Garryvoe Genius: The County Cork hotel that doesn't stand still
Short breaks in Ireland
Good hotels never stand still. Think of Kelly’s in Rosslare or The Shelbourne in Dublin, always adding, always improving, slotting new layers into businesses that could easily trade on former glories.
The Garryvoe Hotel is another.
Overlooking a 5km beach on Ballycotton Bay, there’s been a hotel here since the early 1900s, but it has morphed and evolved with the generations, most recently under the energetic eye of GM Stephen Belton.
This spring, the 80-bed edition unveiled a glittering new library, bar and Samphire restaurant that wouldn’t look out of place in Mayfair. But it doesn’t feel pretentious. The Garryvoe’s trick, I think, is ambition without the overreach.
Basically, it knows what it is: a four-star that needs to woo families, weddings and locals to survive (and to its credit, two consecutive weddings didn’t impact on our stay in the slightest). Its pool, complete with 25m lane, is up to five-star standards; The Cave Bar is a throwback in the best sense; Samphire draws from Cork’s mouthwatering larder, and some genius has dotted fairy doors about the hallways... after our seven-year-old spotted the first, they quickly became a theme of our stay.
Quibbles? Kids can only swim from 10am-12pm and 4-6pm, which felt a bit limiting, and I’d recommend asking for one of the refurbished, seaview rooms — the décor in some others is tiring, though Stephen reassured us that these were on his radar.
By then, I’d kind of presumed they would be. Like I said, good hotels are always adding, always improving. They never stand still.
West Cork gets all the press, but there’s heaps to do east of the capital, too. Think of Ballymaloe House or the Ballycotton cliff walk, the Stephen Pearce and Kilkenny Design stores in Shanagarry (theshanagarrypottery.com), the ever-improving Titanic Experience in Cobh (titanicexperiencecobh.ie) and one of my favourite southern restaurants, Sage in Midleton (sagerestaurant.ie).
Tempted? Midweek, two-night family breaks at the Garryvoe start from €290 (B&B), or you can nab three nights, dinner on one evening, family tickets to Jungle World and Fota Wildlife Park (with a packed lunch) from €598. See garryvoehotel.com.
The last lighthouse keeper left Ballycotton Island in 1992. Thanks to a brilliant guided tour, however, visitors today can scoot over to the rock, immerse themselves in its stories, and be back on the mainland within two hours.
Ballycotton Island Lighthouse Tours (€20/€10pp, see video above) run seasonal trips, with tours of the keepers’ complex and stonking views over East Cork from the top of the lighthouse itself. Among many takeaways, I learned that kids were once rowed across to school on the mainland.