Thursday 20 September 2018

Catching up on a road trip to Castlemartyr

East Cork

Castlemartyr Resort
Castlemartyr Resort

Judy Murray

Making time for one's closest friends for more than a quick catch up is tricky but a weekend away is the perfect solution. Just enough time for some quality bonding but not too much time for strong-willed personalities to come to blows.

The location is key; it has to be indulgent, yet incorporating something for everyone which can be quite a challenge. The solution for two dear friends and myself turned out to be the gorgeous Castlemartyr Resort in County Cork. It was up against strong competition as two of us have a strong bias for the West Coast of Ireland - Kerry and Connemara in particular. The Corkonian won out, so armed with a plan to explore as much of the area and the resort's facilities as was humanly possible in just two days, we set off.

There is nothing - nothing! - as exciting as a road trip. With the car bursting with all manner of en route picnic treats the journey flew. In the two and a half hours it took to get to the easy-to-find resort we had all the catch ups done on the work, kids and various small problems well and truly sorted. The heavy stuff was put away for later.

We arrived in the gloaming of the day which is a magical time at Castlemartyr. As we drove along the sweeping drive to the main house thousands of rooks circled and swooped - as near to any impressive murmuration of birds you're likely to see anywhere. A sunset hovered as we headed into the grand but very welcoming hotel.

We were staying in one of the many guest lodges the resort offers in its grounds. It caters for so many interests; golfers, young families, those wishing to spa themselves into oblivion, hikers, explorers, swimmers and foodies are all in luck. Plus this corner of the country has many places of interest to discover.

But first we needed to unpack in our own home from home.

Set near a river in the estate's woodlands, Heron's Lodge, an airy modern open-plan house, can accommodate up to six people. We all chose our rooms without any problems, as all were gorgeous. Mine was tucked up under the eaves and was wonderfully warm and comfortable. The boutique style was really smart and very appealing.

We unpacked and worked out the heating system while enjoying the complimentary choccies and Prosecco. The kitchen was well stocked with a welcoming pack of delicious local goodies of cheeses, organic eggs, lovely brown bread and interesting preserves as well as coffee, tea and other necessary basics. All unpacked, we decided to head off to Cork to meet another good friend as it was only a 20 minute drive. We were eating in Isaac's, a well established favourite. The food was, as always, delicious. It was a bit of a challenge to hear at times because it was so busy which isn't surprising as the grub is great. I was beginning to feel a slight ache in my jaw from all the eating and gabbing as we finally headed back to Castlemartyr. Fatigue didn't kick in until we turned into our grand gated entrance. But a nightcap, talk of plans for the next day and the sounds of the river lullabying us meant we slept like tops.

We all indulged in a small lie-in in our cosy beds but then curiosity took hold and East Cork was calling. We tucked into the delicious organic eggs and made plans to visit as many of the infamous places within easy driving distance.

First stop was Midleton Market. We needn't have bothered making brekkie as the selection of coffees, teas, pastries and food was stunning. We felt obliged to try some of the wonderful home-produced mainly organic or free range produce. Samples were generously offered - and taken! We stocked up on smoked salmon, cheeses and gifts of preserves and chutneys. Stuffed from the huge breakfast and pickings of Midleton Market it was decided to push on to Shanagarry Pottery to replenish our Stephen Pearce pottery. The weather was changeable but good and the Corkonian shared family histories and stories of childhood holidays as we drove.

Shanagarry Pottery Shop is well worth a visit. With a blazing stove and restaurant full of wholesome food the only problem was deciding what to buy from the wonderful selection of ware. Still not too hungry, it was decided to push on to Ballycotton and search for some good chowder. I felt this was a big ask at the time of year but the determination and strong will of one friend soon made short shrift of my hesitation.

Three strong-willed gals can make for tension at times but as the countryside opened up to seashore we were all distracted by the vistas. A thrilling drive down the pier and squeals as the car was turned - perilously close to the edge according to the back seat driver - showed Ballycotton off superbly. A cliff walk revealed a wonderful bathing spot and views of the coastline. While tempted to take a plunge we were now actually hungry. So bets of finding a good chowder were placed and then lost as we hit The Schooner. The chowder was the best I have had in a long time with a bisque-like base and so much fish you could trot a mouse across it. Slabs of brown bread and fabulous pints filled us full of notions of further exploring.

As the light was soon to fade we made a dash to Fota Island. The grand house was a little eerie as dusk fell. We were too late to enter the park for a tour which was a pity but large groups of families were leaving and from the chatter and excitement emanating from the children the visit is obviously one well worth making.

Time to head home and the cosy lodge welcomed us again. I wondered why we didn't come home sooner as I wallowed in a lovely hot bath. I would have happily stayed in the lodge but the Bell Tower Restaurant's reputation pulled us all out of that lazy mode. We walked up to the hotel and the winter night sky sparkled with stars. Being outside a city makes you appreciate just how precious our Dark Sky areas are.

The staff at Castlemartyr are great; they combine a highly professional service with a sense of immense local pride. The dining room is elegant but, like the staff, not pretentious. The food was marvellous. The prawns wrapped in filo pastry competed strongly with the crispy hen's egg and fois gras terrine. All were delicious and beautifully presented. My main - the fillet steak - was so tender and flavoursome, as were the Skeganore duck breast and the seared sea trout. A bottle of Bordeaux Chateau Penin helped greatly but we fell at the final fence. Desserts! We were all stuffed except the champion sweet-toothed Corkonian who took on the challenge of a mouth-watering 70pc chocolate mousse. We were done! The waddle home helped.

In the moonlight we saw the outline of the old Fitzgerald Castle. The Castlemartyr Demesne history is fascinating and well worth investigating, from when the first keep was built in 1210 by Maurice Fitzgerald who was among many of Henry II's leadership, down through the ages of Irish history and its various owners to the present day.

We had packed a lot into the day and after reaching Heron's Lodge collapsed and slept soundly. The next morning we decided to treat ourselves to a few hours in the hotel spa. The lovely swimming pool is open from early until late. While my two healthy friends ploughed up and down its length taking in the wonderful views of the sweeping formal gardens I opted out and had a massage. While I did that they headed for a hearty Irish breakfast in the hotel. Monica, my masseuse, was welcoming and the 90 minute full body Swedish body massage customised to my needs was perfect. I felt like a new woman.

Reluctantly we packed up from our new home and headed back to our old ones.

The chat in the car finally subdued as we prepared for the real world. We determined to return to Castlemartyr because time out with friends is vital and places like this reminded us it is in fact an absolute necessity.

GETTING THERE

Situated on 220 acres of Castlemartyr Resort in East Cork are three very different but equally attractive self-catering options, perfect for relaxed and luxurious holidays — The Walled Gardens, The Mews Houses and Heron’s Reach Gate Lodges

Guests of all the self-catering options on-site can, of course, also access all the other dining options at Castlemartyr Resort — from the Bell Tower Restaurant, the contemporary Clubhouse, and Franchini’s. Guests also have access to Castlemartyr Golf Club, the health club and spa with its jet pool, aromatherapy sauna and steam room, and magnificent swimming pool and 200sqm gym.

Book your stay in a self-catering Walled Garden lodge from just €211 per night for two nights (minimum two-night stay based on four people sharing) until April 2018 by calling 021 421 9000 or visit www.castlemartyrresort.ie. Also see the website for details on the spa, including daily specials.

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