges from behind the scenes of the nautical-themed bar-restaurant to welcome the new arrivals explaining that their safety protocols to guarantee the protection of staff and guests are discreet, and “the last thing we wanted was to introduce a type of hospital atmosphere”
But he admits that this welcome from a safe distance goes against the whole meaning of Irish hospitality. “Here I am having to remember not to stick my hand out to warmly welcome new arrivals and returning business back”, he adds.
Reeds restaurant award-winning dining is the highpoint during my Ferrycarrig stay. The cooking, flavours and presentation are superb with ingredients sourced whenever possible locally. The names of the suppliers are listed. Pat O’Neill’s Irish Pork Belly and Black pudding, Meadowfield Farm Goat’s cheese, fish from Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford. |My starter – a duo of smoked Emyvale Duck Breast and crisp duck bonbons is superb whilst his Scallops are literally melt-in-the-mouth. I opt for pork belly from Pat O’Neill for mains and though it would not be an automatic choice of mine it has come highly recommended. So does surf and turf – prime Irish fillet steak and locally caught prawns -served with twice-cooked chips. Due to its sunny climate, Wexford is Ireland’s strawberry growing capital so we couldn’t resist splurging out on a bowl with homemade ice cream.
Ferrycarrig’s breakfast buffet has garnered rave reviews from guests but sadly, for now, it is but a memory. After a fabulous dinner, we are barely able to handle breakfast. Over a hundred people are seated in the spacious restaurant that looks out on the water. Each breakfast order has to be cooked to order under the new regulations. Toast (cold) comes first, followed quite an interval later by the rest of the tepid breakfast. But as Derek Coyne reflects” we’re still getting used to this new normal, cooking breakfast to order for each of the 200 guests who want it now is a big challenge; but it’s early days yet. The main thing is we’re open, and guests are happy we’re back”.
Tell me more about the Ferrycarrig Hotel, Wexford
Ferrycarrig Hotel, Ferrycarrig, Wexford, Ireland.
Rooms from €72, mid-week and activity packages available.
T: +35353 9120999