It’s an hour before sunset at The Cliff Hotel, Cardigan and we’re watching a pod of dolphins play in the water below us.
This stunning corner of Wales has unquestionably taken a piece of all our hearts during our time here – our two-year-old will spend the much of the journey home screaming the words ‘I don’t want to go home; I want to go back to the hotel!’ The local wildlife doing tricks on our last night as we sit on the clifftops in front of this beautiful property is just the icing on the cake after a fabulous few days, with a very special family memory firmly imprinted.
The Cliff Hotel & Spa sits at the mouth of the River Teifi, where the Port of Cardigan begins to blend into Cardigan Bay itself. It’s a truly spectacular meeting of land and sea along the Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire coastline.
There is a serenity to the setting which allows even parents of three young boys the chance to unwind, with a spa, stunning coastal walks and a 9-hole golf course all of its own. An open and airy building with big windows that present the coastline and sea beautifully, and that constant backdrop is food for the soul.
It’s so unspoilt that it’s easy to imagine little has changed since the 1800s, when ships like Albion would set sail from here for New Brunswick and the new world.
We were here for a family summer break. Now there aren’t many places where all the ingredients that need to come together to make a perfect family escape actually do, but this is certainly one of them. Our three children are 2, 6 and 10, and all want different things. My wife loves the wide-open spaces, reconnecting with nature and a dream that somewhere in all that, there might be time for quiet relaxation too. Golf is a part of that for me, with my 10-year-old increasingly keen to get out on the course, but still learning.
The call of Cardigan was one we couldn’t refuse as we set out to explore a part of the British Isles we knew far too little about. The Cliff Hotel & Spa is owned by a local couple Wells and Louise Jones, who bought the property in March 2014 and have been true to their word in upgrading and renovating the hotel ever since (the same family also own the neighbouring Gwbert Hotel & Flat Rock Bistro, The Grosvenor, The Angel Hotel and The Harbour Master in nearby Aberaeron – together known as The Flatrock Group).
The result is a clean, fresh, modern and stylish hotel with something for everyone, whether you’re a family, a couple in search of a romantic escape or even planning a wedding. The public spaces reflect the local area with art, jewellery and furniture created by artisans, while the setting is hard to put into words. The new bar area, which sits underneath the excellent restaurant, was a particular favourite of ours.
The boys still talk about Jakob the barman, who set us up on an outdoor sofa complete with fire pit, allowing them to dash around on the grass nearby, while my wife and I enjoyed a glass of wine, a little conversation and the stunning scenery.
The breakfast buffet was a big hit with the family, as was our room, which is not always an easy feat with a family of five. Finding a hotel room we could all stay in relatively comfortably was no problem at The Cliff Hotel, Cardigan, with plenty of beds and space in one room. We spent a morning in the spa, with the boys able to swim in the large relaxation pool, and enjoyed some time in the jacuzzi, with sauna, steam room and treatments also available.
And what of the golf? Well, it was fabulous. Nearby Cardigan Golf Club is within a few hundred yards should you want to go there for 18 holes, but for us the 9-holer on the property was ideal. After a summer of soaring temperatures and almost no rain, the fairways were scorched and the greens not as green as they have been in the past, but this is a golf course of such charm and drama that it mattered not a jot. There aren’t many places where you can play with a child just taking his first steps in the game and feel no pressure or worry.
Dress code was not an issue, nor was any concern about pace of play or rushing. And some of the holes along the coastline are just so stunning that it was hard to leave them behind, with the 5th, 6th and 7th right on the water and requiring shots over beaches and craggy inlets of water. It’s a fantastic place to spend an hour and make special memories with my son, who loved it. It’s not a long golf course, it’s not manicured within an inch of its life, but it does have a magic to it that really captured my imagination.
What else? There were early mornings, late nights and plenty of energy expended, but a few days at The Cliff Hotel, Cardigan on this stunning stretch of the Welsh coastline somehow also energised us, and restored a sense of calm and tranquility across the family. And what of that final evening encounter with the dolphins? It’s hard to describe moments like that with words alone. We had walked from the hotel bar out towards the benches which overlook the ocean here, more in hope than expectation. When our 6-year-old said he could see dolphins, we raised an eyebrow, until one leapt from the deep, breached the surface and arced through the air before plunging back into the water. We watched them play, jumping out of the water forwards and backwards for what felt like an age. Time stood still.
It was a moment which summed up the magic of our visit to this incredible corner of Wales. We came for the scenery, the golf, the promise of a family escape, but there are a thousand reasons we will come back to The Cliff Hotel, Cardigan, not least the relaxed atmosphere and friendly welcome. We absolutely loved it.
*For more information or to book a stay at The Cliff Hotel & Spa, visit www.cliffhotel.com
WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO IN CARDIGAN?
Best restaurant in Cardigan?
Aside from the hotel itself, we absolutely loved Pizza Tipi in Cardigan, which sits right on the river and is a short walk from the historic bridge and town centre. The vast majority of the restaurant is outdoors with fire pits to keep you warm. The main area is under canvas with a large tipi tent providing a special place for dozens of diners to eat beautiful fresh pizzas straight from the huge pizza ovens. With a rustic, cool and buzzy vibe, it’s great for families, groups or couples.
For more info visit www.pizzatipi.co.uk/
Where else is good to visit?
The small fishing village of New Quay is charming and brilliant for families. The harbour itself is home to boat trips, which take you out to see dolphins, seals and the rest. There are plenty of restaurants and ice-cream parlours. There are a number of other seaside villages on this stretch of coast too, with loads fantastic beaches and things to do, including water sports and boat trips.