Luxury is par for the course at Fota Island in Cork
As the Dublin born child of Cork parents, I grab every opportunity to go to my favourite county. Over the years, I've discovered, as they took every chance to mock my Dub ways and accent, that they love a good rivalry.
A lot of cities have the traditional North/South competitiveness but Cork has taken things one step further with the West Cork/East Cork divide.
West Cork was always considered the more spectacular of the two; it was where you went to flash the cash and moor the yacht around Schull and enjoy gourmet meals in Kinsale, while East Cork was regarded as the poor man's West Cork.
In recent times, however, East Cork dwellers are really starting to get one up on the Ballydehob nobs with major events such as the Irish Golf Open and Ballymaloe Litfest. These are putting the area on the map and attracting more and more visitors, not least the Kardashian Wests who hit East Cork on their honeymoon last week.
I headed down recently to get a sneak preview of what awaits some 156 world class golfers in a few weeks time (June 19-22) and a taste of some luxury five star accommodation in the Fota Island Resort Hotel.
The trip made for a great first family weekend break as, for starters, it's only two and half hours from Dublin and just a hop and skip from Cork City. The brevity of the car ride was kind of essential as, for the first time, the husband and I had a baby on board. We arrived at Fota Island Resort Hotel on a sunny afternoon. As we made our way up the driveway, we drove through a verdant canopy of forest leading to an expanse of immaculately kept grounds with the hotel set on the rise overlooking the stunning countryside and neighbouring golf club.
Like any new parents, we were deeply concerned at the prospect of sharing close quarters with a noisy baby so we were thrilled when we were shown to the opulent Cherry Suite, which was basically three interconnecting rooms the same size as our entire house. The planned scheme of keeping the baby's cot in the ensuite bathroom was thankfully shelved. Once we were settled into our plush surroundings, we headed to the wilds of the Fota Island Park where the animals, where possible, roam free.
The husband and I had both been when we were kids and were excited about bringing our own child along for his first visit. The park is set over a huge area of reclaimed swampland with tree covered islands for the monkeys to perform their aerial acrobatics and wide open paddocks for the giraffes, zebras and emus to graze. The park has evolved hugely over the last few decades and there is a great sense of pride in the staff about this forward thinking place that is far from a conventional zoo.
There are education programmes on offer to introduce children and adults to the many unusual animals that call the park home. The park also plays a key role in breeding exotic species and returning them to their place of origin along with work in conservation of our native species. The animals are respected and well cared for, the enthusiasm among the Fota staff is infectious; they imbue the park with a lovely atmosphere. We marvelled at monkeys, we peered at parrots and chilled with cheetahs.
The baby was not as transfixed by the agile gibbons, emus and prairie dogs as we were hoping though – first, he just looked bored and then fell into a deep sleep. I lamented that this is not how he reacted when later on we attempted to enjoy a delicious meal in the hotel restaurant. Unfortunately, the arrival of the main courses incited a much more spirited and loud reaction in him. Luckily, the hotel staff were incredibly accommodating.
The following morning we cracked the buffet breakfast. We decided it really was best to abandon all restraint and have at least two of everything on offer. Nobody wants to be suffering from post-buffet remorse, after all.
Then, the husband embarked on a round of the world famous Fota Island Golf Club. The course is immaculately kept and, according to him, there is fantastic variety as play progresses through tree-lined fairways to green valleys.
The course skirts the stunning coastline as well as boasting some lovely lakes with the 18th hole played on a tongue of land surrounded on three sides by water. Overlooking the iconic 18th is the clubhouse where you can watch the play and relax in the beautiful converted farm houses. As he was lacking in a companion for his round, the hotel kindly paired him with another player.
While the menfolk were golfing, myself and the baby toyed with going to the seaside town of Youghal, touring the Midleton Distillery, or Shanagarry Pottery but opted instead to take a spin to the nearby port town of Cobh.
Cobh has a unique, old worldy feel and is like a mixture of the English seaside town of Brighton and the bustling Chilean port of Valparaiso. The narrow, winding streets leading to the harbour are lined with pastel painted houses stacked steeply up the hills, looking out to sea. A Victorian bandstand crowns the promenade and pubs still display the original New York steamship fare in the windows.
Cobh is famously the last stop the Titanic made on its doomed maiden voyage and there is a fascinating museum there dedicated to this poignant tragedy which is still so compelling a century later.
For our morning in Cobh, we indulged in traditional seaside activities like ice cream scoffing and gazing out at the beautiful, if somewhat, industrial seaview.
We will have to save the boat tours out to Spike Island, that leave daily, for our next visit as it was time for some intensive relaxation back at the hotel spa for me and a bit of daddy day-care for the husband.
My full body massage was just what I needed after such a taxing morning, though I should have booked a longer treatment as it was over all too soon. Thankfully, the spa relaxation suite was the perfect setting to stuff myself with the delicious fresh fruit platters and juices while also gorging on trashy magazines. A better mother might have felt guilty for having a 45 minute massage and not returning for two and a half hours. Not me though. By my reasoning, a four hour round of golf does not equal a massage, so I luxuriated pretty much all the way until dinner.
Over another delicious meal we toasted our first family holiday and agreed that our favourite part was when the baby slept through the pre-dinner drinks!
To celebrate Fota Island Resort's hosting of the Irish Open, the following package is on offer for €355 per room per night. It includes bed and breakfast for two, one golf lesson per person in the world-class Golf Academy, followed by a Triple Treat spa treatment per person in the wonderful spa. The Triple Treat involves a lightening and regenerating foot treatment, a mini back, neck and shoulder massage, and a luxury scalp massage
For full details of the above and other special offers, contact Fota Island Resort, Fota Island, Cork
Tel: + 353 (0)21 4883700
Sunday Indo Living