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Culinary Kilkenny: Food is on the menu in the Marble City

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Lyrath, Kilkenny

Lyrath, Kilkenny

Lyrath Estate, Kilkenny

Lyrath Estate, Kilkenny

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Lyrath, Kilkenny

Not long ago, Kilkenny was probably best known for two things - hurling and stag/hen nights.

While the hurling is as strong as ever, the latter is, thankfully, well on the wane.

Now the Medieval city, far too pretty a place to be just a drinking destination, is positioning itself as a rival to Cork and co in the culinary area. And if you want to get an insider's knowledge of the city with the friendly atmosphere of a town, you can try www.fabfoodtrails.ie, and get a guided, behind the scenes tour (and, better still, tastings) at various coffee shops, stores and pubs.

Langton's is the best known stop on the tour, and it's a great spot for getting local knowledge and, with its theatre and myriad bars and snugs, a one-stop nightlife spot. It's a bustling place, but food is important too, and there's nothing better than a tray of oysters with craft beers from the area.

You can see the passion of people like those at the Little Green Grocer and the cafe, with its devoted flocks of customers beside Kilkenny Castle. If you're not a foodie, discover at first hand the art of pottery at the Castle Arch pottery, and bring home some beautiful works, or see the demands of creating handmade jewellery inspired by Medieval looks at the fascinating Rudolf Heltzel jeweller's in the heart of the city. If you're popping the question, and want something that's out of the ordinary and unique, look no further.

Even if you're not into artisan stuff, it's a healthy sign that rural Ireland is becoming that bit more continental, with local entrepreneurs, as well as the big international chains, on the main street.

And if you're a bit more active, try a cycling tour (www.kilkennycyclingtours.com) and see the entire area in a handful of hours.

A great base for weekenders is Lyrath, situated on the Dublin side of the city and a handy trip from the capital. With its own oh-so relaxing pool and pampering spa, it's a stress-free place set in acres of sleepy countryside.

The devotion to the culinary arts is easily seen here, with a chef at the top of his game with bowls made out of ice for desserts (amazing work) and tasting menus that are up there with the best Michelin-starred standard. The rooms are big too for this standard and while the new lobby area is a buzzy place, and with a perfect welcome for families, it's amazing that so few venture into the old house.

Peaceful and elegant, don't miss it if you stop by.

And if all those calories start to count before the end of your break, hit the pool for a few lengths - it's top notch.

LYRATH'S got a host of good value breaks - even in the run-up to Chrismtas.

One that caught my eye was a special midweek package for the over 55's which includes one nights B&B and evening meal in either of its restaurants.

There's also a complimentary car trip into the city ( one way) and admission to Kilkenny Castle and then onto the medieval mile which includes entrance into the Smithwicks Experience. (www.smithwicksexperience.com). All from €101pps, See www.lyrath.com for more details.

Herald