Is The Déise the most Christmassy spot in Ireland right now? Our Deputy Editor Niamh thinks so.
Last weekend, I stepped into the real-life Hallmark movie that is Waterford Winterval.
The Christmas festival, now in its 10th year, is a winter wonderland of joy and merriment. The festive spirit is well and truly alive in The Déise, and while Winterval is an adorable family activity with the kids, it’s also a wholesome, fun-filled time to enjoy with pals or a partner.
I made the trip down with my friend, where we checked into the charming and gloriously cosy Granville Hotel. Perfectly located opposite the Winterval on Ice skating rink and the Ferris wheel by the quays, it was steps away from the buzz of the festival.
I adored the sense of history in the hotel (the building dates back to the 1700s and was the birthplace of the originator of the Irish Tricolour flag, Thomas Frances Meagher) and I was blown away by the warm welcome — from the staff, and also local makers, like Waterford Crystal, Copper Coast Woodcrafts and Seagull Bakery, who left samples of their amazing produce in my room.
I was also mightily impressed with the food in the hotel, particularly the breakfast. Cooked to order, I loved the veggie option, which was a Waterford Blaa slathered in hot black beans, chopped avocado and salsa. And then there was the porridge station, where you can opt for the “Granville twist” and ask for a slug of Baileys, Irish whiskey or locally-made Muldoon whiskey liqueur. I went for the hazlenut and caramel flavoured Muldoon, and will find it difficult to go back to chopped bananas with my oats going forward.
After a spot of ice skating, I went for a wander around the city. Unfortunately, it rained for the entire day, but despite the weather outside being frightful, the vibes were just delightful. Gingerbread men characters, Nutcracker statues and lit-up trees are dotted throughout, with a magical vintage carousel and helter-skelter ride bringing noise and colour to the streets. A mini express train, led by the cheeriest conductor known to man, choo-choos past every now and then.
I took shelter from the storm at some indoor events, my favourite being Santa’s virtual reality sleigh ride. I didn’t expect it to blow my mind like it did, but it was eight minutes of pure, child-like joy. There are a number of other indoor activities, like the Wizards and Dragons interactive exhibition, the Elves Workshop and a Christmas circus, and there are lots of free things to do, too: Glow, a lights display at New Street Gardens, the Déise Medieval Village, music and entertainment at the Winterval Main Stage and storytelling at the wonderful Book Centre are just a few. The Christmas Markets are also great to browse, with lots of Irish-made small businesses selling their lovingly-made wares.
The schedule is truly impressive and no doubt it is the result of hard work by the festival committee, as well as the community spirit of local sponsors.
Speaking of community spirit, I felt plenty of it when I called in for lunch at the Stable Yard Food Hall in George’s Court shopping centre. You’ll find a Mediterranean food deli, a store selling gorgeous artisan products, a beautiful Italian bakery and Carter’s chocolate café, where you will taste the finest hot chocolate to ever pass your lips. When in the city, make sure you pay a visit.
For me, Winterval will be a new festive tradition. I highly recommend that you make it one of yours, too. Find out all the full details about the festival and its schedule on winterval.ie