Just 10 minutes' walk up the hill from the bustle of Baltimore village and the harbour, Rolf's Country House and Restaurant is an oasis of calm. Established by the Haffner family in 1979, it is set in several acres of lovely mature gardens, with views across farmland to Roaring Water Bay, and makes a great base for exploring this beautiful area.
The heart of the property is an old traditional farmhouse and its fine stone outbuildings, all of which have been carefully restored to retain their character while also providing a quietly stylish setting for discerning guests.
It's a delightful spot and, in the caring hands of Johannes and Friederike Haffner, it offers many unique advantages including a choice between en-suite rooms or self-catering cottages, the very good food provided in the daytime café (in summer) and evening restaurant (all year), plenty of on-site parking - and, of course, the hands-on family hospitality provided by the Haffners.
The lush gardens - developed by the family over 35 years - are a massive USP and set the tone in every area of the property, which is immaculately maintained throughout. Pleasing public areas include a bright and welcoming café, where breakfast is served and non-residents are very welcome to drop in at any time from 8am.
In summer the café is open all day, offering freshly baked light bites and an interesting à la carte lunch menu, which can be served inside or out according to the weather (a lovely garden terrace has a sea view). Afternoon tea (or a glass of wine) can also be enjoyed in the central courtyard, a sheltered spot with spectacular subtropical plantings that give it a distinctly exotic atmosphere - or, on cooler days, snuggle in beside the open fire in the cosy Garden Room and library.
In the restored outbuildings surrounding the courtyard - and simply furnished to a high standard - the B&B rooms (and especially the en-suite shower rooms) are compact, but the rooms are very comfortable and most have sea or garden views. Alongside, there are some atttractive modern 2-bedroom cottages; spacious, and well equipped for self catering, they are perfect for families - who will also enjoy the donkeys, rare breed sheep and ducks that add so much charm to this lovely place.
For a larger group, there is also a separate 5-bedroom house, in the village; close to all amenities, it is in a quiet cul de sac with a private garden and parking.
A wine bar alongside the restaurant is an attractive spot to begin your evening with an aperitif and the menu - and to linger later, after your meal. Fine dining is the style, but the setting is pleasantly informal. The restaurant, with its tiled floor, good paintings (for sale), padded seats, and windows looking out onto the gardens and terrace, is an attractive room. Bare table tops are graced with top class cutlery and glasses, linen napkins and candles, and plenty of fresh flowers around the room create their own special magic.
Reception is warm, with no rush, but everything moves along efficiently - the day’s Specials are detailed and any queries about the menu are very professionally answered. Johannes is the chef and, on reading the clear and well written menu which states his house policy of using “as much home-grown, organic and local produce as possible", you know you will be in good hands.
The choice is wide and well balanced, with a predictable emphasis on local seafood in summer, especially among the starters - including favourites like Bantry Bay mussels marinière, or smoked Irish salmon with brown bread - and the day's Specials. But where Rolf's differs from other restaurants in the area is that it offers a particularly good range of meats (and perhaps game, in season) as well as local seafood, also some classics and retro dishes not seen elsewhere.
Unusually, Irish pigeon fillets may feature (in a punchy starter salad with lambs lettuce and a red grape and chilli salsa, perhaps - a nice choice to contrast with traditional Cork spiced beef), and there may be wild Irish venison in season. Other house specialities include a de-boned quail main course - and a popular retro main dish of beef stroganoff that dates back many years and is cooked in classic style, with vodka, tabasco sauce, and a mushroom cream sauce.
The cream sauces of classical fine dining are very much to the fore here, with main dishes especially rich by today's standards. Another house speciality is King scallops flambé, an old favourite that is offered as a starter or a main course. (The quail dish, which served with apricots and a cream sauce, is also flambéd with cognac - and very good it is too.)
Desserts include some popular choices like panna cotta with seasonal fruits, but why not throw caution to the wind and try Gertud's dark Swiss chocolate tart? Or, for those who enjoy ending a meal in classical style with cheese and port, there are plenty of temptations to keep you up in the wine bar for a while.
The wine list is well chosen, mainly from the Old World and with most varieties covered - the Vier Jahreszeiten Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir) from Germany is a particularly versatile choice - and there is a wide choice of wines available by the glass.
Service is friendly, relaxed and efficient, and children are welcome - there is a children’s menu but, in any case, the kitchen is very flexible.
There are many special things about Rolf's but one of the most useful to remember is that, in a mainly seasonal area, it is open all year - and, not surprisingly, the restaurant is especially popular with locals in winter. Lovely in summer, but also great spot for an off-season break.