OUR travel requirements have changed dramatically in the past six years.
Gone are the days of romantic city breaks, leisurely summer sojourns spent lounging by pools and action-packed ski holidays with the obligatory après ski shenanigans.
No, what my husband and I require now is adventure-seeking of an entirely different sort.
Now, with three children aged six and under, we require the following:
A location with enough activities to entertain our young brood (which hopefully also offers something of interest for adult minds).
Wide open spaces, a good dash of nature and a swimming pool.
A welcoming, comfortable and – dare I say it – maybe even luxurious space for us all to unwind in after a hard day spent ‘holiday parenting’ - that is trying to have as much fun and make as many memories as possible in between the bickering, sibling stand-offs and endless trips to the toilet.
These three things, the golden triangle of Audley family vacations.
They might seem simple enough, but in all honesty, it’s not always easy to find them in the one place.
You might find one, maybe two, but selecting a holiday destination or accommodation with all three is much harder to achieve.
We did manage it recently, however, much to our delight, while on a short visit to Waterford.
Step forward The Park Hotel.
This charming 30-year-old venue is based in Dungarvan, a harbour town located along a picturesque coastline at the heart of Waterford county.
Having been closed to all but key service workers for the best part of 18 months, when we arrived at this welcoming waterside spot in mid-August we found a team delighted to be once again open to the general public and a hotel that was heaving with life.
From the car park (we arrived just before dinner), the stream of people heading into the building, the sound of laughter from within and the smiling faces spotted through the windows to the lobby and bar brought a sense of excitement for what was ahead.
We were not disappointed.
The Park Hotel is a gem of a spot, offering a hearty Irish welcome, a modern take on traditional decor - with subtle touches of luxury tied in throughout the building - and plenty of space to settle in and enjoy being out, about and waited on once again.
And it truly is family friendly.
Many hotels say this, but it is not always the case when you get there.
Here, however, the claim is genuine and, with kids’ clubs on offer for children ages 4 - 12, they are more than equipped to help keep your young ones entertained.
When we arrived, we saw as many children as adults in the lobby - a view which immediately put us at ease.
Dinner was next, and, relatively speaking, it was a breeze.
Great food and wine to choose from for us - a flavoursome grilled sea bass and a meaty bacon and cheeseburger paired up well with a glass or two of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc - and an equally satisfying children’s menu, with enough colouring and wordsearches in the accompanying activity pack to get us through two courses.
The icing on the proverbial cake? Nobody batting an eyelid when a large glass of juice crashed to the floor, causing a mini-flood under our dining table. It was mopped up and all was back in order within minutes. Ahh, it’s the little things.
Bedtime proved more exciting still. Family rooms can, at the best of times, be a little underwhelming.
Often it’s little more than a double bed surrounded by camp beds with barely any room in between making it impossible to do much more than hold your breath and hope for the best once (if) you manage to get your children to sleep.
Not so at The Park Hotel. Our room was large, luxurious and full of surprises.
It came with a, quite frankly, huge three-child bunk bed (double on the bottom and single on the top), acres of space between that and our own ultra-comfortable double bed and….wait for it…Kit-Kats on the pillows. (If children designed hotel rooms….)
There were bathrobes and slippers for all - children included - and You Tube pre-selected on the television, which made for three happy faces on three cosily robed children.
Those smiles only grew the next morning when we made our way to the leisure centre.
Ireland, like the rest of us, is still slowly stepping back into the real world after the devastating impact of Covid-19 and the associated lockdowns.
As a result the hotel’s bar, restaurant and lobby are all happily open for business, but they continue to employ social distancing rules, require mask-wearing unless seated, and are only open for indoor dining to those who are fully vaccinated.
You can sit outside and eat and drink as much as you like if you haven’t had your jabs however.
With that in mind the hotel has recently extended its outdoor offering to include a new bar within its garden terrace which they have cleverly created out of a disused shipping container.
It’s very inviting and impressive to look at and, with its lush greenery and twinkly lights, adds a slightly magical dimension to what they offer by way of al fresco eating and drinking.
The hotel’s leisure centre and pool is also restricted on numbers, to allow for distancing, so slots must be booked ahead.
We managed to get an 8am swim session, which proved the perfect start to the day.
Hotel pools are possibly our children’s favourite thing about holidays. They simply don’t accept that they are on holiday if there isn’t one. So the ample pool, complete with heated jacuzzi and separate infants section, was an absolute hit.
So too was breakfast, which felt almost wedding-like in the hotel’s impressive Deise room - which offered tables dressed with white flowers and white linen, and a comfortable space full of the bustle and conviviality of any decent communally-taken meal.
An ample buffet of cereals, fruits and yogurts was suitably supported by as much tea, coffee and toast as one could manage, as well as a top rate full Irish for my husband and smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for me, made to order from the kitchen.
All of which meant we were more than ready for a day spent exploring Dungarvan.
It’s a short walk from the hotel to the centre of town, where the highlight is Dungarvan Harbour, overlooked by the historic Davitt’s Quay.
It would be easy to stay too long at the Quay, with its many pubs and restaurants lining the waterside making for a vibrant scene.
There is a pleasant hour or two to be spent there watching the boats as they come in and out of the harbour, while indulging in some locally caught seafood.
The harbour is also the home of leading Irish chef Paul Flynn’s restaurant The Tannery - which is a townhouse and cookery school too.
It’s an award-winning spot, offering a modern take on traditional Irish fare, and it attracts foodies from across Ireland.
If you have time - and can get a booking - this is certainly one to add to your Dungarvan to-do list.
But move on from the harbour you must, eventually, as just a short walk from there is Dungarvan Castle, which is well worth a visit.
Built in 1209 to safeguard the entrance to the harbour, the castle dates from the early days of the Anglo-Norman settlement in Ireland.
Its polygonal shell keep – a rare building type in Ireland – is the earliest structure on the site.
The barracks and castle grounds are open to visitors, which includes a fascinating exhibition outlining the castle’s lengthy history.
If castles are not your thing, you can take your pick of stately gardens to explore instead.
Dungarvan has these in abundance, Lismore Castle Gardens, Cappoquin House Gardens and the Curraghmore Estate are among them; all of which are open to the public and offer perfectly manicured lawns, fantastic floral arrangements and wide-open spaces for you - and your children - to roam.
Most of them will operate seasonal hours however, so it is always worth checking their websites for opening times before you set off for a visit.
If you are after something a little more energetic, Dungarvan, with its prime location at the end - or the start, depending on which way you are heading - of the Waterford Greenway, is something of a Mecca for cyclists and hikers.
The Greenway route runs along an old railway line from Waterford City to Dungarvan.
It tots up to be 46 kilometres of off-road cycling or walking, which takes you across eleven bridges, three viaducts and through some of the best scenery you will find in south east Ireland.
It was slightly too much for our young brood to manage, but we spotted many cyclists who had taken the challenge and were seemingly very happy with their decision.
We instead opted to complete our short visit to Dungarvan by taking another stroll from the hotel to the nearby Walton’s Park playground.
With plenty of space to play and every piece of apparatus you could imagine, that meant that our trip finished as it started, with happy faces all around.
Dungarvan, and the Park Hotel particularly, proved a family holiday haven – and we can’t wait to go back.
Hotel highlight – Waterford’s Premier Garden Bar
The family-owned Park Hotel, which is part of the Flynn Hotel Collection, has recently invested €27,000 in a new sustainable outdoors drinks and dining space, which they’ve named ‘Waterford’s Premier Garden Bar’.
In response to the increased demand for outdoor drinks and dining following the Covid-19 pandemic, the hotel repurposed a disused shipping container to crate the bar, which is now nestled amongst mature trees on the grounds of the hotel - which includes over five acres of landscaped gardens and enviable views of the Colligan river estuary.
In addition to the shipping container conversion, the seating area has been re-landscaped, with the addition of raised bedding, attractive potted plants, comfortable outdoor seating on the terrace, and a of selection large wooden barrels and picnic tables for guests to relax and enjoy socialising once again.
To add a magical woodland glade-feel to the area, rows of string bulb lights are strung overhead in the garden, taking the space from day to night in style.
The Park Hotel
The hotel offers 84 bedrooms, fifteen high standard self-catering holiday homes and a newly refurbished leisure centre with a 20m swimming pool, sauna and steam room.